Dinner time can cause plenty of stress on a hectic school night. That's one of the reasons I fell in love with the idea of making meals ahead of time to stock in my freezer for evenings when I need a quick but healthy solution.

Between the grocery shopping and dedicating an uninterrupted afternoon for the prep-work, getting the freezer stocked in the first place is the tricky part. But just like exercise, meal prep is more fun with friends.

Recently, a friend invited me to a Wildtree freezer meal workshop. In about two hours, we assembled 10 to 20 freezer-ready meals for a cost of about $12 per meal. Wildtree provides the recipes. You purchase a bundle of the company's spices and bring the necessary ingredients.

Gina Nichols, a Wildtree representative, says she grew passionate about the idea after seeing the effect the workshops had on participants.

"They have this beautiful night with their friends, that was like a girls night out, where they left feeling accomplished and encouraged," Nichols says.

Want to stock your freezer while enjoying time with friends? Here's how:

1. Set a date and send out invitations.

To make it easier on yourself, invite guests with similar dietary requirements.

2. Make a list of 10 meals.

Provide each of your participants with the chosen recipes and a shopping list. Although the list may seem intimidating, remember that everything is going into meals that your family will eat.

3. Encourage flexibility.

Some participants may choose not to make specific recipes and that's fine. Others split each meal into two bags or double the recipe depending on the size of their families. Consider partnering with a friend by shopping at a bulk store to save money on meat and vegetables. Have a friend who is about to have a baby? Ask each friend if they would like to donate an extra meal for the expectant mama's freezer.

4. Create workspaces.

I was surprised at how little space I needed to prepare my meals. Give each of your guests enough of a workspace for their cutting board, knives, measuring cups/spoons and freezer bags. The cooler can go at their feet.

5. Provide cleaning supplies.

Stock up on soap and tea towels for hand-washing, paper towels, anti-bacterial disposable wipes,  and trash bags.

6. Label your creations.

Avoid frozen mysteries populating your freezer. Along with a list of measurements/ingredients destined for each bag, Wildtree provides labels. The labels include cooking instructions and any last minute ingredients that go in when you are ready to cook the meal. If nothing else, have a marker handy to label each meal.

7. Stock the coolers.

Flatten each meal to press the air out of the bag to make it compact in your cooler and eventually, your freezer.

8. Feed your guests.

Even though you have gathered to work together, don't forget to provide appetizers or desserts and drinks for your hardworking cooks.

9. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Rediscover what it's like to circle the table with your family. "Just sitting down with your family, even if it's for a half hour or 45 minutes, tells your children that we take time for each other," Nichols says. "The table is the perfect place to open up that engagement with your kids."


For more information about preparing make-ahead meals, look for cookbooks like Fix, Freeze and Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik or Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead & Freeze Cookbook by Jessica Fisher at your favorite bookseller or your local library.