Monday, November 8, 2010

Bulk cooking, Dinner co-op, and Hospitality information

Since before Reece was born, I realized how important it was to plan meals in order to eat healthy, eat on time, save money, save time, and just eat in general.  I worked and went to school and after that was complete, I got married and started having a family.  I realized that planning meals was never going to be easy in our busy lives.  I love to eat...I love to cook...I love to be healthy...I love to save money.  In order to do this, I began always making a double batch of meals and always freezing one.  This allowed me to fill our freezer full of home cooked meals on hand for a busy day or just on days I didn't want to cook.  As I began doing this more and more, I discovered I was barely even cooking during the week which was super nice. I prepared most of my meals on the weekend for the future and used what was in the freezer to meal plan for the week. The times I did cook during the week, it was crazy and chaotic with kids cleaning to my legs and me ending up with more gray hairs or less hairs on my head!  I came to the conclusion, I didn't want to go through that again.  And I know many of you go through that each night too.  Whether you work or not, single or married, married with a family, coming up with something for dinner, is stressful for all!  Even if you are single, you can bulk cook!  For example, make a pot of chili and divide it into several servings and freeze in quart size zip lock bags or plastic containers. 
Each time I had a baby, many people brought us delicious meals for several weeks.  I began thinking about how great of a service this is to new moms or anyone really.  I heard the idea of a dinner share or dinner co-op and began researching that.  I brought the idea up to my sister in laws, mother in law, and friend and we formed a dinner co-op in July. 

So what’s a dinner co-op?

Also known as “cooking co-ops,” “supper clubs,” and “supper swaps,” a dinner co-op can take any number of shapes and forms, but the basic idea is that a group of people cook for each other -- allowing everyone to eat more home-cooked food but saving time (and often saving money) in the process.

What got me starting to think of a dinner co-op? I was tired of eating the same meals and dinner time being chaotic and stressful. I did a lot of freezer meals on my own but they were always the same few recipes. What started me thinking about this was after having babies, how it felt to get meals from other people. It’s just different when you don’t have to make it. I also did so many freezer meals for my family and saw the benefits to doing all the cooking at once. So I began looking into dinner co-ops. I had heard that the ladies in my bible study were doing one but they all lived in the same neighborhood. They all raved about the benefits so I decided to look into other ways of doing it. I had heard other people say they would be interested so I figured I would give it a shot…if anything, it would be a good MOMs topic, right? 

I found a lot of different formats for dinner co-ops:

One format is defined as a small, geographically close circle of cooks who alternate cooking and delivering weeknight meals. You cook only once a week, but in exchange, you receive dinner two or three other nights. Cook for friends or neighbors all in one night – delivered hot. Say you have 3 neighbors…you each take one night of the week to cook 4 meals (one for yourself, one for 3 of your neighbors). You each agree on a night that would be best for each of you. On your night, you cook your meals, and deliver by a designated time (say 6pm).

Freezer co-op - cook whenever you want, pop in the freezer, and exchange with others in your group on designated date.

Group cooking – picking a date and getting together at one location, cooking all the meals together and exchanging all at that time.

For some groups, they cook the main course, some cook salad, main, sides, and dessert, some do just the “meat”. There is no right or wrong way to do this…you decide as a group.

Dinner co-ops have some shall we say “meaty” benefits:
♥Saves time; Cooking all at one time, having meals in your freezer for the week/month

Who thinks dinner time is the most chaotic time of the day (if you aren’t prepared). I do most of my cooking on the weekend when my spouse is able to watch the kids or during nap time so that it doesn’t stress me out with the kids in the room or taking time away from them

♥Less stress; Relaxing/quality time with family on the nights you don’t have to cook

I have less stress on the nights that I don’t have to cook.

♥Variation; A variety of meals in your freezer that you can choose – made by a friend

♥Clean kitchen; Enjoy a clean kitchen most of the time;  making one big mess

♥Saves money; buying meat when it goes on sale, stocking up on side items with coupons. Going out to eat less often.

♥Not thinking about what to have for dinner; Go to your freezer and lay it out the night before.

♥Organizes your schedule ; putting meals on your calendar or saving for hectic days.

When you receive meals from your dinner co-op, look at the month, and put them in a spot…then you know what nights you need to fill in. Or save them for hectic days. You still have to kind of plan because you have to thaw most of them. Be flexible…if you don 't go by what’s on the calendar, no big deal…just something to go by.

♥Eating healthier – not eating out as much, eating healthier home-made foods

So 4 months ago, I started a dinner co-op. For the people in our group, it was easier to cook when we wanted, freeze them, and meet once a month to exchange meals. We have 6 people in our group and we exchange once a month. That means you have about 2 meals a week that you don’t have to worry about. For my family on the days we don’t have one of these meals planned, we do something on the grill, something simple or something else I pulled out of my freezer when I did bulk cooking. I rarely cook during the week! Our co-op does just the main course, no sides, no dessert, etc. We decided to start out simple and see how it worked and then we could always change as we went on. I feel it’s easy to whip up a side or steam some vegetables.

