Tight budget? Want to eat healthy meals at home regularly? No time to cook homemade meals during the week? I’ve got the answer for you: Start a Freezer Club.
Before having kids, I worked a full-time job with irregular hours. Dinner at home was the exception rather than the rule, unfortunately. Soon after quitting my full-time job to stay home with my first child (when the budget was much tighter!), my friend Darcie asked if I wanted to join her Freezer Club. After hearing what it was, I decided to give Freezer Club a try. Seven years later, we’re still going strong. And, now I’m a HUGE proponent of freezer meal cooking. I’d love to tell you more about my group, why I love it, and how to start a Freezer Club of your own.
What is a Freezer Club?
A Freezer Club is a small group of friends (anywhere from 2-8 people) who commit to cooking freezer-friendly meals for one another each month. (Take a moment and READ THIS if you’re unfamiliar with freezer meal cooking and wondering how it works.) My friends and I began our Freezer Club in 2007 and never looked back. Our local news station did a story on our Freezer Club several years ago. The clip will give you more of the story behind our group.
Our Freezer Club has had varying amounts of women in it over the years. Now days, I just swap with two of my good friends. Although I loved the days of bringing home 12 pre-made meals in one night, we find our smaller, more low-key group to be more manageable. However you decide to structure your Freezer Club, I think you’ll find it to be really fun and helpful!
Why Start a Freezer Club?
There are so many advantages to freezer meal cooking. These advantages are multiplied when you work together with like-minded friends. If we were sitting down for a cup of coffee and I was trying to convince you to start your own group, these would be my bullet points:
1 – Save money. By meal planning and buying in bulk, you’ll see your grocery bill go down significantly. Plus, for our family, knowing I have ready-to-go meals within reach keeps us from spending money by eating out. It’s hard to say for sure how much we save, but I’d wager to say it’s at least $100-200 a month by cooking this way even part of the time.
2 – Save time. By planning your shopping trip, you’ll cut down on all those little stops by the store during the week. You’ll also cut down on your prep and cooking time each month by preparing the same one or two meals in a large batch.
3 – Have healthy meals always on hand. If your Freezer Club is committed to a “real food philosophy” like ours (see “What makes for a healthy freezer meal?” in this post), you’ll be giving your family a wide variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense meals and NOT processed junk.
4 – Help others. A bonus to freezer meal cooking is that it’s easy to have meals on hand to take to new parents or someone in need, too. Over the years, our Freezer Club has collectively given many new moms, people in a crisis, and even a man recently released from prison some extra freezer meals to bake or warm up at their convenience.
5 – It’s fun! Before paring down to my simpler Freezer Club group (just me and my two friends), I would meet with about 6-8 other gals every five weeks for our Freezer Club meetings for years. Those meetings were a blast! We had coffee, wine, snacks, and caught up at someone’s house. Then, we got to share recipes and chat about food, all while accomplishing a monthly meal plan. To top it all off, I came home each time and filled my freezer to the brim with pre-prepared healthy meals. The perfect night out if you ask this stay-at-home mom.
How Does a Freezer Club Work?
Step 1: Our Freezer Club comes up with a meal plan in advance over email. We used to do this at a once-a-month meeting but just don’t have time now. We each send about 3-5 recipes ideas out to our group and then we each vote for the ones we’d prefer from each person. We try to make sure there is variety in the menu plan, including some beef, chicken, pasta, seafood, soup, etc. You can cook one, two or even more meals for each other each month. Right now, my small Freezer Club group cooks one to two meals for each other depending on our schedules.
Step 2: We each cook our assigned meals on our own time, making sure that each family gets at least four servings of the selected recipe. Then, put it in the freezer until you’re ready to swap. To give you an idea of prep time, when I’ve made a meal for six families (that includes mine), it usually takes me about 3 hours from start to clean-up depending on the recipe.
Step 3: Put a label on top of the meal, including the name, date prepared, who prepared it (in case they have questions), and directions for what to do with it after thawed (i.e. “Bake at 350 for 20 minutes” or “Warm on low on the stove.”).
Step 4: We swap our meals about once a month or run them by each others’ houses when we’re already out.
Are you ready to start a Freezer Club? Intrigued at least? Then you will need to think through these…
Questions to Ask Before Starting a Freezer Club
If you have some friends interested in starting a Freezer Club, it’s important to set up some ground rules from the beginning to make things run smoothly and to avoid frustration later. The bigger your group is, the more vital this becomes. Believe me. Our group learned this through trial and error, so I’m saving you a lot of headaches. Here are some questions to get you started:
What are our top food values? For instance, our group decided that we want to cook using “real food” ingredients and avoid processed ingredients as much as possible. We also try to use local or hormone-free/antibiotic-free meats. Other possible values: cost-effective, kid-friendly, healthy (and discuss what you mean by healthy!), or simply tasty. It’s important to have a discussion upfront with your group about what is most important to each of you when it comes to feeding your family.
