If you've been following my blog, you probably know I've lately taken to freezer meal cooking. My friends Kellie and Becca (pictured above) got me started with this, and let me tell you…these gals are just amazing. They took it upon themselves to organize a freezer meal swap among friends at our church. They were inspired by the blog behind the book of Fix, Freeze, Feast: that shared a similar idea. The initial swap took place about 4 months ago now and 12 of us ladies piled into the church kitchen, and cooked our hearts out for two hours. At the end of it, we all went home with 12 different tasty freezer meals. The fourth swap took place last week, and there were nearly 27 participants…and the interest is growing.
I asked these ladies if I could chat with them, and we gathered last night so they could share with me how they've organized their swap and how you could do something similar with your friends too. Here is some of their best advice.
Start small! It's important that you have a group of friends that share the same level of enthusiasm and commitment to doing this. Becca suggests even starting with 4-5 friends would be perfect. You might find you wish to keep it small.
Stick with tried-and-true recipes. Becca and Kellie have tried a number of recipes from various cookbooks and have pretty much stuck to the core dinner recipes in Fix, Freeze, Feast: They have asked each participant to buy a copy of this book. They also frequently ask for feedback – if a recipe is too spicy, they'll note it for the future. Or if a recipe turns out better with black beans instead of pinto, that will be jotted down. By having a main set of recipes that folks get used to cooking and eating, you can ensure the quality of food everyone goes home with.
Cook together, or at home. The girls have done this swap two ways: where everyone cooks together in the commercial-grade church kitchen, or where everyone cooks at home and brings their meal to swap. Both have their pros and cons. Cooking at the church provides a fun night with friends and faster cooking times because the equipment is larger-sized; but cooking at home and bringing it means you can prepare the meals on your own time. In either case, I've enjoyed the chance to catch-up with friends. Try it both ways, or a mix – and see what works for you and your group.
Set guidelines on portion size. This has been one of the most challenging things so far. Some of the meals in our first swap were only big enough to serve about 2, and others were hearty enough to feed 6. Becca and Kellie decided after that to ensure each meal could easily serve a family of 4-5. For each meal, they request 20 meatballs per bag, 4-5 chicken breasts, 15-18 chicken tenders, and the like. While this might sound regimented – it means everyone leaves with full meals. For larger families, Becca has suggested they cook twice as much (so they could leave with twice as many meals). Whatever you decide to do, be considerate, but be consistent.
Keep organized. For last week's swap, I made my meals at home. When I arrived at the church, Becca and Kellie had big tables with signs indicating what meals went where. They also had prepared a sheet with cooking instructions for each of the meals for us to take home. These simple measures ensured a hassle-free event.
Be generous. Recently, Becca and Kellie have been thinking about how to turn this into a ministry-focus. For the last few swaps, they've given the opportunity for us to donate a meal or two back to the church kitchen. These extra meals have gone to new parents and struggling families. Is there someone in your circle who could use an extra meal? I bet you could think of someone if you tried.
Have fun! Why not turn this event into a chance to get together? The swap last week, Becca and Kellie had so nicely made cookies, banana bread, and set out coffee. It was a nice chance to chat with friends and take a break!
Freezer meals have become increasingly a part of what I do…and undoubtedly I'll be sharing more. I also want to encourage you to start out slow! For instance, if you're already making chili this week, why not double or triple batch it and freeze the extras? If you did that once per week – over the course of a month you could have 4-8 extra meals. Becca has slowly been building up her frozen meal stockpile and she told me last night if all goes according to plan, she will have enough dinners to take February off from cooking! WOW! That is smart – it's money and time saved.
Thanks, ladies, for sharing your tips with me! I hope some of my readers will be inspired to do a freezer meal swap, too. For more on this topic, be sure to check out the Freezer Cookingsection of my blog. I also noticed today that Crystal (AKA Money Saving Mom) has a Mr. Linky up for other bloggers to share their freezer cooking plans. I hope you'll check that out, too.