Want to learn about one of the most practical-yet-fun gatherings I've ever hosted? It was, wait for it, a freezer meal party!
My mom and sisters came to my house to cook and assemble meals for our freezers. We built taco kits (so easy!), learned the best way to freeze eggs for breakfast, and prepped pork chops that can go straight into the slow cooker. It was a warm way to spend an afternoon: in the kitchen with people we love, cooking food to nourish us and our families. Everyone went home with a loaded box of good meals, and it made me a full convert to freezer cooking.
Here's what we cooked, how we did it, and what it cost.
Freezer Meal Party: The Quick Version
- How many people? Six cooks, from six different households that range in size from one to four people.
- How many recipes? Six.
- How many meals? Everyone took home six to eight main dishes, each of which serve at least four people. We made 50 meals in all.
- How much did it cost? About $300 for all the ingredients, including organic meat and some organic vegetables.
On Freezer Meals & Budget
Before I dive into the details of this party, let's talk about budget. I am sure that some of you are looking at my title — 50 meals for under $300 — and thinking, Wow, so cheap! But I have a hunch that others are having the opposite response: 50 meals for $300? Ouch!
When it comes to food (and everything else), money and budget are personal. I made choices for this meal party that worked for me and my family, but there are, of course, ways to spend less — or more! For me and my budget, a collection of main dishes at about $6 a pop represents a lot of savings over last-minute cooking or takeout.
I also didn't make a huge effort to save money on this menu. I shopped at Costco and reaped some savings from buying in bulk, but I didn't clip coupons or get as savvy as I know many of you can be about shopping.
And there were other choices. For instance, most of the meals included meat, and I chose to buy organic meat. I could have made these meals more inexpensively by choosing meatless recipes or buying conventional meat.
All that to say: This is just one menu and one way of going about it. For me, this represents a good deal, but I acknowledge that there are other perspectives and sets of priorities. I'd love to hear other plans and recipes you've used to both stock up and save money.
The Party Plan
The plan for this party was simple: invite my mom, sister, sisters-in-law, and one may-as-well-be-a-sister friend over to put some freezer meals together. (And before you call me out on reinforcing outdated gender roles, I hasten to add that my dad and some of my brothers were there too — minding the baby and doing dishes. It was a full family affair!)
The Freezer Meal Menu
Here's what I shopped and planned for. Each of these recipes serves about four people and I bought enough to make about eight servings of each.
- Bacon-Cheddar Twice-Baked Potatoes: Yes, you can freeze twice-baked potatoes! This was news to me. This recipe made a ton. Great for lunches as well as dinners (just warm up in the office microwave).
- Baked Manicotti with Sun-Dried Tomatoes: Vegetarian and very easy to assemble. Pasta dishes like this are classic comfort food and great for freezer cooking.
- Chicken and Wild Rice Bake: Chicken, brown rice, and no pre-cooking. Just assemble and put in the freezer. Simple and wholesome.
- Slow Cooker Cranberry Pork Chops: I love that this also gets almost no cooking (sauté the vegetables and brown the pork chops, if you want to). But after it's thawed, it goes straight into the slow cooker. Delicious and elegant enough for company.
- Chile and Sausage Frittata: Did you know that you can freeze eggs — unbaked? Such a smart tip from Jessica Fisher. These frittatas come together quickly and bake up in 20 minutes.
- Taco Kits - The genius of these kits is in packaging everything together. Freeze the tortillas, cheese, and cooked meat in one flat package, then just add salsa, sour cream, slaw, and guacamole for a nearly instant dinner.
Most of the recipes for this meal plan came from Jessica Fisher's book: Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, a practical, and very helpful guide to freezer meals.
Read one of Jessica's guest feature series: Love Your Freezer
What I Did Before the Party
Compared to a full-on dinner party, prepping for this was a cakewalk. I shopped and pulled the recipes together but that was about it. I asked my guests to bring pans for freezing their food, plus aprons, knives, and cutting boards.
More about how to prep for a freezer meal party in the previous post in this series: Freezer Meal Party 101: What You Need to Host a Meal-Making Party
1. I Shopped for Groceries
To keep it simple, I did all the planning and shopping. (No miscommunications or coordinating!) I went to Costco on Friday afternoon and lugged home a hefty haul of groceries. (Mistake: Not taking someone to help. Have you seen the size of a Costco shopping cart? The top of it comes up to my chin!)
I stashed most of the groceries in my extra fridge downstairs and organized the rest in the kitchen.
