We all want to cook healthy, thoughtful, homemade meals for our families, but sometimes life gets too busy. The solution? Set up a dinner swap (also called a freezer swap) with a group of like-minded friends and share the workload. You'll create a schedule and a meal plan together, and then take turns cooking one large batch to share. If you do it right, you could end up with one or more cook-free nights every month or even every week.

Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups
Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups | Photo by Meredith
| Credit: Meredith

Try this recipe: Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups

How to Set Up a Dinner Swap

Here's a quick guide to get you started:

Make a Group

Decide on a group size that works for you, usually somewhere between 3 and 6 families (too little of a group doesn't get you a lot of meals, but too big of a group can get stressful). This could include families from your neighborhood, sports team, after-school activity, work, or even Facebook friends. Tip: Allrecipes makes it easy to scale up a recipe. Just click on the number of servings and adjust the number up or down.

Make a Schedule

Arrange a schedule that is realistic for everyone in your group. Do you want to swap meals once a week or once a month? Will you do the swap after a team practice or piano recital? Or, will you deliver your meal door-to-door when it's your turn to cook? Write up a schedule and make sure everyone agrees to it, and knows when they are responsible for their meal. You can even create an online calendar and email group, in case there are any last-minute questions or schedule changes.

Make a Plan

The idea is to prepare one large meal that works for everyone, so decide as a group what works best for your palate, waistline, and budget. Are you allergic to dairy? Trying to go paleo or gluten-free? Are you a vegetarian or a meat lover? Make sure you discuss your dietary and financial needs with the group, so everyone is on the same page.

Make a Menu

If you're swapping once a month, focus on meals that freeze well (and don't forget to include heating instructions). If you're swapping once a week, think about including fresh items or easy meal "kits" where the ingredients are ready to be assembled (such as taco salad). Include ideas for side dishes, drinks, or desserts that you think would be especially tasty with your homemade meal.

Make It Move

After you've decided on your schedule, plan, and menu, figure out how you are going to transport the food. Is everyone responsible for supplying his or her own meal containers ahead of time (casserole or baking dishes)? Or, will you purchase storage items as a group (plastic containers or bags)?

Make It fun!

Plan a fun check-in gathering after the first round, perhaps over a meal, where you can all discuss the success (or lack thereof) of your swap. What were your favorite meals? Were there any trouble spots that could be improved for the next swap? Are there any new dishes you would you like to experiment with next time? Not comfortable judging someone else's cooking? Design an anonymous feedback form for the group. Also, make sure to bring a few new recipes you come across to share and inspire the next round!

Dinner Swap Favorites

Though the possibilities are endless, here are a few of our favorite meals perfect for your next DIY dinner swap:

a square of layered beef and bean casserole topped with sour cream, sliced black olives, salsa, and green onions
Easy Mexican Casserole | Photo by LYNNINMA
| Credit: LYNNINMA
Baked Ziti I
Baked Ziti I | Photo by cookin'mama
Terrific Turkey Chili
Terrific Turkey Chili | Photo by Cooking Monster Bryan

Related Dinner Swap Tips and Ideas

Slow cooker meals make dinner quick and easy.

Set up a soup swap with these make-and-freeze soup ideas.

Get more cooking tips, trends, and inspiration on Allrecipes Dish.