Great friends and a freezer full of food

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Like many moms of multiples, before my daughters were born I started filling the freezer with prepared meals for quick dinners while I was in the hospital and after I came home with two babies. Regardless of what the babies would need, there would still be two parents and a toddler to feed.

By the time the girls were four months old, I realized that I had to find some new strategies for feeding our family. Before I got pregnant, I had gone to a meal preparation service.  You purchased a dozen or more meals, and then came to store to assemble them. The process was quick and the meals were delicious, but we were paying $4 or $5 per serving. It was convenient but we couldn’t afford that when I wasn’t working.

One day at Costco, I found the solution.  It was The Big Cook Book, a cookbook designed for batch cooking. The authors’ idea was that 3 or 4 women would get together every few months and prepare as many as 200 meals in a single day. Each family would then have a freezer stocked with meals for the next month. I soon found three friends ready for a meal cooking experiment.

The first time, we met at my house. All of our children except our 4-month old twins were looked after elsewhere. Beforehand, I planned the menu and, using an excel spreadsheet, prepared shopping lists for everyone. We all arrived with our ingredients, some extra kitchen supplies (knives and measuring cups), and snacks. We started at 9 am, and my kitchen was clean and I was off to pick up my son by 4 pm. We made 72 meals (18 each).

A few months later, we did it again. We made some changes to be more efficient in our shopping, prep work, and assembly. We also added some of our own favourite recipes, including some vegetarian meals, an area which is lacking in this cookbook. We opted for takeout for lunch, and prepared 14 meals each, plus 4 containers of homemade tomato and vegetable pasta sauce.

We’ve continued to do get together and cook every 3 or 4 months. Three of my friends, who didn’t really know each other before, now consider each other friends. Between us, there are now 9 children and 8 adults. These meals, and our friendship, have helped us through pregnancies, new babies, going back to school, shift work, camping trips, moving, medical problems, and more.

We’ve prepared over 90 meals in a single day. Our meals cost between $6 and $8 a meal, which comes out to about $0.75 to $1.30 a serving since most meals feed our families dinner with leftovers for lunch. Our cooking days have become a fun, economical and convenient way to feed our families. It also makes meal planning easy – there’s always something in the freezer – and it avoids the hassle of cooking at end of the day when everyone is already tired.

How do you handle meal preparation? Do you have any favourite recipes to share?

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14 thoughts on “Great friends and a freezer full of food”

  1. A close friend an I started a dinner exchange about 3 months ago. Basically, one night a week I make a double batch of whatever I want and deliver it to her, and another night, she does the same thing. We live very close and see each other a few times a week anyway, so it works out. There’s usually enough leftovers for lunches.

    It’s also gotten me in the habit of finding recipes that can be prepped during naptime, since we usually hand off dinner in the early afternoon.
    Bekki recently posted Japan Photos- Part 4My Profile

  2. I am not as organized as you! But each weekend I plan about 5 or 6 meals and make sure I have all the ingredients I need for them. Then throughout the week I just look as my list of meals and pick the one that meets my fancy (or matches my schedule) for that day. Some of the meals are quicky ones, others take more time. But I don’t necessarily designate which meal goes to which day. Also, about once a week we have a “just throw a pizza in the oven day.”

  3. That is really cool. I have twins and just always did dinner as I always had before the girls came along. We call the evenings after 4pm the Witching hour because the girls are soo cranky hungry and worn out when I am trying to make dinner. Then I broke down and bought a Seal-A-Meal. It works really well and I seal all the leftovers for nights I am at work and hubby has dinner duty.

  4. This is a great idea, and I love the community feel. Another dinner idea is to invest in a crock pot or slow cooker. While my husband has ‘daddy time’ in the morning with our 15 mo old boys I throw the ingredients for a chili, stew, or pot roast into the slow cooker and by dinner time we have a hot meal waiting for us.

  5. Bekki – That’s a great idea to share meals. We do that sometimes when a friend needs help, but not on a regular basis.

    Christina – We had a medium sized deep freeze in the basement, but 25 meals doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. I can usually bring them home in a cooler bag or cloth grocery bag.

    Abby – I use my crockpot at least once a week, and often more. It is so much easier to get dinner started earlier in the day!

  6. This comment is unrelated, but I’m wondering if we could have a post about sleep training. What kinds of things have worked? What didn’t work? How hard was it? The last post about sleep training was “Sleep Rules that Saved Us” in Dec 2009. I read all of the comments from that post and was surprised to see how many people commented about how well their sleep rules are working. It’s good to know that it’s working for them, but I figure that I can’t be the only person that is still getting up 2, 3, 4 times a night with my 9 month old twins. How did those of you that are successful arrive at that point? How did you go about establishing your sleep rules?
    Kristen recently posted Sleep TrainingMy Profile

  7. I would like to try shared batch cooking, but once-a-month cooking is probably more realistic. A lot of my friends are single and childless.

    Before our 2yo g/g twins were born, I made a point to buy at least one frozen convenience meal every time I was at the grocery store. That was great — we had a month’s worth of food by the time the girls arrived –but it also got us into the habit of relying on expensive, high-sodium food. It took awhile to turn it around and cook healthy meals.

  8. I love your idea on making meal preparation fun, easy, cheap, and well-planned. I may try to institute it with my busy brood of 2 year old twin girls and 3 other busy children. I have become the queen of crockpot meals and have found the below website to have very tasty, healthy, and easy meals. I’ll definitely be checking back.

  9. What a great idea! I recently started making batch meals on my own. One of my favorite recipes is posted in my last blog (and it’s vegetarian…trying to incorporate more of those as well.) I love the idea of teaming up with friends on this.

  10. I love this idea. I have and use my slow cooker, but that still involves me finding or coming up with a recipe ahead of time (making sure I have all of the ingredients), remember to put it in the pot in the morning, etc. I have tried batch cooking before but it’s awfully lonely to be in the kitchen all day by oneself.

    The idea of combining batch cooking with friends is fabulous. I have twins coming any minute and worry about how I’ll manage after the meal train stops!

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