Good heavens, this one has been in Drafts for 2 years!!
Putting together your own freezer meal group is not difficult. I’m not going to pretend that I had anything to do with our group – I just show up and cook! But the steps to forming a group are fairly straightforward.
– Decide whether you want to cook together (which my group does, because we enjoy the fellowship) or just meet to exchange already-prepared meals. Cooking together requires at least one member to have a large kitchen and plenty of cooking stuff.
– Decide how many families you think is manageable. Our group has found five families to be just about right – it’s enough to get a nice variety of meals for the group, but not so many that we each end up cooking for an army every month.
– Decide if you want guidelines on what is and is not OK for your group. Our group encourages local and organic, but does not require it. We have certain convenience foods forbidden (“cream of” soups, for example).
– Decide how you want to handle food issues. Our group doesn’t include anyone who’s completely gluten-free, for example, because gluten-free cooking can be a challenge (and icky-tasting) for those not choosing/required to cook that way. When my son was having dairy sensitivities, I didn’t ask anyone to change anything for us, but leave out cheese toppings if possible, and to just let me know if a recipe had dairy in it so I could fix him something else on the night we ate that meal.
– Decide who you want to invite!
Of course, if you’re cooking at someone’s house, everyone should be sensitive to the chaos that brings to that person’s home. We’ve had varying levels of willingness to help clean up afterwards over the years, but I always try to make sure that all dishes are washed, all ingredients put away, etc. before I leave the hostess’s house. Also, each member is encouraged to remember their own freezer bags or casserole dishes, but of course there are times we have all forgotten, so we tend to take turns restocking our hostess’s supplies of these items.
And another point that should be obvious but I’ll point it out anyway – watch how you handle food! Assuming everyone in your group has at least rudimentary food handling skills, the main risk with a group that gathers to cook together is handling the completed meals after they are finished but before they hit the freezer at your house. Throwing warm meals into a cooler that won’t make it to your freezer for another several hours isn’t going to cut it! Either bring a boatload of ice or stop on the way home and get some!
The second point of risk comes when you’re reheating. Set your food in the fridge to defrost (not the counter) and make sure you reheat thoroughly.
Not sure what to cook for your freezer meal group? Do an internet search for Once a Month Cooking, Freezer Cooking, or similar. Most recipes for casseroles will lend themselves nicely to the freezer, but pasta and rice both need to be handled slightly differently if you’re cooking for the freezer vs cooking for eating right away. (undercook pasta, and undercook rice but add extra liquid.) Soups always make good freezer meals, and things like pot pies, hand pies, etc. are also delicious out of the freezer.
I love my freezer meal group! No, our family hasn’t loved every meal from the group, and we’ve eaten a few bits of some meals and thrown them away, but by and large, the meals are good, they’re a nice change from what we eat regularly, and it’s LOVELY to have a variety of dinners, pre-prepared, in my freezer for busy nights.