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Reader Tip: Save time and money by starting your own cooking club

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Yesterday, I posted a review for Social Suppers and wanted to share a tip Amanda had recently emailed in which might be a more-suitable option for many of you who are on tight budgets. Amanda wrote:

I wanted to tell you about a cooking club that I am a member of.  It saves me time and money because I am less likely to eat out and more likely to plan ahead and try and match my dish to coupons or sales.  Also, it gives my family a chance to try foods and recipes that we might not otherwise try.

We have 8 busy moms who are members of our cooking club.  Each month they have the option to participate or not. Each member makes a main dish for all the other participating families and freezes it (and usually keeps one for her family).   We meet in someone’s garage to swap and go home with fully-stocked freezers of ready to thaw and reheat meals that are great for those super busy days.

We also did a side dish exchange this month, too. I made beans and received a dozen fresh ears of corn (a member’s family owns a local farm), cheesy potatoes, and twice baked potatoes. We have done soup groups, brunch groups (so we all have non-burnt toast on Mother’s Day!), sweet groups (for entertaining around the holidays) and appetizer groups (for New Years or Super Bowl time).

I love this idea and would totally join a group like this (anyone in this area interested?)! Does anyone else do something similar? If so, tell us about it!

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30 Comments

  • momof4inbaltimore says:

    We tried to do this at my church and though a few were interested it didn’t fly! I would sooooooo love to be part of something like this go! Sounds great to me!

  • Debbie H says:

    I do this with a group of friends too. I love it. I don’t have to try to think of what to cook for 8 meals, so that is heaven in and of itself. I do have some tips if you are going to start one. Have as many families as you want (we do 8, but we have had as many as 12. 8 seems like a more managable #), but make sure they have about the same number and ages of kids. You can do it with several families of 6 or whatever, or as small as just one person– I think that would be nice because it is really hard to cook well for just one person. You just choose one meal that you want to make and multiply it by however many serving you need. Make sure you have rules. Our rules are:
    1. Each main dish has to serve 6 adults (we had some issues with there not being enough food for some families.
    2. Each meal must be homemade, not storebought (don’t just go buy 8 lasagnas from Walmart– yes we had issues with that too).
    3. Let us know at least a week ahead whether you will be participating that month (you can make it more or less time)
    4. You have to have tried the recipe before– and it has to be freezable.
    5. Supply a recipe
    6. If you cannot make it that day, you can deliver the meals to everyone at a later date, or leave them with the hostess beforehand.

    I can’t think of any more rules right now, but just make sure they are clear and everyone understands. Our rules have changed some as we have gone along. You can put a $ amount on it, but we decided that you do what you can afford, and if you don’t like what other people are making, we won’t be offended if you drop out.

    We also do it the last Wednesday of every month– just so everyone can remember. We rotate houses too.

    I have really enjoyed it. It has saved me money, even when I spend more on the meal, I don’t have to run to the grocery store as often, so I just naturally spend less. My kids get a variety of meals so they don’t get bored with the same thing every day. It is a nice social outlet for the adults– and the kids get to play while we are exchanging. It is also a nice service because when someone in our group has a baby or surgery or whatever, they don’t have to provide a meal– but we still give them the meals for that month.

    There are lots of ways you can vary it, just invite people that fit your needs. I may have to drop out of mine because my son has food allergies, but I could start a new group with people that have similar issues– I haven’t decided yet. But, good luck with it if you decide to do it. We have been doing it for about 3 years, so it has been a good thing.

    Sorry this is so long. . .

  • kelli says:

    A great cookbook about this concept is: Cooking Among Friends by Mary Tennant and Becki Visser.
    There is another cookbook (written by Pastor’s wives!) that discusses freezing meals: Don’t Panic, Dinner’s in the Freezer by Howell, Garcia and Martinez.

  • Marli says:

    We have a group at church that meet once a month that does this. They pay $30 and leave with 4 meals for their freezer. They all help get it all together in the freezer bags. The lady who leads it, sells Homemade Gourmet so she always did the freeze your meals thing and incorporated it into our church group. It is really nice to be able to pull it out of the freezer, throw it in the crockpot (still frozen!) and have dinner that night!

