Monday, April 26, 2010

Freezer Meal Swap - Ideas & Tips

I had my monthly freezer meal swap this week. Our group only has had 5 people participating the last two swaps so we have been meeting slightly more often.

A friend asked about how to set up a meal swap, so I thought I share some of my experience and ideas with you readers. First, I'll share my recommendation for setting up a swap of your own. Next, I'll share my own experience joining a swap group. Finally, I'll share about making this month's contribution, Beefy Green Chili Enchilada Casserole.

If you want to start a freezer meal swap of your own, here are some things to consider:
  • What do you want to get out this swap? Is it more recipes & ideas? Is it freedom from cooking one or two times a week? Is it simply to save time? Do you just want to try it out
  • Who can you ask to join you? If you eat organic, vegetarian, or vegan, consider other friends who make it a priority. If you want family-friendly meals, choose other families with kids.
  • How often do you want to meet?
  • How large do the meals need to be?
Once you find a group of people (I'd say six at the minimum) decide on some guidelines. Here are some ideas there:
  • Confirm size of meal and meeting frequency with everyone.
  • Decide on carnivorous, vegetarian, organic, etc. meals. This is important because meat & organic foods are expensive. Swap members won't want to feel an inequality in meals. If you want meat in every meal, speak up!
  • Ask about allergies. Don't get into dislikes or you'll have a huge list, so stick with allergies.
  • Decide on how to package the food. Who will pay for the packaging?
  • What will it look like when you meet? Will it be someone's house? Will it be a park'n'ride? If it's someone's house will they "host" and have refreshments?
  • Bring some cookbooks for the group to look through for ideas.
  • How will you choose meeting dates? First Monday of the month? Decide at each swap? Email conversation? Doodle poll?
I joined an already established group about 2 years ago. The original members were primarily married women with dual incomes. They met mostly at one woman's home and sat around for 30 minutes or so chatting & eating before we swapped. They had set up some basic ground rules earlier that were explained to me. The rules/expectations were pretty straightforward and what I expected.
  • Prepare a dinner entree for four that will freeze, then reheat well.
  • If you make a soup, there should be at least 2 cups per person, so 8 cups minimum.
  • If you make a casserole, it should fill one of the 11"x6" tins we purchase together.
  • The meals should be good, so try them out from frozen before you bring them to contribute.
  • Meals should take awhile to prepare because you're making so many - plan on 6 or more hours.
  • I should plan on the ingredients being costly, also because you're making so many - plan on each month's contribution costing $60-90.
  • I would have to contribute to the purchase of tins & ziplocs which we all use to put the meals in. One person had reponsibility for them & brought them each time.
I was friends with one of the original ladies so she helped me out with my first contribution, sending me a recipe that had been enjoyed before by the group. It took forever to make. I didn't think it even tasted very good, but I was nervous about making something the group would like so I went ahead. After that first swap I had a better idea of what other people made so I felt more comfortable. I also checked out several freezer meal cookbooks from the library and got myself a good stash of recipes to try.
Over the course of two years several things have happened:
  • We've purchased tins/ziplocs twice & both times my contribution was around $20.
  • The original group also bought Costco spices that were rarely used, so we just divided those up among the participants so one person didn't have to keep storing them and bringing them to every swap.
  • Several people have dropped out of the group and several people have joined. We've had childless couples, families with up to 3 kids, a dating couple (they split their meals), a caterer, and some 'visitors' who only stayed for two swaps. The current group of 6 only has one original member and we all have kids (or are expecting) now.
  • The meals have become simpler - which is fine with us! We don't make fancy meals or use expensive ingredients usually. The favorites aren't things from cookbooks, but family favorites like Aunt Millie's Crazy Chicken.
  • We usually meet on a Monday night in a centrally located parking lot, but pick a date that works for everyone using a poll at It takes about 10 minutes to wait for late arrivals & swap. We come a little early if we want to chat.
  • Our central location has shifted from Seattle to Lake City to Woodinville as the group members have changed.
I like my swap group a lot. We've only had one meal that was completely inedible which is pretty good for over two years and about 200 meals! We like meat and always put it in our meals (even if the budget only allows for a little bit), and have only been frustrated a few times when we get meatless meals. They still taste great, but we like our meat! I have gotten some great new recipes, I can easily make extra meals when preparing for the swap to keep for my own family or to take people at church who could use meals, and best of all, I don't have to cook every single night.
This month I made Beefy Green Chili Enchilada Casserole. Here's the recipe:
Cook 1 pound ground beef with 1 t. minced garlic. Drain. Stir in a 10 ounce can or tomatoes w/green chilies and 2T chili powder. Divide in half.
Coat a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish with cooking spray and cover the bottom with 6" tortillas cut into quarters. Layer the tortillas with half the meat, then 1 cup of frozen corn, 1 cup of green enchilada sauce, 1 cup of jack cheese. Then put another layer of quartered tortillas, layer the other half of the meat, 1 more cup of enchilada sacue,and the other cup of cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes at 350 until bubbly.

Here's how it started:

Here's how it ended:


1 comment:

So, what do you think?