Frozen Food Co-op

Apr 1 2011

Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.
Julia Child

Yes, Julia.  I agree.  It’s like you’ve cooked at my house.

Except for the gourmet part.

And also except for the French part.

Unless you count “hot at 5pm” French bread from Safeway.  Or McDonald’s French fries.  Which I strongly suspect you don’t.

I’m not a bad cook.  In fact, I’ll just pat myself on the back and say I’m quite good.  I genuinely enjoy cooking.

But it is tricky, getting dinner on the table every night for 7 people.  Nevermind getting a dinner on the table that everyone actually likes.

One of the best parts about having a large family is that it forces me to be the kind of parent that I wish I had the discipline to be otherwise.

For example, I don’t short-order cook.  I make one meal per night, and if my kids don’t want to eat it, well then, that’s why there’s breakfast the next day.

When I had 1 kid and then 3 kids, I totally short-order cooked.  Mac and cheese for one kid, rice and beans for the next, and spaghetti for the third.

Am I proud of my lack of discipline?  Certainly not.

Do I think it’s better to train kids to appreciate what’s in front of them and try new things?  Of course I do.

Do I have the discipline to make that happen?  No way.

I mean, come on.  Give me a break.   I’m too busy using my limited personal discipline to get off my rear to exercise, do laundry, and talk to my children while making eye contact.  All very challenging tasks.

I know that in the long run it’s better to train kids and be disciplined in every area.  I suspect that’s what the parenting experts mean about consistency.

My sister-in-law, Kim, is uber disciplined and an excellent trainer of kids.  She’s very, very consistent.  Maybe I’ll be like her when I grow up.

For now?  I’m tired, and I seem to lack intrinsic motivation.

I wait to be bopped on the head with a mega-pile of laundry or by an “oh dear, oh no, someone’s coming over, so I better CLEAN.”

That, my friends, is called extrinsic motivation.

I used to host a weekly Bible study at my house.

My primary motivator for hosting was so I’d be forced to clean once a week.

It would’ve been nice if my primary motivation had been to study the Bible, but that turned out to be a happy by-product.  I’m not sure what you think about that, but I’m pretty sure God’s OK with it, so I’m content.

Enter 5 kids.

All of a sudden, it’s way easier to make one meal and train kids to try new things than it is to short-order cook 6 different meals.

All of a sudden, I’m the mom I wish I had the discipline to be.

Five kids equals extrinsic motivation.

Since having 5 kids, I’ve become better at teaching my kids how to help with chores, how to manage money, and how to politely accept what’s offered for dinner.

I am extrinsically motivated to not do all the work myself,  to not pay for all the “I wants,” and to not hear 5 complaints at dinner time.

My kids aren’t allowed to say “Ew, gross!” or even “I don’t like that” when dinner’s put in front of them.  If they don’t like what’s presented, they may say, “Thank you, Mom, for making dinner.”

Which has become hilarious because the only time my kids say “Thank you, Mom, for making dinner” is when they mean, “Ew, gross!”

It’s like our special inside code phrase for “this is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”  And it makes me smile.

When I was a kid, my mom made me say, “I’d love to” whenever she asked me to do something.

Did I really feel like “I’d love to?”  No way, no how.

I believed my mother was delusional.  Did she think that requiring me to express my love for a task would make me actually, really love it?

I didn’t know then, like I know now, that she wasn’t delusional at all.  She knew I hated it.

She was just playing me.   Fun mommy games!

It makes me like her even more.  We’ve entered the camaraderie  stage of the mother-daughter relationship.  “Look, Mom!  I can torture my kids the same way you used to torture me!”  She’s so proud.

Same same making my kids say thank you for making them dinner.

Are they thankful?  Not usually.

Do I care?  Not at all.

Will I continue to gleefully torture them by insisting on grateful words?  You bet!

Over the years, though, I’ve learned some tricks for feeding my family.

In the past week, I’ve had four conversations with different women on this  very topic.

I figure this is timely and can’t be coincidence (even though it can), so, just in case you might find this info helpful, I’ll share it with you here.

Several years ago, I was invited to participate in a frozen food co-operative.  As far as feeding my family goes, it’s been a real dinner-saver.

We here in the U.S. tend to live our isolated, independent, I-can-do-it-all-by-myself lives.  Enlisting the help of friends for meal times is genius.  I wish I could claim credit, but I’m a beneficiary of someone else’s great idea, and now I’m an advocate.