How many meals will we make for one another each round? When I was in a bigger group we usually made two meals every 5 weeks. Now I usually make one per month with my two friends. You have to decide what works best for you in your phase of life.
How often will we swap meals? Every 4 weeks? 6 weeks? It can change during busier seasons, of course.
How much will we spend on our meals? Every group is different when it comes to figuring out meal cost, but it’s an important topic to discuss up front. Here are a few options to consider:
1 – Everyone polices themselves. This is how our group operated. So, if I did a more expensive meal one month, I would plan to do a cheaper meal the next. As a group, we tried to rotate who did the salmon and steak meals, for instance, since they were usually more expensive. This option also allows people who are thrifty shoppers to use their talent and not feel constrained by meeting a minimum cost.
2 – Set a cost range that members should think in terms of most months. We found that most of our meals were about $8-12, since we used local and organic ingredients.
3 – Have everyone bring their grocery store receipts, tally up the group cost at your meeting, and divide out equally. The upside is that cost is always even for everyone. The downside is that it takes a LOT of work and someone will inevitably forget their receipts or lose them. There’s also the occasional complications of people who purchase a side of beef for the freezer or those who grow some of their own ingredients, for instance. Figuring out exact cost can become tedious. I wouldn’t personally recommend this method. But, hey, if you’re a super administrative and love drowning in details as a group, then feel free! 🙂
How will we create our menu? Will we choose our meals at a face-to-face meeting? Over email? Using a Google Doc? Will each person be responsible for bringing at least four recipe ideas to the group to discuss and pick from, for example?
How many servings should each meal be? Our group has always done four servings for each family, since the majority of recipes make 4-8 servings. We even went so far as to create Freezer Club Guidelines & Reminders, a Google doc which you can download and use if you like, with some portion guidelines for certain kinds of meals (i.e. burger meals should contain four 1/4 lb burgers, chicken meals are 1.5 lbs of meat, tilapia should include 6 filets, etc.). The reason we did this is that often recipes vary when it comes to what a portion size actually is. When in doubt, though, we try to be generous with portions.
What kind of containers will we swap meals in? You have several options here. We highly recommend using a BPA-free container or dish. While it may be easier to buy the disposable Glad Ovenware containers (although the lids break pretty easily), it might make sense for your group to invest in some quality, safe dishes that you can freeze AND bake in. After searching long and hard, I highly recommend using these containers:
A few reasons I like these:
- Glass is a natural, non-porous material.
- Glass cookware doubles as food storageware.
- Glass is easy to clean and dishwasher safe.
- The clear lid allows easy visibility to your food.
- Because they are oven and microwave proof, you can cook, heat, and store your food all in one dish.
- Flat top allows for easy stacking.
- They are VERY affordable.
A few other options:
- Reusable BPA-free Glad Ovenware containers*. They stack nicely in the freezer and the food pops out easily into an 8×8 casserole dish when ready to cook. The lids do tend to break after a while, though.
- BPA-free freezer zip-top bags* work well for some frozen foods, like meat in marinades and soups. They do not work so well for casseroles.
- Lastly, you can use disposable aluminum pans with lids. These are particularly helpful when making a frozen meal to give away to a friend or someone in need.
*Important Note: Be sure to let your foods cool completely before putting them in plastic containers to avoid chemicals being released into your food.
Who will be the administrator? The larger your group is, the more helpful it is to have one person to be the administrator. This person will keep track of who is making what meal, keep the meeting moving along, send out email reminders, etc. You can even rotate who does this everyone once in a while.
How will we evaluate meals? Our group determined early on to be really open to feedback each month. This is the only way to get better at what you’re doing and determine which meals are the very best freezer meals. To evaluate, we decided to vote at each meeting about the previous month’s meals and simply say if we want them again or not (or offer suggestions to make a meal work better next time, if we thought it had future potential). It sounds hardcore, I know. But, we all understood that everyone has different preferences and that we all have flops from time to time. The advantage of evaluating is that you can remake the successful ones again and again. The Google Doc we used to vote and keep track of our “successes” is our Homerun List, which you are welcome to download (just click HERE) and use. Many of these freezer recipes are on now right here on Thriving Home, and we add more continually.
Where Can We Find Freezer Meal Recipes That Work?
Over time you’ll pick up on what kind of recipes will work for freezing and reheating, especially if you evaluate each month at your meetings. We find many of our ideas on Pinterest. But, we have a HUGE collection of family-friendly, easy freezer meals right HERE for you.
Motivated to start a Freezer Club now? Questions about starting a Freezer Club? I’m happy to help! Please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to respond quickly.
*I am indebted to my friends Darcie and Carla for helping start, guide, and keep our Freezer Club going for so many years. This post would NOT be possible without their wisdom and friendship.