Save Time and Money On Week Night Dinners

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Dinnertime is an essential and sometimes challenging part of everyday life. If you're a parent of young children, or kids who are always on the go, finding time to make dinner is difficult!

One group of moms from Seward has found a way to make life easier. They take part in something called freezer meal exchanges.

"I like sharing my recipes with my friends because and I also like to have a healthy and inexpensive alternative to eating out. So I know it's something I can pull out if I know we're going to have a busy day and somehow if they day goes crazy and I don't have supper made for my family," said Melissa Meyer.

The idea behind freezer meals is simple. Each woman in this group makes a dish for dinner, only she quadruples the recipe. There are four people in this particular group. Meal exchange groups work best when they have between two and eight members.

Each member then divides up the meals and stores them in gallon sized storage bags or in aluminum disposable containers.

After the meals are all made at home, the women meet up for an exchange.

On the day that I met up with ladies, the prepared meals with names such as kielbasa bake, chicken wonderful, spinach rolls and Stromboli.

They pass out their meals to each other with instructions on how to bake them.

"I have three small children under the age of four, so any given night can be chaos, and if something goes wrong, this is just as simple as running down to my freezer, grabbing it out of the freezer, putting it on the pan, then saving the rest of the house from whatever. These are also good because I'm also a full time RN and if I get called in for OB coverage or to the hospital, I can also tell my husband 'here, the kids will like this,'" said meal exchange participant, Christi Arnold.

Not only do they save time with freezer meals, they also say they save money. For example, it can be cheaper to buy certain products in bulk. Having a meal that is easy to prepare in your own freezer also greatly reduces the temptation to dine out at restaurant or to grab a fast food meal.

Because food is involved, health and safety are key.

It is important to make sure the food is completely cooled before storing.

"You use a good quality freezer Ziploc baggie and you put the contents in and then just smooth it out to get all the air out because the air is going to make it freezer burn. And then you can just stack them up and they'll stack up nicely in the freezer and it'll be a space saver.... the other way which is pretty handy with casseroles is buy aluminum containers. It's better to put plastic on underneath the foil and then put foil on top. You're not going to want to just put the lid on top because it will get freezer burn," said Meyer.

"If you're looking for ideas, there are cookbooks that are specifically for freezer meals, there's also a wealth of information online, as well," said meal exchange participant, Amber Reed

There are some things to consider when deciding on which foods to prepare. A group should discuss foods that someone may not like, have an allergy to or how much the food will cost.

"What we like to do is pick recipes that we know are going to freeze well. So I would suggest, if somebody was putting a group together, they put a group of recipes together that people could pick from," said Meyer.

The meal exchange concept is something that you can also tackle on your own. You can make a recipe, then double or triple it, and store it in the freezer for a future date.

Another important element of freezer meal preparation is labeling. Label the food so that you know what is inside!

According to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, casseroles, cooked meat and poultry or gravy may be stored in a freezer for two to three months.

Go HERE for links to ingredients you may use in recipes for freezer or crock pot meals!

Go HERE to learn more about recommendations for freezing food.

Recipe for Melanie's Chow Mein Hot Dish

1 lb of ground beef (or ground turkey)
3 stalks of celery, chopped about 1/4" thin
1 can of Cream of Celery Soup
1 can of Cream of Mushroom Soup (or Cream or Chicken Soup)
2-3 tbsp of soy sauce
1/4 of white onion, chopped
Crispy Chow Mein Noodles

Cook meat in skillet, then add celery and onion
Mix in both cans of soup and soy sauce
Put in casserole dish.
Add enough chow mein noodles to coat. About 1 cup.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Serve on top of rice.