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How to organize a meal swap

I’ve finished my workday, picked up the chickens from school and now I’ve got to take my daughter to gymnastics. I have tennis practice while she’s at the gym. My husband is just going to get home from work in time to be hungry.

What’s for dinner? they ask.

How about a martini? I answer

And since we can’t have martinis for dinner every night… Enter the illustrious meal swap!

Before you start

The hard part: Find a couple of good candidates. This meal swap idea sounds very appealing (especially to people who don’t like cooking!) So you want to take your time deciding whose food you and your family will actually want to eat each week because probably whoever you ask will say yes. Choose wisely, friend. Good matches for a meal swap include families who:

  • live very, very close to you
  • eat about the same amount of food as your family
  • feels similarly about meat as a main-dish
  • have the same dietary restrictions
  • have similar cooking standards and expectations Don’t pick a cook who hand-makes their pasta if you would never do that. Somebody gonna get bitter!
  • are willing to give and receive kind and honest feedback about contributions

The easy part: Gather supplies. You probably already have everything you need except groceries.

  • 4 large, 4 medium, 2 tiny disposable containers in which to deliver your meals
  • a few tried and true recipes that travel and reheat well
  • take a trip to the store WITH YOUR LIST for ingredients
  • decide which day works best for you to cook
  • set aside 2-3 hours on that day to devote to prep and delivery

It’s on like donkey kong

With your fellow swappers, decide on a time-frame for meal delivery.

Let everyone know the first 4 weeks are a trial period. After the trial everyone can give their helpful feedback and decide if they want to keep going. When you are passing on your family’s feedback, keep it positive. Everyone knows when they make a sub-par meal. Don’t offer cooking tips unless you are asked for them specifically. Tell each cook privately which dishes you loved and want to eat again.

Don’t worry about your containers. Some will get lost, some will get stained. Consider that part of the cost of this project. I don’t care how much you love these families, don’t take them food in your favorite dishes. Trying to remember whose is whose adds stress. The point of this whole business is to reduce stress. Muy importante!

My friends and I don’t swap dessert. Again with keeping it simple.

Benefits of a meal swap: If you still aren’t convinced and think it sounds like too much trouble. Consider these great side-effects:

  • community building: You may think you are just doing a meal swap, but your relationship with these families will be deepened in other ways you can’t foresee.
  • you wash a lot fewer dishes 2 nights a week
  • expose your family to a variety of foods
  • get new ideas for your own cooking repertoire
  • it’s more fun to cook for others
  • you will eat more thoughtfully prepared meals
  • more efficient use of your time
  • hones your cooking-for-large-group skills: The next time someone has a baby or needs a meal, you will be on the ball!
  • kids tend to eat things other people cook: Don’t get me started on this (usually annoying) phenomenon! But it pays off when you do a meal swap.
  • you develop a habit of home cooking
  • it’s so easy to host an impromptu dinner party with one or both other families when the mood strikes

Some favorite meals for swapping

I know you are motivated and ready to bake your brains out now! So here are some meal swap ideas to get you started:

Please tell me about your meal swap experience, or your excitement and trepidation in the comments. And for goodness sake, share this post with your friends so you can get to swappin’!

community, kitchen organizing, meal planning, meal swap

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