Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Four Family Meal Exchange

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Jerk Chicken with Island example of what each family took home
Last year (about this time) I had this brilliant idea to start a meal exchange group. I thought about how people enjoy having meals made for them, and also sharing favorite meals/recipes with others. So I combined these ideas and formed the first "Four Family Meal Exchange" group.

I started by emailing everyone I knew who 1) regularly cooked for their families, 2) kept a clean kitchen, 3) were reliable, 4) lived close by, and 5) didn't have any food allergies/special food needs. I told them of my big plan, and asked if anyone would be interested.

Here's what I emailed:

"Hi all! I am e-mailing some friends who like to cook to see if anyone is interested in joining a Meal Exchange group. Below are the details. Take a look, and if you are interested, email me.

Four Family Meal Exchange

Each month, you will be assigned a week (always the first, second, third, or fourth week of the month). Sometime during that week (you decide what day is best for you, and it can vary from month to month), you will prepare four main dish meals. You will set a time for the others to pick them up. Then throughout the month, three meals will be prepared for you!

1. Food restrictions: No food restrictions. Meals do not have to be catered to children's tastes.

2. No boxed/packaged meals. This can be discussed some more. We're open to the use of some packaged foods - dried pasta comes to mind – but not "meals" like Kraft Mac 'n Cheese or Hamburger Helper.

3. If someone will be out of town/unavailable for a cooking date, the two parties should arrange an alternate plan (maybe put it in the freezer to be picked up later).

4. The group will invest in 3 - Pyrex 9" x 13" covered baking dishes (all the same; $8-10 each). When you've finished your meal and cleaned your dish, drop it off at the home of the next person who cooks. (Note: your dish doesn't have to be made in this pan. It's just an easy way to prepare the meal, and have it ready. For some meals-like soup- you would need to use something of your own.)

5. When it's your turn to cook, determine a "pick up" time. Email the time to the group with at least 24 hours notice. If the chosen pick up time does not work for you, you need to contact the person cooking and make alternate arrangements."
Right away a couple people responded. Within the week we had a group! COOL!

A couple months later, after friends heard us talking about our group, we got a second group off to a start. (They do things the same way, although they have allowed for some food restrictions, which meets the needs of the people in their group.) So, now we have two separate groups going.

A year later, three of the original four in our group are continuing. We've asked another friend to join us next month, and we're hopeful she'll say yes, and love it as we do.

What do I like most about this? The two best parts of this exchange are having someone else make dinner for us three times a month. LOVE that part! I also love the variety we are adding into our dinner rotation. It's so easy to fall back into old stand-by meals, and not experiment with new recipes. With the meal exchange, we've found some yummy recipes that we've made again.

What kinds of recipes have we made? Here is a sampling:
Beef & Vegetable Pot Pie
Chicken Casserole w/Potato Chip Topping
Chicken Parmigiana
Traditional Lasagna
Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary & Garlic Lasagna
Stuffed Shells
Pan Roasted Chicken & Vegetables
White Bean Chili
Layered Mexican Chicken
Cajun Curry Chicken w/Rice
Beef & Bean Chili
Penne Pasta w/Chicken & Vegetables
Black Bean & Chicken Burritos
Chicken Casserole w/onions, potatoes
Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Casserole
Sausage/Egg Breakfast  Strata
Pecan Crusted Chicken
Chicken Lasagna Alfredo
Rice w/Beef & Spinach
Italian Pasta
Enchiladas w/Tomatillo Sauce
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Crustless Spinach Quiche
Chicken Bog
Creamy Pasta w/Spring Vegetables & Shrimp
Ham & Chicken Tetrazzini
If you are interested in starting a group, here are some further suggestions:

Flexibility: Flexibility is important, but also involves more communication. Maybe you think you'll always cook on Sundays. But plans change...meetings & events come up. A Tuesday may work out better for you when your week comes up. When you have a choice, you can pick what works best for YOU during your assigned cooking week.

Save money: If you plan well, you lower your costs & save money! When your cooking week comes up, look at what the “loss leaders” are at the grocery stores. Are chicken breasts or beef on sale for a great price? Vegetables? If you look at what's on sale, then look for recipes using those ingredients, you can keep the costs down.

Why four families? It is easy to break up a month into four parts. It's easy to quadruple recipes. For people just starting to cook in large quantities (also known as “batch” cooking) having to make more than four meals can be overwhelming. We want this to be fun, not a chore!

Have a smaller family? If your family is on the smaller side, you will probably get two meals out of this! can put individual servings in a freezer bag/container and save it for later.

E-mail! We e-mail the group, letting them know what our cooking dates & pick up times are.

Un-cooked meals: Sometimes our family already has dinner plans on a member's cooking night. Or maybe I simply know that the following day will be hectic, and I'd like to use my meal that night. If the meals are prepped, but not oven-baked, most can be popped in the oven the following day.

Casserole/oven-baked meals: Finding something that others can just pop in the oven simplifies the cooking.

Include the recipe: This way they will know the time and temperature for cooking the meal. Also, they will have the recipe so they can make it again!

1 comment:

Becki Visser said...

Some of your recipes look upscale and quite yummy -- exactly the kind of food I like. Perhaps you could share some of your recipes on our forums at Cooking Among Friends (giving credit where credit is due, of course!). We started exchanging meals in 1999 when the concept was unheard of and there was no where to get any kind of information about forming a successful food exchange group (which I now call our freezer meal cooking club). Anyway, perhaps we could provide you with inpiration as well and you could share some of your experiences on our forum.
King regards,
Becki Visser