Imagine with me that you have a freezer brimming with “ready to heat” meals. Imagine that your family gets to try several new meals each month that you didn’t even make. Imagine that you could save both time and money while cooking. AND imagine that you have a practical excuse to get together with other like minded ladies for a time of fellowship each month.
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it??
Allow me to introduce the marvelous idea of a Freezer Meal Swap Group. J
There are different ways you can go about this. The bottom line is that a group of people get together and swap meals they have made. It saves time and money because you are doing bulk cooking and you get the benefit of enjoying meals you may not normally make, plus all of the meals are prepped and waiting in the freezer on a busy day.
Here’s how to do it!
Invite friends to join you. You may think you have a lot of friends who will want to take part, but you might be surprised how few actually do it. It’s a big commitment and involves both time and trust of the other participants, so I always encourage the ladies to just try it for a couple months and see what they think. Some will fall in love with the idea and others will move on, but either way, the variety in participants is lots of fun. J We average 5-6 in our group, but I’ve heard of as many as 12. You want a manageable number but still worth it for people to make the trek to exchange meals.
I am very careful who I invite. Your situation might be different, but here is my criteria: A woman in a similar stage of life as me, with a similar family size, like-minded, has a clean home, is dependable, is able to cook. This way, the time of getting together each month is profitable for fellowship and encouragement. It’s crucial that the ladies are dependable because no one wants to go through all that work and not get a meal in return. And most importantly, I make it clear to anyone interested in joining that the ladies all have clean homes. NO ONE wants to eat food from a dirty kitchen.
#2.Decide what type of swap you will have. You can ask the other ladies what their preferences are as you prepare for your first swap, but here are some options. Some of this is listed in our QUESTIONNAIRE if you just want to use that.
• Have each person make multiples of the same meal. This way they are just making 1 recipe times the number of participants.
• Have each person make different meals. This way they can just double various recipes they are already making throughout the month.
• You could assign people certain ethnicities or food types to prevent duplication. Some ideas are: Red Meat, Poultry, Meatless, Crock Pot, Breakfast, Ethnic, Italian, Soup, Freebie—anything. Or you could just have them bring anything they want. Regardless, it’s like a treasure hunt every month when you arrive to see what meals you will get. J I remember we were all pretty giddy when we arrived at 2nd freezer meal swap to see what we would get that month!
#3. Decide how often you will meet and when.
Some groups meet weekly while others meet bi-weekly or monthly. We meet the third Thursday of every month at 1pm. We always meet at the same person’s home because she is centrally located and some of us live nearly an hour apart. This is nice because we never have to question when or where we will be. I send out an email about a week before each swap, but if I forget, it’s okay. Everyone is independent on this and I think that’s really important. We are EXTREMELY blessed to have very dependable ladies in our group!!
#4.Decide how the meals will be stored
• Freezer bags
• Disposable containers
• Containers that they re-use and pass around each month
• Each person does whatever
We mostly do freezer bags flattened and folded in half to save as much space and money as possible. Sometimes though, you need a container and that’s okay, but we try to be conscious of freezer space.
#5.Decide how the meals will be labeled
Some of this will depend on how they will be stored, but some is basic. Ask the ladies at the beginning if it’s important to them that you include the recipe of the meal. For our group, it’s not important, but if it’s easy, we include it. These days, most recipes are off the internet so that helps. If not including the recipe, you can simply write in a permanent marker the following information. Or you could print it on paper and rubber band it to the bag. Tape and Staples don’t work very well.
o Name of meal
o Date it was made—they last about 3 months safely, so it’s good to know when it was made!
o Preparation instructions including whether or not it needs to be thawed
o We started including the word, “Raw” if the meat was uncooked so we had a better idea of what we were working with if we were in a hurry when prepping. J
#6.Determine any food allergies or strong preferences in the group.