My co-op is a group of 9 men and women (well, more like 8 women and 1 man, but I like to pretend we’re more gender-equal than that) who get together once each month to swap frozen dinners we’ve made.

It works like this:  I make 10 of the same meal.  I keep 1 for myself.  I swap 8 with the other 8 folks in my co-op group.  We give the 10th group of meals away to someone who needs them.

That means I have 9 prepared frozen dinners every month ready to go.

I use 2-3 frozen meals each work week.  With leftovers, I don’t have to break out the off-brand mac & cheese boxes very often.

My kids are exposed to new things regularly — most of which they actually like.  I can tell because they don’t say, “Thank you, Mom, for making dinner.”  They say “YUM!  I like this!”

In case you’re interested in the food co-op nitty gritty, I’ve posted more details below than you ever wanted to know.

This month, I’m making a Taco Cornbread Bake from Suaan’s “Got Dinner?” recipe compilation.  Mmm!

I bet that one’s gonna get some “I likes” from my kids.  And, if not, I’ll at least get some “thank yous.”

Besides, as Robert Morley says,

“If people take the trouble to cook, you should take the trouble to eat.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Frozen Food Coop Guidelines

Group Size

The group will consist of a maximum 9 members.  When spaces are available, new members will be added on a first come/first served basis.

Meeting Time

The group will meet once every month (approximately every 4 weeks) at a mutually agreeable time.  Each meeting time and place will be selected at the previous meeting.

Number of Meals

Each member will make one meal for every other member of the group, one for him/herself, and one for the monthly give-away.  For example, if the group is at the maximum size of 9 people, each member should make 10 meals to include the give-away.  The group will determine at each meeting who (or which organization) will receive the give-away group of meals.

Preparation Guidelines

Each meal should cost between $5.00 and $8.00.  If the member chooses to spend more, it is his/her prerogative, and other members should not feel obligated to do the same.

Each meal should be a main dish large enough to contain 6 adult-sized servings.

Since the goal is for each coop member to leave our monthly meetings with 9 prepared meals, you should do as much preparation work ahead of time as possible, leaving as little as possible for the receiver to do.

Each meal should take the recipient no longer than 10 minutes to prepare at home.  This specifically refers to hands-on time and does not include baking or other cooking time when the meal can be left unattended.  For example, it’s fine to provide a casserole with a 1 hour baking time, or a crock-pot meal that will cook all day.


Pack meals in containers you do not want back.  This can include zip-lock baggies, disposable pans, plastic ware, etc.

Make sure liquids are in doubled zip-lock baggies; we’ve found they leak otherwise.

Place all components of your meal into one bag for each person.  Most people reuse plastic grocery bags for this purpose.


Each meal should have written instructions that accompany it.

Meal Scores

Each meal from the previous month is scored by each person on a scale of 1-4 in 3 categories.  The categories are Quantity (enough to feed 6 adults one portion each), Taste, and Preparation (the person who gave this meal did all prep work possible so that the receiver spent no more than 10 minutes in hands-on preparation time).  The scale of 1-4 is 1 for Poor, 2 for Fair, 3 for Good, and 4 for Excellent.  The group organizer will make the score sheets and tally them following each meeting.  You will receive your scores in a private email from the organizer.

Specific Foods

We’ve noticed some foods don’t freeze well.  Here’s what we’ve found:

  1. Potatoes don’t freeze without becoming too mushy.  Providing fresh potatoes to add to a meal is fine.
  2. Fully-cooked pasta is also mushy after freezing.  Partially-cooked pasta seems to finish cooking fine when reheated.
  3. There’s some disagreement about milk and whether it freezes well or not.  Cream sauces seem to do well.  Milk alone is questionable.  Sour cream becomes grainy.
  4. Canned items, dry pasta, and rice are fine to include in meals.  Point them out so people can remove them and put them in a pantry (although there haven’t been any canned-food casualties when we forget).


No, not saying grace; that’s up to you.  Grace, as in – we give each other grace when it doesn’t turn out the way we’d hoped.  These guidelines help us all make sure we’re living up to the group expectations and receiving equal to what we put in.  However, we acknowledge that we all have an “off” month occasionally and don’t do things perfectly every time.  That’s life, and we’re nice to each other about it.