  • maria says:

    I’m apart of something similar. A group of girls meet up on a Friday evening (your day/night could be different) @ someone’s house. We plan which type of main ingredient we will be using (i.e turkey, ground meat, chicken etc). We all submit a few different recipe ideas which the moderator of the club decides the final picks depending on amount of ingredients,price,everyone’s like/dislikes etc.

    Then we have a final 4-6 dishes to make. We meet up and actually assemble our dinners all together. We usually bring some snack foods, and have fun while we are preparing the meal.

    By the end of the night, we had a fun girls night evening AND made a few dishes in the meantime.

    Oh, we get an email of what ingredients to bring and how much of it. Which is great, b/c your not having to buy seasoning/ingredient you might already have on hand. If we need say 1 cup of milk. Someone usually offers to bring say 1 quart of milk which we all share.

    If one dish calls for say mushrooms then they have to option to not include it in their dinners they make. Or if something doesnt sound like their liking, they can not make that dish and make another dish instead.

    A fun night plus making ahead dinners.

  • maria says:

    I’m apart of something similar. A group of girls meet up on a Friday evening (your day/night could be different) @ someone’s house. We plan which type of main ingredient we will be using (i.e turkey, ground meat, chicken etc). We all submit a few different recipe ideas which the moderator of the club decides the final picks depending on amount of ingredients,price,everyone’s like/dislikes etc.

    Then we have a final 4-6 dishes to make. We meet up and actually assemble our dinners all together. We usually bring some snack foods, and have fun while we are preparing the meal.

    By the end of the night, we had a fun girls night evening AND made a few dishes in the meantime.

    Oh, we get an email of what ingredients to bring and how much of it. Which is great, b/c your not having to buy seasoning/ingredient you might already have on hand. If we need say 1 cup of milk. Someone usually offers to bring say 1 quart of milk which we all share.

    If one dish calls for say mushrooms then they have to option to not include it in their dinners they make. Or if something doesnt sound like their liking, they can not make that dish and make another dish instead.

    A fun night plus making ahead dinners.

  • Rose says:

    I would love to do something like this – although I wish I had more space in my freezer!! I live in the Indianapolis area, if anyone is interested 🙂

  • Jill W. says:

    We did something similar when I was pregnant. 6 of us got together at my mom’s house. She had recipes and had bought all of the ingredients. We all pitched in all day long (about 9 hours-but we did break for wine and lunch!) and made all of the freezable meals. Each of us ended up with 33 freezer meals-for $100 total per person! All of the meals fed at least 2 peopls-some were larger & fed more. We also made some side dishes like twice baked potatoes. So, I had meals to pop in the oven for the 1st month after DD was born & it was heaven. We all got together another time around the holidays and made desserts. It’s the best way to go!

  • Kasey says:

    Some friends and I have also done this before- we actually make a night of it, with everyone bringing the basic ingredients for the meals, and then we put them together at someone’s home or at the kitchen at our church. In that way it’s a little like the commercial version, because everyone can add things to their family’s taste. We bring our own dishes to use, and we usually stick with no more than 5 or 6 people in a group so that it doesn’t get too crowded.

    It is also certainly budget-friendly when we do it because we set a limit of no more than $5 spent on the dish, and that way we know that everyone is spending the same amount. Last time we did it I got marinated teriyaki chicken, a yummy chicken casserole, barbecue chicken pasta, and Hearty Western Casserole (that one was mine- yumm!). We had one person drop out at the last minute, so we only had four, but I loved having delicious homemade meals in my freezer for those days when I just don’t feel like cooking!

    Anyway, I think it’s a great idea- and I love the idea of doing it with side dishes and desserts, too!

  • Saralyn says:

    I did a similar thing for a while. We each saved our receipts and then split the total evenly.

