When you’re trying to balance work, school and other obligations, coming up with dinner ideas can seem like a thankless task that renews itself each night. And chances are, many of your overscheduled friends feel the same way. Share the dinner burden by hosting a freezer-meal party. You’ll stock up on easy-prep meals, avoid the takeout trap – and sneak in some quality friend time, too.
Freezer-meal parties are gatherings at which friends prep make-ahead dishes together, sometimes producing 20 or more meals in a single evening. While you could achieve the same goal alone simply by making tons of dishes over a weekend, working with friends helps to break up the monotony of chopping, measuring and mixing. Plus, if you shop for ingredients at a store that offers quantity discounts, you could save a little by buying in bulk.
Ready to get started? Here’s a step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Who’s invited?
Determining your invitation list for a freezer-meal party should be fairly easy. You’re most likely to get positive responses from friends who have lots of work and home obligations, and who aren’t overly picky about their meals. To narrow it down further, focus on friends who aren’t afraid to put in a little work – after all, you don’t want too many people leaning against the counter sipping wine while just a few do all the cooking.
Step 2: What’s cooking?
Once the guest list has been set, circulate emails asking for input on what to cook. Some guests may have family members with food allergies, or might be averse to certain ingredients, like tuna. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s able to be frozen and reheated. Fatty foods, fried foods and entrees with cream fillings will not fare well in the freezer. Casseroles and slow-cooker dishes are best suited to freezer meals. If you need ideas, check the library for freezer meal cookbooks, or check out these recipes from Taste of Home.
As far as how many meals to cook, let your allotted time be your guide. If you only have a couple of hours, there may only be time to make 4 or so meals for each guest. If you’ve got the entire day, the sky’s the limit.
Step 3: Divide the tasks and the bill
The menu has been determined and the guests have saved the date – but how to obtain and prep the ingredients? There are a few ways to approach it. One option is to assign an ingredient or two to each guest and have them buy and prepare it, doing any necessary cooking or chopping at home. This saves time, but could also be unfair money-wise, since it costs a lot less to buy 10 onions than 10 pounds of chicken breasts. To make everything completely even, the host can shop for all of the ingredients herself and prep them as necessary before the party, then split the grocery bill evenly among the guests. (The host doesn’t pay, since she did all of the prep work and is providing the venue.) A third option: One person shops for all of the ingredients, the bill is split, and all of the prep is done at the host’s house. This divides the labor up, but will extend the party’s length by a fair amount, since it can take a long time to brown 20 pounds of ground beef, peel 30 potatoes, and so on.
No matter how you split up buying the ingredients, make sure everyone brings their own pans and freezer bags to take their meals home in – or, buy disposable aluminum bakeware and add it to the grocery fee.
Step 4: Make it a party
Make the hours go as quickly as possible by setting a festive atmosphere. Provide wine, soda and light snacks, and play music. Don’t get so focused on your tasks that you forget to enjoy yourself. Once all of the meals have been made, attach removable reheating instructions to each dish (white paper and Scotch tape work well for this) and send everyone home loaded down with dinner!
Step 5: Don’t forget to thank everyone
A few days after the party is over and you’ve all caught your breath, send out emails thanking everyone for their participation. After all, you’ve got multiple meals in your freezer now because your friends pitched in and helped. If guests can remember your party fondly, they’ll be more likely to come back for another freezer meal party … and another … and another!
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