To start our group, I found the cookbook called “Fix, Freeze, Feast”. This recipe book has 129 recipes that are considered tried and true freezer friendly meals. I liked this cookbook because it was divided by chicken, pork, & beef. Since we had 6 people in our group 2 get chicken, 2 get pork, and 2 get beef each month resulting in a variety of meals – not getting stuck with all chicken in one month. And this can help balance the cost since some meats generally run more expensive than others. I thought that by using the same cookbook that none of us had tried, we would be trying some new recipes. I also thought that if we ended up not liking something, it’s not hurting anyone’s feelings…it was the recipe, not the person who made it. One source said this: “ This (a dinner co-op) sounds great on paper, but a few of the dinners have been -- how to say this -- a tad unpopular? Okay, they've reeked. But that's not the biggie. The big problem is, how do you tell your very good friend that the dinner she so conscientiously prepared for your family really tanked, without stomping all over her feelings?" I also liked that it was a cookbook designed for freezing meals and cooking in bulk. Most recipes in the book make 3 meals. Since we have 6, all we have to do is double the recipe. And it’s a good cook book for those not interested in a co-op…you can make the 3 meals and cook one for yourself, and save the others for later or have one to pull out for a friend in need. This cook book also tells in the list of ingredients, what kind of things you’ll need in order to freeze the meal – how many tin pans or zip lock bags , etc. The first 20 pages are filled with helpful tips on how to buy in bulk, how to cook in bulk, how to shop, how to make a shopping list, how to set up your kitchen, safety tips, trouble shooting items like what if I measured an ingredient wrong, etc. Besides the chicken, beef, and pork recipes there is a section on making and freezing homemade marinades and sauces, meatless main dishes, sides, soups, breakfast, snacks, and sweets. It also has a section on dinner co-ops. Another awesome thing about this book is that in the back, there are labels for every recipe in the book. You copy these, cut them out, and put them in the bag with your meal – it tells you what the meal is, how to cook the meal and suggestions on what to serve it with.

A lot of groups do it differently so for our group we thought it was best if we had someone kind of in charge at least to start out with. So I took on that role for our group. Basically what I do, is print out a recipe for each person, the labels to go with (sometimes I scan these to someone else to print so we are sharing the responsibility), and give them to each person at the next swap. We meet the first week of the month and we are flexible on the date. We also try and meet when we can all hang out but it isn’t necessary. Some of you might be wondering if we live close to each other – we don’t. We have 2 in Normal, one in East Bloomington, one in West Bloomington, one in LeRoy and one in Lexington. By us doing the meals on our own and freezing them, makes it unnecessary to live close to the people you are in a co-op with. Find a time to meet or a place to exchange – like even bringing your meals to church.

Tips on joining a dinner co-op

Be flexible – know that you will not love, not even like every recipe that you get. But the good news is that you likely won’t have to eat it again and it’s just one or two meals a week that may potentially flop. On the flip side, you also don’t have to worry about pleasing everyone. Also be flexible about when and where you meet.

Letting go of your perfection – I have a confession to make…I am a perfectionist…but I am an efficient perfectionist. Having other people make meals for me has enabled me to let go of that a little due to the efficiencies I am gaining.

Need help with all of this?
I would love to help any of you get started on bulk cooking or a dinner co-op.  I recently presented this information to a group of women at our MOMs group and helped 3 groups get started.  I will be helping another group in the next week or so.  The reason I am saying this or posting this in general is because bulk cooking and doing the dinner co-op has been such a blessing to me and my family.  I know the other girls in my group would also agree.  I know that I am able to bless others because of it too.  Even tonight I am taking a meal to a friend that just had a baby and I didn't even have to cook one single's all in the freezer ready to be heated up for her and her family to enjoy.  I would love to help you or answer any questions...please, just let me know!

Hospitality - what does the bible say?
Hospitality is a true desire of my heart.  I love to open my home, cook, and serve others.  Not only do I love it, God calls us to it.  Hospitality has been stressful in the past and by doing things like this, I am more prepared and less stressed to have guests over (I will talk about the cleaning preparation aspect in another post).  I am sure many women feel this way.  I always have desserts, appetizers and meals in the freezer to bring out whenever I spontaneously invite people over.  Or whenever a friend is in need.  What does the bible say about hospitality?

Matt. 25:40 "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me".  When we serve others, we are serving Christ.

1 John 3:17-18 "If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God's love be in that person? Dear children lets not merely say that we love each other, let us show the truth by our actions"

1 Peter 4:9 "Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay" or an even more convicting wording is "Offer hospitality to one another without complaint"

Hebrews 13:1-2 "Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it"

A hospitality team (for EWO and our MOMS group) is being talked and prayed about at this very moment. Please be in prayer over this with me as we ask for God's direction on what this will look like and who will be involved.
Other information and sources:

Dinner at Your door - Tips and Recipes for Starting a Neighborhood Cooking Co-op

This is an article that helped get us started

Link to cookbook on amazon: Fix, Freeze, Feast

Wisconsin Dells 2010

We decided to take the kids on a little trip with us - our first family vacation - to the Wisconsin Dells.  The kids did so amazing!  It was a 4 hour car ride and I never once heard them complain.  They are such great car riders!  We went to the Kalahari - and indoor water park and theme park.  They did very well with not much of a nap and slept great at night.  I didn't know what to expect with Brody since he had never slept in a hotel before but he did better than Reece!  They even slept in!  It was amazing and it makes it much easier to consider going again.

