Host a 'cook ahead' party with friends

There are big advantages to cooking and freezing meals in advance, but the process can take up a major chunk of your weekend. Why not turn it into a party?

Courtesy of Brittany Lynne
Cooking a recipe in bulk with friends is a great way to reduce your weekly meal load, save money, and catch up, Hamm says.

About three months ago, I included an entry in this series describing the advantages of cooking and freezing complete meals in advance. Typically, we’d make several copies of the exact same meal, cook one for supper that night, and put the rest in the freezer.

There are several advantages to doing this. We can buy all the ingredients in bulk, saving us money on the overall cost of the food and lowering the cost per meal prepared. We were able to immediately use items from our garden so that our bumper crop of tomatoes didn’t go to waste. We were able to make the meals as healthy (or as unhealthy) as we wanted since we had total control over the ingredients.

Of course, there were a few drawbacks, too. We had to have freezer space for all of these items, and we did have to devote a very large chunk of a day to this.

Thankfully, there’s one wonderful way to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives when it comes to cooking ahead: make it into a social event.

Making it social allows you to take even more advantage of bulk buying. If you do this with four friends instead of just by yourself, you can buy things in bulk that might not have even made sense alone. Spices might become a sensible bulk buy, for example. You also might be able to buy in extreme bulk at warehouse clubs on things like large bags of rice.

Making it social allows you to split up the work. If you’re making lasagna, for example, you could have one person cooking noodles, one person preparing filling, and two people assembling the dishes. This allows you to focus on just one thing instead of rushing from task to task. You’re much less likely to make a food preparation error this way.

Making it social makes it a lot more fun. Instead of cooking alone all day, you’re making all of this food with your friends. Instead of drudgery, it can be a lot of fun.

Here are a few tips that will make it a real success.

Do some advance work. Take a good recipe and make sure everyone in the group is good with it. Then expand the ingredients to the necessary amounts. Also, split up the recipe into tasks for everyone so that they’re clear on what exactly they should be doing. A bit of prep work makes the whole day flow much better.

Split up the buying, too. Have each person come with an equal portion of the ingredients needed (mailing everyone a list of what they need to bring is part of the prep work). Another option is to simply go shopping for the stuff as a group before you begin preparation and then split the ticket up equally.

Make sure the host has a lot of freezer space. That way, you can store the meals as they’re prepped. I find it’s good to host one of these when your deep freezer is very close to empty.

Prepare multiple dishes. Take advantage of the day and make two or three different dishes for everyone to take home a few batches of. It takes more prep work, but it allows everyone to have more variety in their freezer.

Add to the pleasure. Play some low volume music throughout. Enjoy one of the meals together at the end of the day, and perhaps bring out a bottle of wine that will go well with it. They’re your friends – make it fun.

The end result of such a party is a nice day with friends and/or family and a bunch of prepared meals in your freezer that have been assembled at a very low cost. That’s a pretty good day in my eyes.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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