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The shortest cut to saving time and money while getting healthy meals on the table is by starting a freezer club. In this post, I’ll share everything I learned over my 7 years of freezer cooking with friends and how to start a freezer club.
Or you may want to learn how to throw a freezer meal party instead.
Why I Joined 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.
But, after quitting my full-time job to stay home with my first child, the budget got tight and dinner at home was a must. I liked cooking but didn’t have a lot of experience, so when my friend, Darcie, asked if I wanted to join her Freezer Club, I jumped in.
Our group of anywhere from 3 to 8 women at various points all stuck together, fed each other’s families, and learned a LOT about freezer cooking for 7 years!
As a result, I grew immensely as a home cook and am now a HUGE proponent of freezer 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 to read about freezer meals, if you’re unfamiliar with freezer cooking and wondering how it works.) My friends and I began our freezer club in 2007 and never looked back.
Our freezer club had varying amounts of women in it over the years. In the early years, our group was usually 6-8 women. The last few years, we pared down to just three of us who swapped. Although I loved the days of bringing home 12 pre-made meals in one night, we found our smaller, more low-key group to be more manageable once we had more kids.
However you decide to structure your freezer club, I think you’ll find it to be really fun and helpful!
Benefits of Freezer Cooking With Friends
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Help others. A bonus to freezer meal cooking is that it’s easy to have freezer meals for new moms 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.
- It’s fun! I’d 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, and 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 mom.
How Does a Freezer Club Work?
Make a Meal Plan
Meet once a month or so to plan the next month’s menu and swap meals from the previous month’s round. Each member should bring 3-5 recipes ideas (here’s a huge index of healthy freezer meal recipes) and then the group decides which ones to try that month. At the end of each meeting, we grabbed our coolers and then the swapping began. It felt like Christmas!
Prep Your Assigned Meal for Everyone
Next, cook/prep your assigned meal for each family on your own time and put them in the freezer until you’re ready to swap.
To give you an idea of prep time, when I’ve made a meal for 6 families (that included mine), it usually took me about 2-3 hours from start to clean-up depending on the recipe.
Attach a label to 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.”).
We swapped our meals about once a month (at the same meeting in which we planned the menu for the next month). You can meet at a friend’s house for dessert and drinks, meet up for coffee or dinner out, or just run the meals by each others’ houses when you’re out (not as fun!).
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 Group
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. Later on, we decided to just make one per month. 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 upfront. Here are a few options to consider:
- 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.
- Set a cost range that members should think of in terms of most months.
- Have everyone bring their grocery store receipts, tally up the group cost at your meeting, and divide them 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 are 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 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 agreed upon four servings for each family, since the majority of freezer meal recipes make 4-8 servings.
We actually came up with our own guidelines for size of meals (see below). 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 tried to be generous with portions.
- Soups – 8 cups
- Pancakes/Waffles – x12
- Wraps/Burritos – x8
- Stew/Chili – 8 cups
- Burgers – 4 burgers (1/3-1/2 lb. per burger)
- Pulled Pork/Mexican Pot Roast Tacos/BBQ Beef/Asian Lettuce Wraps, etc. – Fill the pan using the recipe as a guideline (do our best to make what the recipe says is 4 servings), but if we come a little short we talk about it the next round and try to adjust.
- Chicken Breasts/Tenders – 1.5-2 lbs. when they are the main part of the meal.
- Pork Chops – 1.5-2 lbs
- Pork Tenderloin – 1.75-2 lbs.
- Steak – 2 lbs. per family, unless recipe states otherwise
- Ribs – 3+ lbs. per family
- French Dip – Enough for 4 generous sandwich servings plus 2 cups au jus per pan.
- Pastas/Casseroles – Fill an 8×8 inch pan.
- Salmon/Tilapia/Shrimp – 1.5 lbs per family
What kind of containers will we swap meals in?
We’ve done a lot of testing over the years, and these are our favorite freezer meal containers. Our group typically used gallon-size, BPA-free freezer bags (or you can use reusable freezer bags), but your group may also want to invest in the same glass dishes with lids to swap for casseroles.
Who will be the administrator?
The larger your group is, the more helpful it is to have one person 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 on a Google doc 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. Evaluating each month also allowed us to create what we called our “Home Run List” of recipes to make again and again. Many of our Thriving Home best hits are iterations of these original home run recipes!
We Published Cookbooks to Help!
Using our 25+ years of combined freezer cooking wisdom, we have written two cookbooks just for you called From Freezer to Table and From Freezer to Cooker. In our first cookbook, we lay out the basics of freezer cooking, explain how to start a Freezer Club or throw a Freezer Party, and share 75+ of our favorite freezer meal recipes. In the second one, we created delicious freezer meals for the crock pot and Instant Pot.
Every recipe in our books is well-tested, made with whole food ingredients, and family-friendly. We know you’ll love these cookbooks!
Here’s a look inside From Freezer to Table…
Motivated to start a freezer club now? Questions? 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 (who is now on our team) 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.