If there is economy in scale, an entrée exchange group embodies it. The idea is that if five families participate, each family makes five of the same meals, meet up and trade, and go home with four meals plus your own. By making multiples of the same meal you can save on preparation time and ingredients.
Forming an entree exchange group is easy. You can choose to ask friends who are good cooks or neighbors on the same street or other families you know in your community. Working out all the details takes no more time that it takes to drink good coffee with friends. Invite your potential group over and test the waters, chances are someone else in the group has had the same idea or knows of someone else in a group.
I have been part of at least one for the last six or so years. At one point I was in three different groups. It is such a life saver and I have really built up my skills as cook learning to make things like samosas, pie crust from scratch, and dice vegetables in large quantities.
What are some of the the benefits? One of the nicest benefits is having good food in the freezer ready to go on those crazy days when everyone is going in a million different directions. It is also a fun way to try meals, ingredients or cooking techniques that are new. If you want to learn to make tamales there is nothing like having to make forty in a single day to learn the technique.
Liz K., from Sutton, MA, has been a part of an entree exchange group for many years. While some of the members have changed over the years, the core has remained the same. They purchased the same pans a few years ago to cut down on disposable pans.
She find there is a great sense of self-sufficiency in an entrée exchange group. “You start to plan your meals better, instead of making things at the last minute which often leads to spending more money, or having to go out to eat. Having a prepared homemade meal in the freezer prevents environmental waste from less fast food/take out, and it’s even better if you are using a reusable pans.”
What are the disadvantages? There are always going to be meals you don’t like. If you know this ahead of time, save it to pass on to a new mom or a friend in need.
Once you and your friends have agreed to form a group, what should you talk about?
*Dishes. Do you use disposable, all purchase the same pans for exchange, or use your own and return them each month.
*Serving size. Should this serve four adults, two adults/two children, or some other amount. Don’t gloss over this one, it can become really important over time.
*Ingredients. Some groups choose one chicken, one beef, one pork, one vegetarian meal each month and everyone is assigned an ingredient. Other groups are totally vegetarian or totally open on ingredients.
*Allergies. Check with the group to see if anyone has any sort of allergy. What will your group do to accommodate the allergy?
* Freezablility. Should all the meals be frozen or freezable?
*Meeting time. Set date and time or be flexible. Is there a hosting order?
These are great places to start conversations. Once you have made decisions about your group, write them down and post them on a blog, website or FaceBook page that everyone has access to so there will be no surprises in a few months when no one remembers who should be hosting next or making the meal with chicken.
Here are some tips: talk about what you are going to do early so that you don’t end up with five meatloaves in one month and recognize that you will get meals you don’t like from time to time (and make meals that occasionally others don’t like). Label the meal with what it is and the cooking instructions. Even if you put a printed recipe with it, it will fall off in the freezer just when you need it most.
There are a number of terrific resources on line for recipes that freeze well and generally serve either four or six adults.
- Martha Stewart Freezer Friendly Meals
- Delish.com Make Ahead Meals
- Food.com Once A Month Cooking Recipes
Andrea M., from Millbury, MA is part of a vegetarian entrée exchange group and has found that one of the benefits of being in a group is that “you have a bunch of meals and don’t need to rely on a restaurant.” She has been building her library of recipes that freeze well and that allow her family to try new foods.
No one in Andrea’s group is a full time vegetarian and all the members have used this group as a way to reduce their meat consumption and try new foods.
Having a freezer packed with yummy homemade meals is a delicious way to build a community, increase your library of recipes, try new foods, and build up your skills as a cook. And best of all on those crazy days, it can give you peace of mind knowing your family will be well feed with a home cooked meal – even if you weren’t the chef.