What is meal swap? It is making 8 of the same meal and swapping with 8 other people, then coming home with 8 different meals. It is genius. It is time saving and it is amazing. I first heard this concept and it seemed far out of reach and way out of my comfort zone…and I love to cook. I used 8 as an example and after being part of a meal swap group for 2 plus years, an ideal number of people to swap with would be between 8 and 12.
So how to start? Find a few families who are interested. Set your criteria for meals. Maybe your group all have a similar allergy or similar eating styles. Our current group is pretty low-key. . We meet each month on the third Wednesday, at the same location and same time.We have a private Facebook group and each month we make a new post with the date and we all sign up for what we are making. This helps with variety and not duplicating meals. I know some groups who each put two food options and everyone votes for which meal. Some have it where there is 2 meats, 2 vegetarian, 2 seafood, ect…You can make it as easy or as complicated as your group chooses. Our group does have someone who has a gluten allergy but since her family all eats it, we don’t really cater to that. She is completely fine as it stills helps feed the rest of the family. Actually I bet not everyone in our group even knows that. I personally can’t stand mushrooms, if a meal has mushrooms I either don’t eat it or pick them out. So you have to be flexible at the same time.
Why? When you spend 2-4 hours preparing 8 of the same meals you develop a system. For me to prepare 8 different meals, look at recipes and measure, cut different ingredients, it would take all day. So the front half is saving time. In the end, (insert sigh of relief-ahhhhhh)to grab a frozen meal the night before, thaw it in the fridge (on a tray or plate as they will leak!) and put it in my crock pot for half a day or grill the marinated meat, saves me not only time but the stress of figuring out what to cook. The point is to make life easier. To give mostly prepared, home cooked meals to our families. Also this helps with food variety. I had gotten in a rut of making the same meals each month. Since meal swap, our family has been introduced to meals I hadn’t even thought of making. We encourage our kids to try everything and there haven’t been too many meals that were a bust.
Details? Most of our group have families with small children. Our meals tend to serve between 4 and 6 people. To be honest the pan of lasagna or batch of soup usually feeds my family of 6 and leftovers for Seth’s lunch the next day. Everything is labeled and has directions either attached or posted on the web page. Besides being well labeled (even the can of soup or block of cheese- with the meal it goes with), we say everything needs to be in freezer bags or freezer safe pans. Freezing things flat saves space. As far as cost and sides, I usually keep it between $10-$12, including pans and/or bags. If they are sandwiches I would include pickles or chips but if its an egg bake, I just load it with meat and veggies. I also shop around using Walmart, Target and Aldis. A general rule is if its good for your family then its good for others…
Things to keep in mind….
*Don’t thaw meat and refreeze. It must be cooked to be frozen again.
*Potatoes and some other raw veggies need to be blanched before freezing- otherwise they get soggy and loose nutrients and flavor.
*Lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes and watery veggies don’t thaw well.
What are some ideas of meals? I totally have Googled and/or pinterested “easy freezer meals” and tons of ideas come up. Start with your well know, tried and true family favorites. My favorites have been Ham Cheese Quiche, Ham and Cheese Braid, Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa, Cheesy Chicken Sandwiches, Mediterranean Pizza, Zuppa Toscana with Bread, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Chicken, California Turkey Burgers, Pork Tacos, White Chicken Chili, ect…. You get the idea. If we enjoy a meal, we go back to our facebook page and “like” the meal. If you have a few likes, then that’s a go ahead to make it again.
How to swap? Once the day, time and location are selected have everyone bring their meals in a large bag (Ikea has great bags for this)laundry basket or cooler. Line up the empty baskets and put a meal in each one…if everyone is there on time, it takes less then 5 minutes. You then can carry your basket to your car with your 8 new different meals! Now in the summer a parking lot or sidewalk is great, in the winter and in MN we have to move it inside for 4-5 months.
1. Try a recipe first. Make sure it freezes and isn’t too spicy or lacking spices.
2. Don’t necessarily make 8 batches at once, do one at a time. Sometimes I will cut up everything and portion it out.
3. Make sure all ingredients are included, assume everyone else doesn’t have the random ingredients on hand.
4. Include all instructions, assume that not everyone has had it or cooks a lot.
I love Meal Swap! Do you swap? Anything you want to share? Are you encouraged to start a group? Let us know! I dare you to start it!
PS….Kids make great helpers too- of course, once their hands are washed.