Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Dinner Swap

This is definitely the coolest, most functional, positively life-saving idea I have heard in a long time. Some friends and I are doing a Dinner Swap.

Have you heard of this idea? You make dinner, lots of it, one day and deliver it to the others. Then on the other days someone brings you dinner. Genius.

First I will tell you why I need this so badly. Then I will tell you how we put it together. In my next post, I will tell you how it's going so far.

This is perfect for people like me - lots of kids (lots means more than one), late-working husband, and I think this is the kicker - at least one kid in school. Something about that 4pm hour when all the kids have come back together and there is mayhem and homework and dinner prep and usually some kind of crying makes me slightly suicidal. Case in point - a few weeks ago when Hazel had her first night of homework. It was 4:30. Poppy was screaming hungry so I put her in her high chair and filled her tray with kinda-sorta healthy stuff to keep her happy and quiet. I was trying to work with Hazel on her homework - first, to understand what she was to do, then to help her understand, then to help/supervise her doing it. Ginger was climbing all over Hazel because she was both bored and jealous of the homework. So I gave Ginger a new coloring book to keep her busy. Then Hazel was distracted by the coloring book. Then Poppy ran out of snacks and started screaming again. And who was making dinner? That's right, no one. I think we had popcorn and cereal that night. I need someone to bring us dinner. As often as possible.

So a few friends cooked up The Swap. One has a sister in another state that does it so we got her details, and put our own group together. We did two trial runs in the summer with whoever was in town. It was a good experience because I realized cooking for multiple families is a different way of cooking, one I'm not used to, and my efforts were way too ambitious, leaving me exhausted and depleted each time. But having the others bring me dinner was like heaven, so I resolved to stick it out and adjust, pacing myself differently.

Here's how we're doing our group:
  • It works best if there are four families. We have eight so we are doing two groups of four, and rotating each month. The plan is to do this just during the school year, or at least through December and then reevaluate.
  • Dinner consists of a main course and two sides. Each family receives four adult portions. We each have 2-4 kids so this works out just right, maybe with occasional leftovers. Also makes it easy to multiply recipes since so many serve 4. So each time you are making 16 servings. There does not have to be meat. Use the suggested budget as your guideline. Dessert is not required (but you know me...)
  • We pitched in to buy enough 8x8 square pans for each group. Other than that we will bring the food in disposable or otherwise non-returnable packaging (Ziploc bags, Gladware, etc.) Eventually they will all get recycled back into the group and you don't have to worry about getting anyone's Tupperware back to them.
  • Suggested budget is $45 for each person's four meals. So far I have gone over budget each time. Not sure if it is set too low or I need to change. I am not making gourmet stuff here. For now I am just focusing on being able to plan, make, and deliver the food; once I get that down I will work on reigning in my budget.
  • You do not need to provide condiments (butter, ketchup, salad dressing, etc.) unless they are specific to your dish. When providing salad dressing, give it separately so it doesn't wilt the veggies plus some kids don't like dressing.
  • Besides the dressing thing, we do not cater to any pickiness. There are no food allergies in our group so anything goes. It's a great chance to broaden our kids' palates and teach them you eat what you get. You can't ever say, "Please don't give us ____." And you can't ever say "We didn't like ____."
  • Dinner delivery is between 5-6 pm. Text everyone when you're on your way. If they're not home, leave it on the doorstep. No need to chat at the door - everyone will have a van full of kids waiting. Some things you can bring uncooked, if they are better freshly done, like noodles for example. Or if a dish is best hot from the oven, text everyone to preheat, and deliver it a little early so they can cook it at home.
  • We have a loose policy about letting everyone know what you're bringing, just so there aren't blatant duplicates like three nights of lasagna. I planned out my first 3-4 weeks and just emailed them to everyone. Some did the same, others just a quick email the week of. Everyone plans differently. I do not even care as long as we're getting dinner and I am not cooking it! Heaven!
We are starting for real this week. I will let you know how it goes.


K Cummings said...

brilliant. I'm now desperately trying to think of who I can peer pressure into doing this

Shaunel said...

I'm excited to hear how it goes. Though in no position to do right now, I LOVED dinner group in college, and would easily consider it when I have a school aged child. Good luck!

Kelly said...

I need this! I have to make dinner when the girls are in school because it's exactly as you described it. It's too stressful after school. We got into some bad habits early last year...lots of french fries, frozen popcorn chicken, hot dogs, frozen pizza. Ugh. Now it's a lot of crockpots but I wonder if I could ramble up a few people to try this. hmmmm??

Erin said...

I love this! Such a great idea. I need to find me some peeps out here who will do this with me. :)

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