If you are anything like me then dinner time is NOT your favorite time of the day, let me rephrase that “cooking” dinner time… I don’t know about you but time and tempers are ALWAYS short around here, when it is time for me to cook dinner. 5:00 is like the worst time in the world. BOTH of my girls have reached the end of their ropes. They are hungry and tired and need to be held… and there is still another hour before Justin gets home. Needless to say, I get a LITTLE bit frazzled. There are far too many time outs and am a TOTAL downer by the time my husband gets home! Welcome Home Honey…now please take the kids away! and for heaven’s sake don’t touch me!
Maybe I should change that bad attitude?
Well, one thing that has REALLY helped attitude, my budget, my waistline, and having dinner ready in a flash, is that a few friends and I have been doing a monthly meal exchange. I come home once a month with a trunk full of homemade with love main dishes, and I am not gonna lie, I am giddy about it.
I thought it would be a fun thing to sorta spell it out for any of you that are considering doing it. Because YOU REALLY SHOULD! And there should be some guidelines set from the beginning just to keep everyone going.
How Does a Freezer Meal Exchange Group Work?
First you need decide how many people you want in the group. Right now there are 6 of us total in my little circle. I feel like it is a perfect number, any bigger and it would be REALLY difficult to be able to do all your cooking in one batch.
The families should be a similar size, like a couple and a family of 7 would always be frustrated and the amount or lack of food in the exchange. Keeping the numbers consistent, helps to make sure that you can feed your whole family, and that you don’t have to make a ton and only get a tiny bit back… it is the equalizer.
Choose a date to get together and prior to meeting you make one freezable main dish, 6 times (1 for your family 5 to exchange). Then meet up with the group, take 5 of those prepared meals and exchange one of your meals with a meal from each of the 5 other participants. And when you leave you will have is 5 different freezer meals.
(believe it or not I am sort of low on freezer meals in this picture…)
Is it worth it?
ABSOLUTELY (why else would I write this post!?!)! I should clarify that buying all the ingredients for 6 main dishes can be a little expensive depending on the meal $50-$75 bucks is what I seem to average… but so is buying, and making a different dinner every night. And if you tend to eat out a lot, you will save a ton of cash and be eating better food.
The biggest savings is time and lets be frank, sanity! At least one night a week, if not two, I grab a freezer meal and stick it in the oven at 3:00 or 4:00 on time bake and let it thaw for an hour and then the oven kicks on and I have a nice piping hot dinner ready at 6:00 with no more work than that. (except maybe adding a few steamed vegetables or in the very least opening a can of green beans.. thank heaven my kids love green beans, they are so easy to add to a meal!)
I love this idea for keeping track of what is in your freezer too! (Image Source)
Your kids learn to eat a variety of foods they might not have tried. I guess I am the mean mom of the group cuz I made a vegetable chicken curry… But we LOVE try new thing so it is really fun for us.
You get to try out 5 new recipes a month without an extra work. And I promise you that there will be A LOT of new family favorites to add to your recipe book!
I usually end up with 7 meals per month! Here is my tricky little way to add another meal to the exchange. When I cook I make one for dinner that night and another freezer meal of my own dish to save for later in the month. That way I have closer to 2 meals a week with no effort.
If you are due to have a baby, surgery, or know that you are going to be super busy… then this is a great way to help yourself get ahead and still have dinners ready when you are occupied by whatever is going on in life.
It is a good idea to work with families of similar size like I mentioned before. This keeps that meals about an equal size.
Remember that you are not required to make enough for everyone to have leftovers. If I am going to the effort to make a nice dinner at home I usually like to have left overs for lunches, or a second freezer meal. But don’t stress yourself out to feel like you need to make more than one dinner worth.
Costco (and probably Sams) has the most inexpensive disposable casserole dishes, 35 for about $6- $7 dollars. MUCH better deal than the dollar store or Walmart at a $1 –$ 2 a piece.
I have seen some groups that assign out recipes. But I would suggest you don’t do this. Your friends will have some great recipes that you have never considered. This is also the best way to try out recipes, without having to try and fail, you have time tested great meals and 5 new recipes a month for your collection.
Setting Up Some Guidelines:
1. Set a date and time for each month. For example the first Friday of every month at 2:00 pm (you don’t have to, but we also always meet at the same house, so there are no questions and it is a central location for all of us). By setting the date everyone can plan on it and even prepare in advance if they have the chance.
2. Make it a rule that a recipe must be included with the meal. I keep mentioning this, but I promise you are going to want a few of these recipes if not all…
3. The meal must be a complete main dish. Meaning if you can eat that dish without preparing anything else (sides, rice or noodles) and pretty much call it a dinner then it is a complete main dish. This may sound self explanatory, but when one person makes freezer cookies, and you just spent $70 bucks and 5 hours making homemade freezer lasagnas, I am pretty sure you aren’t going to be as happy about the exchange.
4. Take turns being the one to remind each other about the event. So this month it is my job to send out a reminder email to everyone that we are doing the meal exchange. That way one person doesn’t have all the responsibilities month after month.
5. When you get your email reminder, it is a good idea to have everyone respond back with what they are planning on making. This way you don’t get 5 lasagnas. Even if not everyone responds… if you get about half of the group to reply back (to all), odds are you won’t have a double.
6. Create a pin board for freezer meal recipes that have been used. I just did this a few weeks ago so our’s is sort of barren, but you can check it out if you want some good ideas… and please follow my other boards if you get the chance… I am a pinning fool! I love it…
Have any of you done this type of exchange before?
What other suggestions would you add?