Freezer Cooking with a Group: OAMC

*OAMC recipe links at bottom of post

Our family works together with 4 other families to freezer cook every two months.  This allows us to purchase in bulk and save a lot of money.  (We average $5-6 per meal and each meal serves 8-12 people.  That is not including side dishes.) A number of you have expressed an interest in knowing more and even in starting your own group.

In our group we have 3 families that cook every time and we fill in the remaining 2 spots when it is time to schedule a cook day.  Some things to keep in mind as you consider what families you would like to cook with:

  • Similar tastes in food (spicy or not spicy, etc.)
  • No picky eaters
  • Limited to no diet restrictions or similar diet restrictions
  • Must show initiative and be willing to pitch in and work hard
  • Similar family size – not necessary, but something to consider

Read about what happened the first time I cooked with this group and you may be amazed that they ever invited me back.  :)

Select recipes.

The planning starts with choosing recipes.  With a little thought most recipes can be adapted to bulk freezer cooking.  We pick 20 recipes to make each cook day and we plan on at least 2 meals per family from each recipe.

We have our recipes divided by type, chicken, beef, pork (or other type of meat) and vegetarian and we choose several recipes from each category for a good variety of recipes.

Adjust amounts and make a shopping list.

For our group (2 families with 8 people, our family of 12 and the two additional families which vary in size) we adjust each recipe so that it serves 8 people and we call that a “single” recipe.   We multiply this “single” recipe by 10 (five families and each family gets two meals) and that gives us the amount of ingredients that we need to purchase for that recipe.

We have a computer program that does the math and combines the ingredients from all of the recipes to make a simple shopping list for us.

With our recipes and shopping list we check out the sales and plan where to shop for which ingredients.

Shop for groceries.

Wednesday before our cook day two moms go shopping  (usually accompanied by a LARGE number of children).  Shopping on Wednesday gives everyone enough time to complete their prep work.

By purchasing in bulk we are able to get discounts that aren’t available to those who are shopping for more typical amounts.  For example at Sam’s we are given a discount for purchasing meat by the case.    We usually shop at 4 or 5 different stores (Sam’s, WalMart, Dollar General, a fresh produce market and Kroger) purchasing what is least expensive at each place.

Wednesday afternoon we sort the groceries and make sure that each family gets what they need to complete their prep.  Sending most of the meat to different homes to be prepped has the added benefit of ensuring that there is enough refrigerator space for everything.

Prep work

Each family has some preparation work to complete before cook day.  Here are the tasks that we complete before we gather on Saturday morning for cook day.

  • Chicken is cooked and shredded and broth is reserved
  • Beef is browned and drained
  • All vegetables are chopped, peeled, sliced, diced, etc.
  • All cheese is grated
  • All other meat is chopped, weighed/divided (like for roasts), sliced, etc.
  • All dry beans are cooked and re-fried beans are made

These tasks are divided between each family.  Usually one family is given chicken, another beef and a third gets all the vegetable prep with perhaps the raw meat duty.  It simply depends on the recipes that are chosen and how much prep work there is.

One of the important parts of prep work is accurately packaging and labeling the food that you’ve prepared, so that there is no confusion on cook day.  As I chop the onions, I package and label them according to the recipes that they are going to be used in.  I chop eight onions, put them into a Ziploc bag and label them with the recipe name.  Then I chop four onions, put them into a separate bag and label them with the recipe name.  For chicken or beef where we will be using large quantities we will label the bags something like this, Green Chili Enchiladas 1 of 3, etc.

I can’t emphasize how helpful careful and proper labeling during prep is for a smooth cook day.  When cook day rolls around no one wants to have to try to measure or figure out what prepared ingredients go to which recipe.  It need to be evident to whoever picks up that bag of onions what it is for and which recipe it goes with.

Prepare for the big day

In addition to this prep work there are some things that can be done the evening before cook day that will make the day go much more smoothly.