This is important yet you want the food prep to be as simple and generic as possible, so I stress the STRONG preferences. For example, my husband will eat anything, except he really and truly cannot stomach onions. He won’t eat anything that has them, so we use onion powder for ALL of our cooking and this has to carry over into the swap. I, on the other hand, am an EXTREMELY picky eater and have more foods I dislike than like, but I don’t list any preferences on the sheet because I can always pick things off, eat around things, and so on. There is definitely some give and take in a freezer meal swap group. To be honest, we have had meals we didn’t like at all, we’ve had several some loved and some hated, but mostly we’ve had a lot of really wonderful meals, obtained several new recipes and ideas, and rounded out our overall menu.
#7.Decide how the meals will be distributed at the swap.
There are several interesting options for this. Here are some I’ve seen and how to implement them.
• Some groups lay out all of the freezer meals from everyone in the group on the table. The person who brought the most meals chooses an equal number of meals first. The person who brought the next highest amount, chooses her equal number of meals next, and on down the line until all of the meals are gone. This works well if the participants bring various types of meals (from doubling recipes throughout the month) or if they bring several of the same meal. It’s also a good option if you choose to meet weekly. This method also gives the ability to bring a few meals or several if someone has had a busy or quiet month. Lots of flexibility here.
• Some groups make a meal for each person in the group, but they make lots of different recipes (like doubling recipes throughout the month), then they lay them out on the table and people just choose the appropriate number of meals randomly.
• Other groups make several of the same recipe and lay them out in organized piles on the table. Each lady walks around the table and gathers her own meals from each pile to fill her container.
• Our group currently has 5 members. We fluctuate between 5 and 6 regularly. We each have our own large container with our name on it that stays at the hostess’s home to be used each month. We each make 5 of the same meal and distribute them into each person’s appropriate container as soon as we arrive. Then we go off to fellowship as long as we want. Afterward, we package up our meals into our coolers or bags and head home. J We require that the meals be completely frozen when each lady arrives so that thawing isn’t a concern if we have to run a few errands or get delayed.
#8.Back up Plans
First, I’ll just add this here: The #1 thing we ask of the ladies in our swap is that they be on time. Most of us are able to stay and chat each month and we all look forward to that time, but sometimes we can’t. 1 person has 4 kids and often had to leave immediately early on. We didn’t want her to have to bring all of her kids in and wait unnecessarily for who knows how long before she could leave. This way, she can (theoretically) leave her kids in the car, dash in to grab her meals, and be off. It’s just a courtesy to the other ladies and I think everyone appreciates it. Of course, we all have our times when we’re a few minutes late, but we try really hard. J
Life happens, so sometimes someone has to miss a swap. Here is how we handle it according to our guidelines which each lady receives up front.
If you can’t make it to a swap and would still like to participate, please arrange two swaps with another person because they will need to bring your food to the swap and bring your new food back to you. Just be aware that freezer food is heavy, so this will add a challenge for the other person and also take up their freezer space.
We’ve all had to do this, and no one really minds. You just need to have a plan in place. We’ve never actually had anyone randomly miss a swap, but you could just have them drop out for a month instead.
We are all in the childbearing stage of life, so we have fun with it! Each lady who is going to have a baby picks a month to take off. It is usually the month before or just after her due date so she can rest. (It’s HARD, if not impossible, to make several freezer meals post partum!) Then we each make our normal number of meals and one person is designated to take them to the new mom. It’s an enormous blessing to her to receive several new meals during that time (plus all she’s stockpiled leading up to her baby’s arrival) and we all enjoy being able to help her in that way. We are short one meal that month, but it’s worth it and we know our time will come too. J To give you an idea of what a blessing this is: For my last baby, I stockpiled nearly 30 freezer meals before her arrival! I barely cooked for several months afterward, so my kids started asking me every night at supper who had made their meal. J
As you can see, there are many blessings of a Freezer Meal Swap Group. We are coming up on 2 years as a group, and we love it. It has stretched my creativity, motivated me to do more freezer cooking, saved us time and money, but most importantly, I have cultivated relationships with other like minded women I never would have taken time to fellowship with. My kids also love playing with the other kids—there will be 13 kids by next month!
I hope this is a help to you if you would like to start a group in your area. Here is the QUESTIONNAIRE that I sent out when we first started and here is a copy of our current GUIDELINES if that information is helpful as you begin. Also, here is an article I did on 10 Freezer meals from your pantry to get you started.