Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Dinner Dilemma

Sorry for my prolonged absence.  I am sure I can find all sorts of excuses that I have not written- some of them legit and some of them not.  Last week was a little crazy, but in a good way.  I celebrated Valentine's Day with my husband with a take-in-bake heart-shaped pizza from Papa Murphy's and The "A-Team" from Netflix.  It was so perfectly us - and no crowds! Then I was invited to play Bunco with a new set of friends (Yay me!), all-the-while packing for my trip to Ohio.  

Last weekend I made it a long weekend and drove back to visit family and my best friend.  It was a wonderful weekend- played IT for my computer-challenged (But they are learning!) parents. I spent Saturday with my best friend who is enduring a time of hardship.  A friend and I pampered her as best we knew how, which included pedicures, a tasty night out (w/ valet parking ya'll!), and 2 coolers packed with pre-made frozen meals that survived the trip from Iowa to Ohio.

Speaking of frozen dinners, I should explain that although I have focused mainly on breakfast and lunch options, I have not elaborated much on what I do for dinner.  Several years ago, a close friend of mine introduced me to "meal swapping".  I was intrigued by the idea, but did not put much thought into it.  I assumed that since it was only my husband and I, that this would be unreasonable. Actually, it is even better because one meal can last us several days! 

About a year later, several coworkers were frequenting Supper Solutions, a place where you can go and prepare your own pre-portioned meals and take them home to your freezer.  This was fun, but also fairly pricey due to the convenience.  Then that was when that little lightbulb went on in my head- I remembered the meal-swapping idea from the year before!

Several of my co-workers in Colorado tried this for a year and overall (with a little practice), we found it to be fun, helpful and a HUGE time-saver.  I had dinner thawed or in the crockpot ready to go on any given day- always something new, different, and delicious. And EASY! It really required me to plan and cook one day a month (usually a Sunday). Then after the swap, I came home with 8 frozen homemade meals that serve six people each.  This was a huge help for busy work/school nights. 

When I moved to Iowa last summer, I was really missing this convenience and camaraderie,and I decided to get a group going. I now have a great group of ladies here who I exchange meals with on a monthly basis.  It. is. awesome.  Talk about saving time....and eventually saving money when you get good at it.

Since so many people have been recently inquiring about this process, I thought I would write about the details of how our dinner co-op works.  

Looking for a way to simplify your dinnertime at home? We fill our freezers every month, but only have to cook one recipe! Every month, we are each responsible for one cooking category. We make the recipe of our choice within the category (8x) (based on how many people participate in the group) and freeze them. Then, we get together once a month and swap the meals. Each person comes with a cooler of 1 meal (x7) and leaves with a cooler with that many different meals in it for the month! Throw the 8th meal in your freezer for you and your family! To ensure fairness, we ask that the meals should be enough to serve 6.

1) Cook/Prep! You cook/prep a meal from your assigned category for the month. Since these are frozen meals, you can technically cook them whenever you have time during the month, freeze them, and bring them in your cooler on the day of the swap.

Sample Monthly Cooking categories

(Any chicken or turkey dish, such as chicken tacos, chicken/turkey casserole, turkey enchiladas, chicken and biscuits, baked chicken breasts)

(Any pork or seafood dish such as Italian sausage sandwiches, sausage and potato soup, ham and potato casserole, tuna noodle casserole, baked fish.)

(Any beef dish such as Sloppy Joe’s, beef burgundy with rice, French dip sandwiches, taco casserole, seasoned burgers for the grill w/buns.)

(With or without meat, such as spaghetti pie, macaroni and cheese, chicken alfredo, baked ziti.)

(Such as breakfast casserole, pigs in a blanket, muffins, breakfast burritos, sticky buns.)

(Chili, white chicken chili, chicken noodles, potato soup, minestrone, beef stew.)

(This does not necessarily mean vegan- just without meat, such as cheese and onion enchiladas, mac and cheese, eggplant parmesan, or veggie soup.) 


I simply rotate names through the list every month.The categories can be changed as we go….I know not everyone likes everything listed, but at least this allows some variety for different preferences. Remember, this is to make our lives easier so I encourage people to use their own tried-and-true things they cook at home. No fancy recipes are necessary, but the blogs below offer some great ideas!

2) Freeze! The meals are usually frozen flat in a Ziploc freezer bag, or you can choose to use aluminum pans if necessary. Type up the prep instructions and ingredients (Or post on the private facebook group page like I made for our group!) and securely attach to each bag or feel free to write directly on the bags if you wish. (There are excellent tips about this- stuff I didn’t even think of- at the second websites below!)

3) Swap! We swap at a certain designated place on the same day every month. It only takes about 10 minutes.

Here are some websites of other co-op groups similar to this so you can see how they work or recipes that are helpful...

Stay tuned for some upcoming "freezer meal" recipes! 

If you have ever participated in a food swap or co-op?  What do you like about it?  If not, would you ever try it? 

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