  • Set up a central location for all the spices and condiments that will be used in multiple recipes.  (Salt, pepper, soy sauce, flour, etc.)oamc, spices, spice, freezer, cook, cooking
  • Designate an area that will be used for preparing raw meat, at least during the first part of the day.
  • Look through the recipes and decide how each one will be prepared and divided.  (Things that need to be cooked in the oven will need to be started first, recipes that require time on the stove top will need to be staggered so that you don’t run out of room and some recipes can simply be dumped into each family’s container since the ingredients  just need to be combined, etc.)
  • Gather a lot of large containers and pots to mix things in.  We are able to borrow some from one of our churches, so this may be an option for you.  Think outside of the box here, you can use a clean trash can or other large plastic bucket that you normally wouldn’t think to use in the kitchen.  (You may be mixing things in HUGE quantities.)
  • Sort through all the remaining groceries and divide them by the recipe that they go into.  We put these ingredients into plastic shopping bags and label them with the recipe name.  This will include all the canned goods and other ingredients that are specific to only that recipe and that do not need to be refrigerated.

Cook day

We begin at 6 on Saturday morning and are generally finished between 12 and 2 that afternoon.  Each family is responsible to bring containers to take home all the food that they will be preparing, their prep work, cooler, laundry basket and a snack if they’d like.

The laundry baskets are labeled with the family name and all that family’s containers are put into them, so that when someone is finished with a recipe they are able to quickly gather and packed it into containers for each family. 

Most of us use gallon sized Ziploc bags to store our meals in.  If you choose to do this it is VERY useful to have some empty containers to put the bags into that keep them upright and open while you are filling them.

Each person gets a recipe and begins to prepare it.  As a recipe is finished it is labeled (recipe name and family name) and packaged into the containers brought by that family and placed in coolers to await transport home.

I posted pictures and more information about how a cook day is organized in Bulk Cooking in Pictures.

I’m also in the process of posting some of the recipes that we use.

Overwhelmed and ready for a laugh?  Read about all the things that happened the first time I cooked with these ladies.

This is a huge undertaking and I’m not sure I’ve done an adequate job explaining it, so please feel free to ask questions about anything that I missed, that is unclear or that you simply don’t understand.

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37 Responses to Freezer Cooking with a Group: OAMC
  1. Roan
    March 5, 2010 | 8:06 am

    I have done this twice, yes only twice! Once by myself about 10 years ago, and once with Anita, 4.5 years ago. I am really interested in trying this again…..I think…..wow, it seems very overwhelming, but the benefits I’m sure are enormous!
    I am going to look at your recipes. You did a good idea of explaining the process.
    Have a great day!

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  2. Mom2my9
    March 5, 2010 | 8:26 am

    Wow! This sounds so neat. I have a very large kitchen and can totally see myself inviting people over for this. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  3. Melissa
    March 5, 2010 | 9:23 am

    Wow! What a job but I’m sure it is worth it. I love freezing meals. Even with one child I enjoy not having having to cook every now and then:)

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  4. Annie
    March 5, 2010 | 9:38 am

    How do you all pay for your shopping trip? Is each family required to pitch in the same amount of money since they are going to receive the same meals as other families? You don’t need to give me any money amounts specifically, just a generic idea of how you all pay for the meals. I am just curious as I would like to start something like this with some of the younger mothers in my church. The only issue I think we may run into is the money since some families are on a tighter budget and not debt-free as our family is. They must use their money quite carefully.
    I really think this idea is awesome! What a wonderful way to fellowship with other women and provide meals among families that otherwise may not eat adequately and healthfully.

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Great question. I’ll have to go back and add this answer to the post.

    The families do need to have the money up front. We each pay one member after we finish cooking on Saturday. There have been times when we’ve paid for a portion for the groceries up front.

    Here is how we work it. We know approximately how much the cook day is going to cost, so we tell each family the range and they have to be OK with that.