    If you want to start a club, my advice is to make sure all the families are on similar budgets and like to eat the same foods. Being on a tight budget, I tried to make my meal as inexpensively as I could. Some of the other ladies had more money and less time so they made more expensive meals like shrimp and steak and purchased their ingredients at full price. And when we had a meal that no one at our house cared for we ended up throwing out the leftovers instead of eating it a second time.

    After about 4 months we decided that the money spent was just not worth the time saved not having to cook dinner.

  • katy says:

    My 3 neighbors and I do this, but each of us takes a different week to make a meal. Sometimes it’s something you can pop in the freezer and sometimes it’s something that’s fresh and ready to go. It’s awesome to know on that day that you don’t have to make dinner and often there is enough for us to freeze some for another night.

  • Teresa says:

    I do something very similar. We call it a once a month cooking group. Once a month we get together and cook 12 – 20 meals (depending on how much time we have), and then we freeze them all. The average cost per meal for family of four is $4. It is amazingly inexpensive, and a lot of fun.

    Each of our cooking sessions involves 4 to 6 mamas, and we have a blast while getting our kitchen work done!

  • Ann says:

    We’re getting ready to start one, so I’d love to hear about how other groups have set theirs up–how do you choose recipes so everyone gets food they’ll actually eat (and like)? How do you achieve balance, so that the families are spending approximately the same amount of money (like one family sending prime rib, and anotehr doing a meat free, cheese free pasta dish?)

  • jessica says:

    I would love to do this too. Where is “here”?

  • Erin says:

    My sister does something similar to this. There are 8 girls in the group and they got together and decided that they would each make 8 of the same meals and then swap them with the other 7 participants. My sister comes home with the recipe she made plus 8 other meals. They sat down together and decided to do it so all the meals should be made for 6-7 serving sizes or a 9 X 13 baking dish and when they go grocery shopping each girl has to spend more than 70.00 but no more than 80.00 on all the food for their meal. That way one girl isn’t forking out the money for an expensive meal and then gets beans and rice in return. That also makes it so you have enough money to be doing side dishes as well. You could meet with girls and make your own specifications but this just worked for all the girls because they all were married with 2 to 3 kids.

    My sister LOVES doing this and really feels like it saves her alot of money and since she doesn’t like cooking very much she cooks one day and has over a weeks worth of meals prepared for it. There are tons of books out there about this cooking group idea and recipe books to go along with them that tell you how to make the recipe and then if you are wanting to freeze it it tells you were to stop in the recipe usually before it is about to be baked but it tells you how to best store the food and cook it straight from the freezer. The girls also go and buy big packs of aluminum 9×13 pans and ziplock bags at Samsclub and split the cost so there is hardly any cleanup as well because you can just throw away the casserole dishes when you are done.

  • Hannah says:

    I participate in a cooking club. It has been a great opportunity. I exchange freezer meals with two moms. We also have a mom’s night out when we exchange, so it is a nice break! (we try to use coupons when we eat out.) I have also set up my own Social Supper type of meal preparation at my own house. It is a little more work, but I get a lot of meals done in a few hours.

  • Kendra says:

    My girlfriend Caroline has a blog all about cooking groups and freezer meals:

    http://fillingmyfreezer.blogspot.com/

  • Cj says:

    I’m a student, and live with a roommate. I love this idea too. Since it’s really not hard to cook for 4 or 8, compared to altering a recipe for 1, maybe I’ll try and get 3 or so friends to do this. If we each cook 1 whole meal a week and portion it out to single servings I could have 4 freezer prepared meals a week!

  • Jenn T. says:

    I was in a Cooking co-op for years! We’ve moved and I miss it a lot! We did ours in our church and opened it up to our congregation each month. We did have a hand full who did it regularly and would usually have someone new trying it out each month. We always included the recipe with ours and I still use many of those recipes when cooking for my family. I felt like I saved money when I did the co-op because I could buy a lot of a few things. It made menu planning easier too, you knew that you would have 5-8 already prepared meals waiting to be used in the freezer!

  • AnneMarieZ says:

    what a great idea!!! I think I have just the friends to try this with!!!