Here's the first morning in the lobby after breakfast - getting ready to go into the water park.  Can you tell they are excited?!

 Just some of my slides...Reece went down those yellow and green ones like 50 times!  She has no fear and was willing to do any of them!  She is so much fun to do things with.
 There were 3 kiddie areas to play in and this was the biggest one...double decker bridges, water pouring out everywhere and tons of slides. 
 This is the only slide Brody would go on...he's so not like Reece...very cautious.  But he did most things if we would do them with him.  And we had the whole place to ourselves so that helped.
 He loved the rides though!
 Indoor Ferris aren't too sure of this but we did it twice anyhow.  They also had a really neat indoor go cart track which we did a 1/2 a dozen times.  The kids liked mommy and daddy racing each other.
 The girlies kind of stuck together. 
 The boys (see the Ferris Wheel in the back?)
There are so many other cool pictures that I could share but there is just not enough room.  I put them all on facebook though.  I highly recommend the Kalahari!! P.S. there is an outlet mall directly across the street!!

Halloween 2010

Although Daddy could only hope this would be Reece's halloween costume selection one year, this is just Reece having fun in Dad's hunting gear for the season...

 Here's the real costume - Dorothy and her little dog To-to
 We tried to get the whole gang together as the Toy Story theme but there aren't many girl costumes for this one.  Reece could have been Ham (the pig), or Bullesye (the horse), or even Mrs Potato head but she was okay with not being part of the group and going as Dorothy - Wizard of Oz is her favorite movie.  Since she also has to dress up for part of her school parade I would have felt bad sending her as one of those other characters.  As part of a group, it would have been cute, but separately it wouldn't have made a whole lot of sense. 
 The Toy Story crew + Dorothy - Bo Peep (Gracie), Dorothy (Reece), Rex (Brody), Buzz (Bo), Jessie (Kennedy), Woody (Tate)
 He just waddled in this little was too cute!
All the little treaters snacking on popcorn and watching a movie...they have so much fun together!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

We're Alive!

For the past several weeks, we have been sick around here.  I am pretty sure that for 2 weeks straight, I didn't get more than 4 hours of sleep per night.  It was quite rough.  We've all been to the doctor and each one of us was treated for something different.  Brody had a sinus infection and an ear infection.  They originally put him on amoxicillian but after a week or so I could tell he started getting worse again.  At this time was when I was in my breaking point in my illness and Reece came down in the morning and said her ear hurt.  At that point I knew we were going back to the doctor and I desparately needed to go as well.  I was gone the night before, but Reece said that daddy had given her ear drops the night before.  I thought about this for a moment and said "but we don't have ear drops".  Reece says "Yeah we do...daddy gave me some".  I frantically started searching for a sign of these so called drops.  I found sitting on the counter a bottle of eye drops used to cure pink eye in the past.  I started to panic.  I called "daddy" who explained he had found those eye drops when looking for the ear drops we had used in the summer (to cure swimmer's ear by the way) and he didn't put them away after he was done searching.  So ear drops were used but not ones that would help with an ear infection.  So back to the doctor we went...

We discovered that Reece had a double ear infection and was give an antibiotic. Brody was switched to a different antibiotic to help him clear up again.  After that, we headed to the prompt care for me.  I had a really bad cough for 2 weeks.  So bad that my ribs and stomach hurt...I felt like I had done hundreds of crunches each day.  Although my tummy could use a little exercise, this cough wasn't doing the trick.  I was just thinking it was a bad cough and that it would pass.  But one day I would feel well and the next day I would feel horrible...after 2 weeks of this and a fun weekend planned ahead, I thought it was time to see if there was something more to the story.  Come to find out, the verdict was bronchitis.  Luckily, we were secluded from most activities during that 2 weeks and hopefully didn't pass anything along.  We are all feeling much better now although Brock seems to be coming down with something again.  He had gone to the doctor once before and was treated with an antibiotic as well (possible sinus infection) but he hasn't been able to kick it just yet.  I am really praying that we are not passing this thing around again.  It's too early and too nice out yet to continue being sick.  The last few weeks in confinement has about put me over the edge!  Here are a few photos.  The first one is of Reece and Brody being good and sweet at my doctors appointment.  They were playing so nicely and Reece says "Mommy, take a picture of us"...and I had my camera handy!

I went downstairs to check on my quiet buddy who sits and watches Toy Story I and II literally all day.  He was sitting so nice and sweet drinking his milk and watching the movie.

I come down a few minutes later to find this...looks normal so far right?
If that blanket wasn't there...well, let's just say we've read about Adam in the Garden of Eden.  He got completely naked all by himself.  This is his new thing and I can't say I'm real thrilled about it except for it might aide us in potty training that will be taking place soon.  The other morning I got him out of bed and the first thing he did was hand me his pajamas.  More posts later this week...Halloween and Wisconsin Dells!