2. I Cleaned Out My Refrigerator and Freezer
In the morning, before everyone arrived, I emptied out my kitchen fridge and freezer. The frozen goods went on the back porch. It was a snowy day and the temperature was well below freezing, which was quite helpful on a day of freezer cooking! If you're doing this in the summer, you might need a cooler or three.
3. I Prepared Labels and Containers
I also made sure we had enough freezer bags and containers for each of the recipes. I asked everyone to bring dishes and pie plates so we could use as many reusable pans as possible, but there was still a need for some disposables.
I also prepped Sharpies and labels for the dishes we were going to make.
4. I Put Out Snacks and Drinks
Just before everyone arrived I put out some simple snacks and drinks, like my favorite iced tea — Motto, a sparkling matcha tea made in Boston. I set out fruit, some veggie chips, and cookies. People want sustenance during a marathon cooking session, but keep it fresh and simple!
5. I Set Up Work Stations with Recipes
I printed out the recipe instructions up until the point of freezing. It was helpful to have these right in the kitchen, printed on sturdy card stock — not just on a phone or computer.
I also set out plenty of spoons, spatulas, and mixing bowls (GIR sent us a bunch of their colorful spatulas and silicone tools — so useful!).
How We Assembled 50 Meals in 4 Hours
Then everyone showed up and cooking was on! I pulled out ingredients and put one person in charge of each recipe. We started with some of the basic prep needed for many the recipes, like chopping onions, celery, and mushrooms in bulk. (Word to the wise — that was a lot of onions to chop at once; my husband came in, then made a hasty retreat, blinking vigorously.)
We assembled components of each meal as they were ready, packing them into bags and casserole dishes. Here's a rough timeline of what happened when, although many of these steps happened simultaneously — two people cooking pasta and stuffing manicotti, for instance, while another team cooked sausage and assembled the frittatas. I tried to always have at least two dishes in process at once.
Our Cooking Timeline
- Baked potatoes (then they went on the front porch to cool!)
- Chopped onion, celery, and mushrooms
- Quick-froze the onions, celery, and mushrooms for chicken dish
- Made the manicotti filling while the pasta boiled
- Filled the manicotti
- Assembled manicotti dishes and froze them
- Cooked sausage for the frittata
- Assembled the frittatas and froze them
- Assembled the chicken and wild rice dishes and froze them
- Cooked taco meat for tacos
- Assembled taco kits and froze them
- Seared the pork chops (then cooled very fast outside)
- Cooked the bacon and onions for twice-baked potatoes (then cooled outside)
- Assembled the pork chops in bags then froze them
- Assembled the twice-baked potato filling and stuffed the potatoes
- Wrapped the potatoes individually in foil then froze them
What People Took Home!
Everyone went home with a load of food — six to eight meals, depending on household size. The groceries I bought made extra taco kits and quite a few stuffed potatoes, so some of the smaller households really left with over a dozen meals.
What I Liked About This Party
For the most part, this party felt like a wonderful way to invest time and energy. The meals were incredibly easy to assemble and cook off when needed, and for me, very budget-friendly. So there isn't much I would change.
And the best part, besides the meals stuffed into my freezer (hello, twice-baked potatoes!), was the time we spent together. My family lives in town, but we're all quite busy, so to spend a whole afternoon cooking and talking together was a luxury.
What I'd Change Next Time
What would I do differently? For starters, I would get help in shopping. That was a haul!
Second, I would love to try a meal party where everyone brought their own recipes.
Third, we went with a pretty hearty, comfort food-style menu for this party, given the households (cough picky brothers cough) we were cooking for. These recipes are all easy, wholesome, and delicious, but I am looking forward to playing around with more recipes to see what else I can freeze and how healthy I can make my freezer meals.
Last but not least, regardless of whether I organized the whole shebang or it was a group effort, I would do a little more planning of what to cook when. We could have been even more efficient. It took about four hours to prep everything but I think we could have done it in three and assembled even more meals in the process. Once you're multiplying a recipe times six, it's not that much harder to make a little more and go home with twice the amount of meals.
This Party Made a Freezer-Filler Out of Me!
I don't think of myself as a freezer-filler. I work at home; I cook and write about food for a living. Surely I have time to cook dinner every night, right?
Yeah. You know what? I am loving having my freezer full of food. Even just a handful of meals — six or seven — has smoothed over some busy nights and kept us from ordering takeout or eating yogurt and popcorn for dinner. I'm very inspired to make this a habit — it just took a party to help me get there.
Your turn — let's talk freezer cooking. Have you ever done a party like this? What do you like to cook in big batches?