    When we finish cooking we total how much we actually spent. We look at what we have left over (Say we bought a quart of oil, but we have half of it left, we divide the price in half and keep the oil for next cook day. We will then assess the cost of the remainder of the oil to next cook day. Same for tin foil, salt and other non-perishables that we have leftovers of.) Then we have a complete total of money spent and divide that evenly between the five families.

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  5. Heather Mac
    March 5, 2010 | 9:46 am

    Wow! Awesome idea! I bet some of the sisters from church would love to do this. It would be great for our families, budgets and to provide extra meals when a church member has need. Thanks for sharing Kimberly.

    P.S. New subscriber – thanks for sharing your life!

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Yes, having meals in the freezer enables me to take dinner to those in need whenever that need arises. It also makes it super easy to have spur of the moment company.

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  6. CookieMonsterKatrina
    March 5, 2010 | 11:07 am

    I tried cooking ahead and freezing meals for us. I gave it a solid go, and it looked promising, but it was a no-go for our family in the end. A few of the recipes I still use, but the rest were, um, not to our taste.

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    I’m not sure if you didn’t like the recipes that you used or the fact that the meals were frozen.

    For our group we all contribute our favorite family recipes to use for bulk cooking, so it’s not a matter of recipes that we don’t care for.

    If it’s that your family doesn’t like to eat food that has been frozen then I’m sorry. Cooking for the freezer is a terrific help and time saver. :)

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    CookieMonsterKatrina Reply:

    I totally agree that freezing meals ahead is a great thing to do. We don’t at all mind frozen meals. I think the source I was using for frozen meal recipes had very different tastes from us and I was an inexperienced cook.

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  7. Lesley
    March 5, 2010 | 1:28 pm

    “echo” annie in prev post… how do you pay/divide expenses? I am so very interested and wish to try this!

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Did I answer your questions in my reply to Annie? If not let me know. :)

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    Lesley Reply:

    i did understand your answer, thank you. (you are such a great blessing and inspiration. love you(r blog)!)

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  8. Sandpiper
    March 5, 2010 | 6:31 pm

    We have just started bulk cooking, but haven’t done it in a group. Someone in your group must have a very big kitchen! I also don’t use my frozen meals every day, but only 2-3 times a week.
    Great post!

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Yes, we have a very big kitchen to cook in, but they assure me that they’ve done this in very small kitchens as well. I’m really thankful for the space, however.

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  9. valerie
    March 6, 2010 | 9:01 pm

    sooooo motivating! I freeze several things on my own. But I would love to get together with other women to do more!

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  10. chantelle
    March 6, 2010 | 10:56 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to post this. You did a great job explaining it all.

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  11. Joy
    March 8, 2010 | 10:08 pm

    My sister-in-law and I talked about doing this and I am going to show her this post and see what she thinks. Having you explain it all makes it seem so much more do-able. I LOVE the prep part but I HATE cooking. Plus we’d love to be able to save $$$ on food!

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  12. pam
    March 9, 2010 | 4:55 am

    this would be perfect for my family. a great way to stock up.

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  13. Rachel
    March 9, 2010 | 5:37 pm

    Impressive! I love OAMC and wish I could get a group like this together! It sounds so productive!

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  14. Phoebe @ Cents to Get Debt Free
    March 10, 2010 | 10:43 am

    I love this post! I’ve been wanting to organize a big cooking day for some ladies our church, but with all the craziness the last few months I haven’t quite done it. This post has given me more ideas on how to pull it all off, though. Thanks a ton!

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  15. Christi
    March 10, 2010 | 3:14 pm

    This sounds like a good idea. Thanks for this blog post. Puts the wheels spinning for me!

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  16. Alison
    March 21, 2010 | 12:26 am

    I used to freezer cook all the time for my husband and I BC (before children), but I have no idea how we’d do it with two small children since it took both my husband and I a full day to do it without stopping for babies. A group cook may solve that problem by daddy (or even grandma) watching kiddos. Thanks for explanations! I’ve got recipes and know-how, just not the group organization part. Thanks!