  • Amy says:

    I haven’t done this yet, but we live in some friends’ basement right now and my housemate and I have talked about doing this exact thing FOREVER! Maybe this will be the encouragement we need to go ahead and get started.

  • Jeannie says:

    The ladies in a church we used to attend did this and it was fantastic. Every other month we would meet at the church kitchen and put together enough meals so that each lady took home one of each meal made. We would meet the week before briefly to discuss the menus (to avoid problems with allergies or overly complicated reheating procedures). The shopping reciepts for the ingredients (other than spices and such that the church kept on hand) were tallied at the end of the night and the costs were evenly divided among the ladies who participated. Three times per year the church covered the cost as a reward to the ladies for their hard work in the church.

    I have often missed that activity and the blessing it was to me to have already prepared meals on busy days or when I wasn’t feeling well, or to take to a shut in to visit or a new mom. We had sweet swaps and side swaps too and I loved trying the things that I don’t normally prepare. I would encourage any woman with an interest in saving money and/or time to get involved in this kind of activity. I miss the fellowship that went into preparing the meals and the memories that went along with the aroma as I reheated the meal at home with my family!

  • Holly says:

    I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to be part of something like this! I’m guessing it’s mostly friends/acquaintances/fellow Moms from groups our kids are involved in? GREAT idea!

  • That sounds like alot of fun! It would be fun to start something like that. Many of the people I know that go to our church have really strange allergies though so it would be hard.

  • Lori says:

    We don’t do it on a monthly basis, but I have done a similar thing with 3 of my other friends.

    I reserve the kitchen at our church and we all cook together. We each prepare 2 dishes – enough for all 4 families. With two ovens, lots of counter space, and a bunch of close friends, the night of cooking is really fun. And we LOVE having 8 dinners on hand when we need them!

  • My friend started a club like this a few months ago that I’m considering joining. They all bring coolers for the food, meet for a few hours and do an activity (cook, bake, sew, etc.), then head home with all their goodies.

    It’s a great idea and DEFINITELY helps avoid the “I didn’t make dinner, so let’s go out tonight” dilemna! 🙂

    Her OAMC blog is here:
    http://dashofsass.blogspot.com/

  • Amanda says:

    I am honored that my little idea was posted! And I loved some of the ideas of having a night of cooking or mini assembly night.

    Our group has a yahoo group account. It is moderated and people can quickly post if they are in our out that month and information gets easily sent to everyone.

    We also have a section there for posting all the recipes – and only if you get a lot of positive feedback do you get a request to post the recipe.

    We ask that all food be frozen and labeled with specific reheat instructions. Family portions – so to feed 4 with the possibilty of leftovers. Soups etc should be put in a gallon ziplock and laid flat when frozen – easier to have more freezer space etc.

    We don’t have anyone with allergies and the main consensus is “you get what you get” but most of the meals are wonderful and if they aren’t up our alley, at least we tried something new!

    Our biggest thing is no raw meat in a marinade – that doesn’t take much time for anyone to do! The biggest hits seem to be pasta’s, pasta sauces and Mexican.

  • Gretchen says:

    We do this. We have 7 in our group right now. Our blog is called Dash of Sass.

    We meet the second Thursday of every month.

  • Virginia says:

    Hi All!

    I’m in the group with Amanda (the original poster). I had started to post about how we use Yahoo groups, which really helps to keep things straight, but then I noticed that Amanda had already posted that info. above. 🙂 I would like to add that it’s also key to have a wonderful moderator like Amanda to keep things organized and moving.

    Our group is made up of extremely busy Mommies with small children. Cooking club is first and foremost a huge timesaver and becomes a big $$ saver by limiting dollars spent on eating out. It’s crucial that family sizes are similar and that everyone is joining with an open mind. My family has been pleasantly surprised several times when trying dishes that we were not sure we would care for.

    Best of luck to all of you in forming your own little cooking clubs!

  • Jennifer says:

    I would really love a list of things that freeze well! I have tried a few things and didn’t love it. Any suggestions?

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