Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Annual Frozen Meal Exchange

How long do you have to do something for it to be considered a tradition or to earn the title "annual" event.  Does five years count?  Or does it lie in the intention to continue for years into the future?  It's probably a combination, right?  In that case, I think I've started a tradition.  It's an annual frozen meal exchange.  And at the risk of sounding prideful, let me just say that I'm proud of this event.  It's truly become one of those favorite Fall activities that I love to look forward to. (to which I love to look forward???  Oh, you prepositions!)

Five years ago I was expecting my second child.  My due date was in late November.  Many of my friends were also expecting their second baby that Winter or the following Spring.  I think some of us felt a sense of  impending doom - the cold, the snow, new babies... "We're never going to see each other again!!"  I recall sitting at my computer, probably some time in mid October, ready to type an email inviting this group of ladies to join me for a holiday cookie exchange in the hopes that we'd get to hang out one last time before Summer '08.  At that time, I had already begun freezing a few meals in preparation for the postpartum fog.  And I knew that the last thing I needed in the house was cookies. It hit me - what if we exchanged dinners???  That was what I really needed.

So we did it!  I invited six other women.  Everyone participated and so we all went home with seven frozen dinners.   We have done it for five years!  I think for three of those years we've had all seven families, and this year was the first time we were down to five.  But, I have every intention of continuing on as long as I have willing participants.

Here are the benefits to participating in a Fall frozen meal exchange:
- You have lot of pre-made meals at an especially busy time of the year (we usually try to do the exchange in the weeks before Thanksgiving).
- You may save a measure of money in buying bulk ingredients for mass producing your particular meal choice.
- You get to serve your family delicious meals that you may not have ever made yourself.  Variety is good, right?
- You may hit upon a great meal that your family likes so much you add it to your own regular meal rotation.
- The participants get to socialize and spend time together while also gathering tons of food to take home to the hungry hordes.  It kind of feels like grocery shopping, only better.  
- And did I mention that you have a lot of pre-made meals in your freezer, ready to defrost (or toss in a crock-pot) and eat whenever you want???

The cons:
- You have a lot of prep and cooking to do at once.  I mean, you are making full meals for for seven families at once :)  (But, you were going to have to cook a meal for your family anyway, why not just make a little lot more of it.)

Let's look at those lists again.  The benefits clearly outweigh the drawbacks.  

So, you want to start a frozen meal exchange?

(Reality check... "Theresa, about 5 people read your new blog.  Three of them are your family members and the other two probably are already part of your meal exchange.  You've had a blog for about week and your inspiration intended for busy moms everywhere is mostly falling on deaf ears...or more precisely, no ears at all.)  Ok, so then for my own benefit, I'll lay it out:

- Invite your participants.  I like seven families.  It's a lot of meals and you're sure to get a good variety.  Don't forget, adding even more families may mean more meals and variety, but it's also more meals that you have to prepare.  It's one thing to be a little crazed and stressed while preparing seven meals, but it's another thing to drop to the floor, unconscious, trying to make meals for 10, 11, 15, however-many families at a time.  
- Choose families of a similar size.  When our group began we all had two adults and one small child.  This year the five participating families (all from the original group) are each up to four children!  The kiddos range from 3 months to 8 years old, and they were all at my house (except for two)!
- Choose families that have similar eating habits and tastes as yours.  Be aware of dietary restrictions and/or allergies and decide if the group will be able to work around them.  It may not be wise to include a family that follows a diet that's not in line with the other families.  However, we have a good example of how this can work... After the first exchange, the husband of my very good friend adopted a fat free vegan diet.  The family still participates though b/c some of the other moms are willing (and able) to adjust their meals to fit his diet, and the meals that are not adjusted are still suitable for the rest of her family.  And - bonus!  We all get to sample and benefit from the fat free vegan meals our friend brings to the exchange.
-Try to dialogue ahead of time about what each mom is going to bring so that you don't accidentally end up with three or four of the same meal.  The meals I've made have been potato cheddar and broccoli soup, beef and bean chili, Mexican chicken casserole, sausage and sauerkraut casserole, and cilantro lime chicken tacos.  Meals from others that I can remember are shepherd's pie, assorted quiches, white chicken chili, beef and barley soup, breakfast burritos, you get the idea.  
- Host the event.  Instruct everyone to being meals in containers they will not need back - plastic gallon bags, aluminum casserole pans, Dollar Store tupperware, etc...  Attach the following info to the meal: what it is, your name, defrost/cooking instructions, and the recipe.  

That's it!  Have fun!  

As I mentioned, I intend to continue our meal exchange for as long as it makes sense for us.  The past five years the meal exchange has been so fun, and it's such a practical way to prepare for the busy holiday season (and to help good friends do the same.)  My only regret is that I haven't taken a picture of the group every year to chronicle the event and the growing families of my friends.  Perhaps that's a new tradition I'll have to start at our Sixth Annual Frozen Meal Exchange.  


  1. Sounds awesome! I would love to do this and will totally keep this idea in mind when Im able... I just came upon your blog and love it :)

    1. Thanks, Becky! I'm a big fan of the meal exchange idea - I hope you get to try it! Happy Thanksgiving! (a little late.)

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  3. Theresa, I love this idea! Perhaps, I can start this next year with a couple of friends.

    1. I hope you do, Kelly! It's so fun and practical! Have a blessed Advent!

  4. I found this searching "frozen meal exchange." What do you do with the meals while the party's happening? Everybody bring a cooler and ice? I wouldn't have enough freezer space for all 49 meals.

    1. Hi Mary!! Frozen meals and the annual exchange are some of my favorite conversation topics ever so I'm so happy you ended up here!!

      Usually everyone brings the meals already frozen solid, so if they sit around for an hour or two it's not a big deal. I live in Buffalo, NY where it's cold and winter-y for 13 months out of the year, so several years, we just left all the meals outside (where it was colder than a standard kitchen freezer) and everyone just took one of everything on their way out. Each mom usually bring her meals in a large laundry basket or cardboard box, so that's what all the exchanged meals go home in. Like I said, I could go on and on - so stop reading any time :) But often meals come with "extras" - like I would make a Mexican chicken casserole, so everyone would also get a tub of sour cream and tortilla chips that go with it, and I would put those in a separate, labeled grocery bag. It's not that hard to keep track of stuff, but it is helpful to include a recipe and list of what goes with your meal so that when they're all jumbled together in a box it's easy to sort them out once your home. I

      If you have any other questions, let me know! And if you host an exchange, I'd love to hear about it!! Hope it goes well :)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Mary!


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