We all know that a freezer packed with meals is a serious accomplishment — a gift from your present self to your future self. But how do you actually stock it up? One way to productively fill your freezer is to share the work with friends. I did this recently, and this week I'm showing you the freezer meal party I threw with my mom and sisters.
What does a freezer meal party actually involve? How do you coordinate the shopping and planning and cooking? Here are a few different approaches to filling your freezers together.
3 Types of Freezer Meal Parties
The point of a freezer meal party, as I talked about in my first post, is to diversify your meals, share costs, and spend time with one another. But depending on your time, space, and situation, there are different ways of accomplishing this.
- One planner, one shopper. Everyone else shows up and cooks. This is the kind of party I threw. I planned the recipes, and I did all the shopping. In this case, the other folks would simply split the bill with the host. This is obviously, by far, the most work for a host, but it does simplify the planning. It also holds the most opportunity for cost-savings, since the planner can optimize the meal around bulk shopping.
- Many planners, many shoppers. Everyone shows up and cooks. In this scenario, each cook plans one or two recipes and shops for them. They show up at one person's house with their recipes and ingredients and everyone takes a turn leading the group through prep.
- Don't cook. Just swap! In the simplest sort of freezer meal party, you turn it into a swap where everyone cooks or preps at home and then shows up with a cooler full of breakfast burritos, frozen chili, or some other meal. Everyone swaps — like at the soup swap we showed you last month. The point here is less about dividing the work and more about diversifying your freezer menu.
→ Learn more about food swaps: How To Throw a Soup Swap
All three of these can be fun and seriously good for your freezer. Which one you choose just depends on your space and situation.
In my case, I live in Ohio and have a big kitchen with plenty of countertop space, and I wanted to host a party where we all cooked together. But this is just one approach, one peek into one set of meals. There are so many meal plans and ideas for power cooking — I'll share some of my other favorites from around the web later this week!
Want to Cook Together? Here's Freezer Meal 101.
If you'd like to try to do one of the first two types of parties, here's what you need.
A Checklist for a Freezer Meals Party
Here are the basics. You need:
- A kitchen big enough to cook together: Don't assume, though, that you need a perfectly enormous kitchen. Much of the work of a freezer meal party is shopping, chopping, and assembling. You can spread out to the dining room, breakfast nook, or any other space close by. Also consider other spaces — maybe your church, condo building, or office has a larger shared kitchen you can borrow for making meals together.
- A nearly empty freezer and refrigerator (or cold weather!): You will need space for a lot of groceries. Then, as you prep food it needs to be refrigerated or frozen immediately for safety. It's a bit of a juggle, so make sure your fridge is as empty as possible. Tip: Take advantage of the cold weather! If your thermometer reads 8 below (as mine does today) then your entire back porch is a freezer. Put food in coolers, and keep an eye on the thermometer and make sure that it doesn't creep over safe refrigerator temps.
- The right amount of friends! The whole point of cooking together (in my mind anyway) is the chance to spend some time with people you like. Find a few like-minded friends who want to fill their freezers. How many? If you're doing a straight-up swap the more the merrier. If you're cooking together, I think six is the absolute most (and the limit of most kitchens). If I did this again I would probably invite three friends.
- Enough time: You'll need an evening to shop, and about four hours to cook together. For my party I shopped on a Friday afternoon and then we cooked from about 11am to 3pm on Saturday.
- A plan: The biggest part of success in a freezer meal party is a plan. What are you cooking, and how are you shopping?
Planning the Recipes
When planning recipes, look for recipes that freeze well (of course) and share ingredients. Also look for meals that have a range of prep instructions. For my meal plan I included some recipes that took almost no prep — just assembly. We could assemble taco kits and slow cooker pork chops while things that needed more time cooked (twice-baked potatoes, in my case).
Most of the recipes we made were from our featured columnist Jessica Fisher's book: Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. I highly recommend Jessica's book for planning a party like this as she breaks down several menus into step-by-step cooking plans that would work really well for a freezer meal party.
There are so many variables and options for planning a freezer meal menu it's hard to tackle it all here but as this week progresses I'll share some meal plans from other bloggers and of course the recipes we cooked in our session.
If you're doing all the shopping for the whole group, this is where savings can add up, but also your shopping cart. So be smart. Bring a buddy to help!
Don't forget to shop for extras like plastic bags (if you're using them), paper towels, and snacks and drinks.
If you're looking for some ideas on specific good things to shop for in bulk for power cooking, check out Jessica's post on shopping at Costco:
→ Shopping in bulk: Make Costco Work for You: How I Buy and Freeze in Bulk
What Your Guests Should Bring
If you're cooking together, here are a few things it's helpful for guests to bring:
- A cooler with ice packs - This is important especially if your freezer and fridge don't have much space and it isn't cold outside. As meals are completed, the guests should stash them somewhere cold.
- Baking pans or dishes for the meals you're assembling
- A cutting board
- Their favorite knife
- An apron
Setting Up Your Kitchen
If you're hosting, here's what you should do the day of a party.
- Clean out the fridge and freezer: As mentioned above, it's best to start with as clean and empty of a fridge and freezer as possible. If you have a second freezer, such as a chest freezer in the garage, shift things out there.
- If it's cold, prep an outdoor space: If it's below freezing, prep bins or coolers outside where you can set food to cool.
- Create workstations: Clean off your countertops and table and make sure there is plenty of room to set up cutting boards, bowls, and assembly stations.
- Have snacks! To fuel your cooking session, put out snacks and drinks. For a party like this, where we're already cooking, I wouldn't do any extra cooking. Put out popcorn, cookies from a bakery, fruit, or other zero-work snacks.
- Get a good playlist going: Don't forget the music.
- Lay out the recipes: If you've planned the menu, print out instructions for prepping and assembling each recipe.
- Make a plan for labeling the freezer meals: This could be as simple as having a bunch of Sharpies at hand for writing on bags or as elaborate as printing out labels with cooking instructions.
Last but not least, be very mindful of food safety when cooking in big batches like this. A couple essentials:
- Keep ingredients cold until you need to use them.
- Cool any cooked food quickly in the fridge or freezer before packaging up.
- Freeze finished food promptly.
Cook, Freeze, Have Fun
Those are my own essentials for cooking together in bulk — I would love to hear if you've also thrown parties like these and how you managed the logistics. Tomorrow I'll show you my own party in a little more detail — along with the recipes and plan.