How to Start a Freezer Meal Exchange Club

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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. 

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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. 

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(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!) 

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I love this idea for keeping track of what is in your freezer too!  (Image Source)

Other Benefits:

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.

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(image source)

Some Tips:

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. 

LIST OF RULES

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… 

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 Have any of you done this type of exchange before?  

What other suggestions would you add?

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About 

Cassity started Remodelaholic with her husband, Justin, to share their love for knocking out walls together. She is an interior designer, wife, and mother of two. She and Justin have remodeled three homes from top to bottom and are working on their fourth. Making a house a home is her favorite hobby.

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Comments

  1. Celia says

    I went over to Apartment Therapy to vote, and I hope that what I did logged a vote for you. Not sure. Not clear at all how to register a vote. Each time I clicked on your blog name I was brought to your blog, so I don’t know whether that was considered a vote (or three).

  2. says

    OH, that is such a good idea!!! The only problem in our house would be, we cook with a lot of spice, and some of the meals wew get back may seem bland for our taste, but in a case like that, you could always add something to the top of the meal before you pop it in the oven.

  3. says

    Love to see what others are doing…now I just need to find other big families to do a swap with. We have 7 in ours, so the clubs I’ve been invited to with 4-5 were too small. Would love to have you visit my blog to help me get to 100 Comments this week!

  4. Cindy says

    I’ve been in a monthly cooking group for 8 years – yikes! I do love it.
    *We package meals in mason jars or freezer bags when possible. They take up less space and jars are reusable.
    *Plan next months meals when you exchange. This ensures a nice variety.
    *We use a google spreadsheet to “order” – If you don’t like a meal or don’t need a meal, you can adjust what you get.
    *Have a price guideline – meals should cost between $10-15 each, etc.
    *We even out costs when we exchange. If your meal cost $15 and mine cost $12, then I will give you $3. It’s extra work, but allows folks to not get a meal and keeps things ‘fair’.
    *BEST TIP: One person a month doesn’t cook – she just brings money and pays for her meals. It avoids burnout, and it’s fabulous to go home with a bunch of meals.
    *We bring meals in a cooler, exchange meals, money, and recipes, and then eat dessert and hang out.

  5. Sharon says

    Great tips! I tried this through our church before, but even with the same size family, we found families with younger children tended to make smaller meals because they ate less…..so, we generally didn’t have enough for our family. So, I would look for that in the group as well. This is a great reminder to try it again.

    I’m curious if anyone has tried doing this with special dietary needs and how it went?

  6. Phoetzy says

    wooow.. it’s very inspiring.. but i’m not so sure about doing it in my neighborhood.. mostly we eat rice every day & all the food will be served separately. so i think i have to diggin’ more to get frozen recipes so i could try your idea in here. :)

  7. says

    This is a fantastic idea. I’m going poll my friends to see if anyone is interested!! Thanks for sharing! I get SO tired of making the same things all the time…

  8. Joy says

    I’ve been in two of these type groups and it is a great help to our family. Our guidelines are pretty similar to yours, but I love hearing what other groups so. I get questions about it all the time on my Facebook page (Fearless Freezer Cooking), so I’ll be sending folks to your write up here.

  9. Amy says

    Hi! Thanks for this great post. So 4-5PM can be CRAZY at our house too :-)! You mention in the above post making Chicken Vegetable Curry-sounds delicious. I would love your recipe. I checked out your links on Pinterest and Skinny Tuna Noodle Casserole looks good. I’d like to do a meal club but need to find other families that make/eat healthy meals (no canned soup, light on the cheese, etc.). Some mom’s did a supper exchange at our daughter’s dance class. Each week one mom would make meals for the other moms (maybe three). This is a good way to get some fresh ingredients into the menu like salad for the main dish with grilled chicken in a separate container. Ha, if one did both the freezer club and the weekly exchange at your child’s extra-curricular event-oh that would be delightful. I’m getting my blog set up so when it’s up and ready I’ll let you know and can come on over for a visit and check out my lovely crazy family and our design projects!

  10. Sandi says

    A group of us (6 including myself) have started a monthly meal exchange. We are all very pleased with how things are going. Ours began as an idea I threw out on my facebook page to just see if anyone was interested. I am an elementary school teacher, wife, and mother to a very energetic toddler. Two of us have small children and all of us are busy ladies. We have had 3 exchanges so far, with our most recent including two meals. We alternate between two houses and bring our coolers or insulated bags. When we arrive, we have a few snacks, chat for a bit, then lay everything out on the table and start gathering our meals. We aim to have every meal serve 4 people, that way if it is a family of 2 you have leftovers and if it needs to serve more you can add a few sides or a salad. It is a great opportunity to gather together to socialize and it is usually a quick gathering because everyone needs to get home to load up their freezers. It has been a very positive experience for everyone and has definitely made our busy lives easier!

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