If you read my month-long menu yesterday, it would have been hard to miss the fact that I’m in a Freezer Group.
A Freezer Group is pretty easy to start, especially with the help of social networking sites like Facebook, given that you can have a bulletin board specifically for that group.
What you need:
- 4-6 families with similar tastes and needs. We don’t have any allergies in our family so we don’t know the ins and outs of “no gluten”, “no milk”, “no egg” type allergies. We do have preferences in what we like to eat and what we don’t like to eat, but nothing that will physically harm us should we ingest them. The members of our group meet the same criteria, which makes choosing meals that much easier.
- A desire to not want to cook every.single.night. A no brainer, right? You don’t need a huge freezer to do a group like this. You aren’t cooking for an entire month. It’s just to fill in the gaps or to take a little stress off a really busy day. It’ll help keep you on budget (more on that in a second), avoid preservatives, and just feel good. Trust me.
- A commitment from your 4-6 families. Our group meets once a month to exchange, and the exchange takes about an hour, but mostly because we chat for 45 minutes of that. Yes, schedules are busy. We get that. That’s why not having to worry about meals for a big handful of nights is such a pleasure. You’ll need a commitment from your participating families because then you will know what how many meals you’ll need to cook and you’ll know the number of meals you’ll be receiving in return.
- An Icechest. Freezer Meals are meant to stay frozen when being transported, if not, at the very least, cold. You WILL run into traffic if you forget your icechest 😉
- We have 5 committed families and 1 alternate family. The alternate can step in when someone can’t cook due to, oh, I don’t know… having a baby or something 😉 Though for the record, I’m trying to get my cooking for the August exchange done early and will aim for the same for my September exchange so that I can still get the meals that are made. I’ll need them most come babytime!
- We have decided no cooked mushrooms, no anchovies, and no nuts. Pretty easy parameters.
- We meet in the first week of the month to exchange meals. I had originally hoped to have a set day, like the first Friday of each month, to meet, but it seems that with working schedules, kid schedules, and us civil servant families who have ever-changing schedules, that wasn’t a good option for our little group. So, we poll the group via our Facebook Group page after each exchange to find the day in the upcoming month to set our date. I try to get it done as soon after our current month’s exchange so we can get it on the calendar and have the best chance of most folks coming.
- If someone can’t make it to an exchange date, we let them make arrangements with another Group member to drop off the meals they cooked and pick up their exchanged ones. So far, that works and keeps the most people active in the group. Luckily, I have an outside freezer so I can typically squeeze in another set of meals to be the donkey.
- Each family cooks 2 different recipes 4-6 times (one for each of families in the exchange). You keep one of each recipe for your freezer and bring the remaining dishes to the exchange. You’ll leave with the same number you came with. To make it easiest, just plan into your menu for the month/week the meal you want to make for the Group and just cook in mass quantities. Cooking in bulk keeps your cost down. You won’t have that much more cooking time, unlike the Once a Month Cooking that has you shopping and prepping one day and cooking for an entire next day.
- Spend $5-$7 per family, per meal. That means, for our group of 5, each meal should cost roughly $25-$35 to make in its entirety. It’s understood that if someone in the group wants to spend more on a meal because they are so inspired, that they incur those costs on their own. Most of us are doing this to save a few dollars and some stress, so you can’t expect everyone in the group to up their food budget because you want to make a more expensive dish. Similarly, if your meal costs less than $5-$7, we strongly suggest providing either a dessert or a side dish to make the cost jive with what others spent.
- Take notes on meals you make and eat and create a database of Freezer Friendly meals. The goal is for people to be happy with what they are making and eating, not *just* to not have to cook. So, we rate our meals that we eat and give suggestions on how to make it better (was the cooking/reheating time accurate? Did you make modifications? Was there too much of a certain ingredient? Etc.) Knowing that others are rating our meals should encourage us to be gentle in our suggestions, knowing the outcome will be a nice big database of meals all of our families enjoy!
- Sign-up for a single protein. Who wants ALL chicken dishes? Or all Mexican dishes? Or all “dump recipes” (basically all the ingredients in a freezer bag that can just be “dumped and cooked”, whether in a pan or a Crockpot.) We sign up for the protein we want (again, as soon after our most recent exchange as possible) and let the others know of the recipe we are thinking of making so they can plan side dishes accordingly or to know what they’ll be getting for the next month. Also, if you already see someone signed up for an Enchilada dish, we try to stay away from another Enchilada dish. It’s all about family friendly variety.
- Store your meals in Ziploc Brand Freezer Bags and/or disposable pans, well wrapped. I know from experience that the cheap-o “freezer bags” suck. “Invest” in your Freezer Group with good quality Freezer Bags to protect everyone’s food.
- Label with defrosting/cooking instructions, the date, and the dish name. You’ll need to label before you freeze the dish or you won’t be able to write on the cold surface.
- Pay close attention to handling food safely. You don’t want your family to get sick, and more so, you don’t want to get anyone else in your Group sick! Wash your hands. Pull your hair back. Follow general safety guidelines about handling, cooking, cooling, and freezing foods.