Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Supper Sisters: Creating a Freezer Meal Exchange Group


 


My mom emailed me concerning something she had just learned.  The excitement she felt about it radiated from the email she typed.  Once sent, she called me to make sure that had I received the email.  Yes, she was that excited!

See, my mom knows what a struggle supper time is for me.  Trying to prepare cost effective, healthy meals for a family takes a lot of time.  Add in therapy sessions and children on sensory overload, supper preparation can be excruciating on the whole family.  She knows that meals are a struggle for me and she had just learned a solution to help. 

While serving at MOPS, my mom got in on a presentation about a Freezer Meal Exchange Group - a group of ladies who share freezer meals.  I wanted to know more and immediately emailed the girl who gave the presentation (who I happened to go to high school with).  Kara was more than welcome to share her ideas and tips with me.

Most of us have heard the wonders of freezer and once-a-month cooking.  The disadvantage to these ideas is that you end up with several of the same meals.  Thus my love for the Freezer Meal Exchange Group - variety.   My family is introduced to many different dishes and I spend minimal amount of time and effort for great reward. Plus when you add in friendship, any mundane task seems better!

There are many ways to create a Freezer Meal Exchange Group. What I am going to share with you is how we set up our group.  But, this is just one possible way.  Tweak the ideas that I have shared to fit you and your group!  

1.    Email a group of friends who you think might be interested in joining a Freezer Meal Exchange Group.
When thinking about who to invite, consider friends who are reliable, cook, have similar sized families, and have similar food allergies or the lack there of.

Ask more people than you desire in your group because most likely not everyone will be able or interested in joining. 
Also consider how many you want in your group.  I would suggest between two and six girls (counting yourself), with around four being ideal.  Few people have bowls big enough to make more than four batches of a recipe.  Also, even numbers make it easy to increase your recipe. 
 
Example email:  “Hey friends, I am interested in creating a Freezer Meal Exchange Group and would love to have you be in our group. Those involved would make several batches of the same freezer-ready recipe to exchange for other delicious meals. Please let me know if you are interested in this.

To make it easier to explain this process, I have created a document for you to share - Freezer Meals Exchange Group.  Click to print or save.

2.    Create a method to communicate between group members and name your group if you desire.
I created a Facebook Group and named our group “Supper Sisters.” As a secret group, only those members in the group can see the discussion. Facebook makes it easy to communicate with a group and allow all of the communication to stay in one place.  My group consists of four girls with a total of sixteen kiddos ages 1 to 10.  Since we are all busy mommies, we need communication to be simple and quick!

Emailing may work as well. Maybe texting.  Some groups add extra time at each exchange to discuss the next month's exchange and recipes.

3.    Find out all allergies and dislikes.
Post to your group page, “Please list all food allergies that you family has along with major dislikes.”  There were no food allergies in our group and the dislikes were very minor. 

For a group to survive, you have to be honest about your dislikes but not overly picky. 

4.    Everyone picks and shares the main ingredients to a recipe.
To keep everything simple, everyone in our group made two recipes for the first exchange. We all decided to make main-course meals.  The chosen recipes took into consideration all allergies and dislikes. We communicated with each other the main ingredients of the recipe so that if a member was concerned about her family eating the meal she could leave a note. (Although we have these safe guards up, we have never actually had anyone use them.) 

Here is an example:  Chicken Enchiladas - chicken, cheese, tortillas, tomatoes, mild enchilada sauce.

From this point on, I will use a scenario with names to help you keep it straight.  Four ladies are in the Supper Sisters Group. Their names are Amy, Beth, Carla, and Dawn.  Okay those aren't our real names but you get the point.   Below are the recipes that each chose to make.

Amy – Meatloaf, Lasagna
Beth – Taco Soup, Skillet Chicken
Carla – Quiche, Broccoli Soup
Dawn – Pizza, Chicken Stir Fry

4.  Grocery Shop & Prepare Your Freezer
Take the number of girls in your group (count yourself if you are preparing a dish to keep) and multiple that number to every ingredient in your recipe.  So if you have four girls in your group and one recipe calls for 2 lbs of chicken, you will need to purchase 8 lbs of chicken.   Make sure you have room in your freezer for the extra groceries and meals.