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  17. noel holley
    April 7, 2010 | 6:22 pm

    the only problem i have with freezing things is that they get “freezer burn”, or tons of icicles on them so when i go to get them out to use, they are covered in ice. once they thaw there is a ton of water in the bag and it’s all soggy. it ends up being tossed and wasted. what can i do about that!??!?!

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Noel,

    We use the heavy duty gallon size Ziploc freezer bags and I make sure that I remove all of the excess air that I can from the bag before putting it into the freezer and we’ve just not run into this issue.

    Sorry, I can’t be of more help.

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    AllieZirkle Reply:

    In addition to name brand bags, you may find that the issue is freezing food that is still hot. Extra water is usually due to condensation. You need to flash freeze breakfast items i.e. pancakes, waffles, french toast, and you won’t run into this issue. I flash freeze meatballs, chicken breasts, steaks, fish, and the list goes on.

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    noel holley Reply:

    whats a flash freeze?

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    AllieZirkle Reply:

    Flash as in quickly! :) Flash frozen is when you lay items on a baking sheet and freeze individually for approx 30 mins to no more than 2 hours. Once frozen, drop into Ziploc bags, suck out the air (with a straw!) and freeze.

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  18. Ginger
    April 9, 2010 | 5:08 pm

    Do you ever teach any classes on bulk cooking?

    [Reply]

    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    The friends that I cook with have both helped to get other groups started. If you’re in the Knoxville area (or willing to get here) feel free to email me for more information.

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  19. Sugar Mommy
    May 25, 2010 | 11:08 am

    What computer program do you use to calculate your ingredients and make your shopping list?

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  20. Sarah B
    July 6, 2011 | 11:56 am

    I know this has been awhile ago, but I was wondering what computer program you use! We will soon have 5 under the age of 6 and are starting to go through alot of food! I have been making a meal each day and taking that meal by x6 or whatever and buy the stuff in bulk and make as many meals as I possible can that day. This way I get 5 extra meals to freeze each day and we rotate a freezer meal one day with making a new meal another day. This way my supply is always stocked with meals instead of eating all of our freezer meals and then having to start all over. Would really love to know what program you use though as I would love to use it too! I have done bulk cooking with others once and would love to try it again!! Thanks!

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    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    We use a program that was designed by one of the moms in our group. I think she started with Excel? It’s taken months to get it tweaked to work properly, but it works well now.

    I’ve been working on more OAMC posts (lots more recipes) and am hoping to start doing more on my own (the other women in the group are getting too busy to do it that way anymore). Hopefully as I get going on that I’ll post more ideas.

    Oh, and I think that just making a huge batch of what you’re making for dinner is the best way to bulk cook with lots of little ones.

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  21. Allison
    September 10, 2011 | 12:04 am

    This sounds silly but works. Close the bag all but a tiny little bit and stick a straw into it. You can then suck all the air out and close the bag. lol Its like a human vacuum sealer. :)

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  22. Kim
    September 23, 2011 | 1:42 am

    Hi, I’ve read some books about OAMC but never got into it totally. When you freezer cook, are all the meals you freeze cooked or half cooked or raw with just ingredient assembled for cooking/baking when meal time/day come?
    If the meal is cooked, how do you thaw it before serving? Can they be thrown into the oven from being cold/frozen?
    Thank you, I love your blog!

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  23. sherry bailey
    June 16, 2012 | 6:05 am

    Hi, I was wondering if you all would consider selling the excel template online? (for calculating grocery list) I have bought several small online programs for $5. And some are free/share. Here is one:

    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/grocery-list-with-space-for-brand-TC001018618.aspx

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  24. Danielle
    September 26, 2012 | 12:37 pm

    I would also be interested in your software that you have created. Either purchased or offered with no warranty. Thanks.

    [Reply]

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