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Everything You Need to Know about Starting a Freezer Co-op

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WHAT IS A FREEZER CO-OP?

A freezer co-op is a group of families who exchange freezer meals.  It usually includes four to six families.  Each family picks a recipe and makes four to six batches of that recipe.  They freeze the meals, then all the families meet up and exchange the frozen meals.

Here is how my most recent group worked….  We brought already frozen meals to the swap.  We met every four to six weeks at the local Chik-Fil-A.  We parked all our vehicles next to one another in the parking lot.  We opened our trunks and exchanged the meals.  Then we went inside and ate breakfast and decided what was or wasn’t working, when to meet next, and what recipes each person would make for the next cycle.  

STARTING YOUR OWN CO-OP:

Start asking around to see who might be interested.  Ask lots and lots of different people, the families you think might be interested may turn out not to be.  After moving here, I knew the families at church a little better and asked several of them.  There was no interest and I was discouraged.  Then one day at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers, www.mops.org) with some new acquaintances, someone asked if anyone had ever heard of freezer co-ops.  I was so excited!  When the ladies found out I’d started one before, I was nominated to start a new one.  It went consistent and strong for over a year.  Consider any size family.  The number of people doesn’t really matter, but your group will need to agree on the number of servings for each of the meals.

Places you may know people who are interested:

  • extended family
  • church
  • work
  • kids’ school
  • clubs/organizations  (MOPS, Junior League, book club, PTO, etc…)
  • kids’ sports teams or activities (other soccer moms, other band parents, etc…)
  • neighbors

 

Have a planning meeting to decide exactly how you want your group to function.  Things to consider are:  

  • how often you want to exchange meals
  • any foods that are taboo (my family doesn’t eat seafood, so that is taboo in our group)
  • how many serving sizes each meal needs to be (2-4 servings? 4-6 servings?  Is an 8×8 pan okay or do all casseroles need to be a 9 x 13?  When using whole pieces of meat how many pieces should be included?)
  • what needs to be included in each meal (only a main dish? sides too? desserts?)
  • decide how you are going to label meals (There are labeling ideas in chapter 10.)
  • any requirements for being a part of the group (have to be at every swap, have to be able to meet after swapping food to discuss)

Select some recipes to start with.  You’ll need to decide if you want to assign recipes to each member or let them choose their own.  Our group tries to stick to assigning the main ingredient, for example, Joy is making a chicken meal, Jennifer is making a beef meal, etc….  If you have freezer cooked before, help the others find recipes to try.  If no one has freezer cooked before, then try recipes only marked “freezer meals” to start.  ALL the meals in this book are freezer meals.  There are some recipes to help you at the end of this chapter.  Remember that each cook will not be able to cater to every family’s specific tastes…don’t ask them to!  

Select a date, time, and place for your swap.  You may want to meet at someone’s home, the school parking lot, or a local restaurant.  Our group prefers somewhere where we can sit and plan the next swap for thirty minutes to an hour.  You may want to meet every first Tuesday each month or every four weeks on the nose.  Our group brings calendars to the swap and selects a date together that is between four and six weeks away.  

Constantly review and re-evaluate.  I am continually asking my group what we could do better or different.  I also ask them about each round of recipes and we give our honest opinions.  We understand that not every family is going to like every recipe.  Tastes are different.  BUT if there is a recipe that a majority of the families did not like, then we probably shouldn’t have it again.

**My group streamlined much of this process by creating a closed group on Facebook.  We posted our recipes there.  We also signed up for the next swap, discussed dates, and voted on recipes there.**

 

My Group & Food Guidelines:

  • When choosing a recipe, pick one that is already categorized as a freezer meal OR if it is one of your own recipes, please try freezing, heating, and eating first to make sure it turns out okay!
  • meals should feed 4-6 people—Please be generous, this should be 4 LARGE servings or 6 small servings.  Your contribution should be a main dish, not one ingredient (ex. not just frozen taco meat)-If it is just a marinated meat, make sure to include the rice or pasta that goes with it.
  • Freeze your meal in Ziploc brand freezer bags, Ziploc brand tubs with twist lids (for liquids that won’t do well in bags), or in aluminum disposable pans (PLEASE USE 2  8 X 8s  IF POSSIBLE, INSTEAD OF 9 X 13 SIZE) covered with heavy duty foil.

USE BAGS 1ST IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, THEY ARE EASIER TO STORE IN SMALL FREEZERS  However, if your meal requires that it be layered, pans may be easier.

  • Cool foods completely before freezing to reduce chance of freezer burn, also remove as much air (you can suck it out with a straw) as possible and freeze it flat.
  • NO seafood recipes.
  • Use the best ingredients (lower fat ground meat, real butter, etc…).
  • If your recipe calls for pasta, include it on the side for cooking when the meal is reheated.
  • Bring meals already assembled ready to pop in the oven or drop into a pot and heat.
  • Label all meals  with the DATE, NAME OF DISH, INSTRUCTIONS FOR HEATING, WHO PREPARED IT (in case we have a question).
  • ATTACH the label to your dish.  In your instructions, be sure to include whether or not to thaw before cooking, remove foil/plastic wrap, etc…
  • Post your recipe on our Facebook group page.
  • Remember that you must be at the exchange meeting to receive food and to plan the next recipes to be used, if you cannot participate during a particular cycle, please let the group know ASAP.

 

WHAT NOT TO DO:

Do not mix up your group with families who have food allergies or a special diet and families who do not.  It is just too hard.  Been there.  We needed a sixth person once in my old co-op.  We asked a gal and she agreed and then said, “Oh by the way, we don’t eat pork.  And not really any cheese.”  Oh the frustration!  I should have told her our guidelines up front!  The next round she decided not to continue before I even had to say something to her.  If your family has food allergies, try to start a group with other families with similar food allergies or diet preferences.

Do not bring your group a meal that would only take them five minutes to make on their own.  For example, ground beef with taco seasoning or sloppy joes.  Do not assume everyone in your group will think of this!  Tell them this in the guidelines your group establishes.

Do not use your group as guinea pigs!  Only use recipes marked as freezer recipes.  If you want to see if something freezes and reheats well, try it on your own family.  If it works, then make it for your co-op.  If it doesn’t, you only ruined dinner for your family, not six families…who wants to order pizza for six families?  

Do not bring your group a meal that looks like dog food.  Been there.  Don’t ever want to go back.  Think of quality when feeding other people’s families.  

Do not make it too complicated.  Keep it as simple as possible.  This is supposed to make your life easier, remember?

 

ABOVE ALL:

Have fun and keep it as simple as possible.  If the co-op begins to become a burden, it won’t be worth it to you anymore, no matter how much time and money it saves you.  Give the grace and freedom to members to bow out or dissolve the group all together.  I am not currently in any freezer co-ops.  This season of life makes it too complicated.  But I still consistently make many of the recipes from former co-ops.  And I made friends and memories through it as well.

 

**If you are looking for other ways to do freezer cooking with friends, check out THIS POST!**

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