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 thing...it'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