5.    Cook and Label.
Prepare your meals so that they are freezer-ready. Most of our meals are prepared in 9x13 pans (or wrapped foil) or ziptop bags.  (See Helpful Hints below for more information.)  Label each meal with directions, additional ingredients needed, and the preparation date on the dish. Do not procrastinate on this task, otherwise you are doing a lot of cooking last minute!

6.   Meet at a chosen location on the chosen date.
We meet before church.  Each of us lines our vans with the back doors up in the parking lot.  The exchange takes just a few minutes - or longer if we end of talking!  To make it easier, I place one of each recipe in a sack.  Then I give each girl one of my sacks. 

Example:  Amy will bring the three dishes of Meatloaf and three dishes of Lasagna to the exchange location. (She kept one dish of each in her freezer for her family to eat.)  The other girls will do the same with their recipes. Amy will give each one of the girls a dish of Meatloaf and a dish of Lasagna. Amy will receive recipes from the other girls. This means that Amy will go home with: Taco Soup, Skillet Chicken, Quiche, Broccoli Soup, Pizza, and Chicken Stir Fry. The other girls will do likewise.

7.  Enjoy the meals!
In the next four- six weeks, the girls will enjoy their delicious meals. As meals are eaten, discussion occurs on whether everyone liked the dish. Meals that are enjoyed may be repeated at future exchanges.

This is where you have to remember that every family has different likes and dislikes.  If a family doesn't particularly care for a recipe, it is not a reflection on you or your cooking ability.   This is very important to understand and remember as it is easy to take a negative comment personally. 

8. Prepare to meet again. 
During this time, each girl will come up with three or four meals (depending on how many the group decides to share) to make for the next exchange. These may be new recipes or ones used in the past.  Buy ingredients and begin preparing for next exchange.  

Helpful Hints:

  • No money is exchanged nor tallied.  We figure it all evens out in the long run.  
  • The majority of the meals that we make are meat or high in protein.  This was a group decision based upon what the families prefer. 
  • We share meals in gallon sized freezer ziptop bags, aluminum foil, or disposable dishes.  Soups or skillet meals are typically placed in ziptop bags and frozen flat.  They take very little room in the freezer this way. 
    One option for casseroles is to line a pan with foil, leaving excess hanging over the sides.  Place the ingredients in the pan as you normally would.  Wrap the excess foil over the top of the ingredients and cover will an additional piece of foil.  Freeze.  Once frozen, lift on the foil to remove the frozen casserole.  Wrap well and label. 
  • Everyone must agree to be honest about meals and not take it personally.  
  • Some groups choose to also trade desserts, snack mixes, and breads.  This is a personal preference for each group. 
  • Recipes can be found easily on Google or Pinterest.  Search for "freezer meals."  You will find that almost any recipe can be frozen to some degree.  This article from Taste of Home has some great freezing tips to get your started. 
  • Not every meal that we eat is our favorite.  But, I love how exchanging dishes exposes my children to a variety of ingredients thus increasing their pallets.  It also allows us to deal with "dislikes" in the safety of our own home. 
  • Consider adding a "Ministry Meal" to your exchange.  Everyone make something to give to a family in need. 
  • Our group decided not to give the extra meal items that we all have in our kitchens.  For example, a recipe calls for melted butter and bread crumbs to be poured over a casserole.  I gave everyone the bread crumbs in a separate freezer bag but not the butter. 
  • Don't procrastinate.  Being in a Freezer Meal Exchange Group will save you lots of time but it will be a stresser if you wait to make your meals last minute. 

Make. Freeze. Exchange. Thaw.  Bake.  Eat.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat! 

It took me 30 minutes to create and clean up one of the recipes for our exchange.  In return, I came home with three meals.  Add in the batch I kept for myself and 30 minutes of work turned into four main course dishes in my freezer!  No way could I have made and cleaned up four meals for my family in that amount of time!

On those days that I know time will not allow me to cook, I go to the freezer, pull out a meal, read the directions, pick a couple of easy sides, and with very little effort at all I have supper finished. 

I am so thankful for my Supper Sisters.  They have been such a blessing in my life and this process has transformed my meal prep time.  It has transformed my day as I am not bound to the kitchen.  I pray that it will help you too!



What questions or suggestions do you have in creating a Freezer Meal Exchange Group?

2 comments :

  1. Perfect timing! My friend and I are going to experiment for one session and then maybe start our own group.

    ReplyDelete

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