Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dinner co-ops

4 pm is my witching hour. Naps and quiet time are over. The kids need to run around and play. They're also hungry. It's time to start thinking about dinner. I go through the same mental routine just about every afternoon:  

Great, I have no idea what we're going to eat tonight. I could make _______ if only I weren't out of ______ (beans, milk, eggs, onions, etc). My blood sugar is low and I need to eat soon. The kids are restless. I wish food would magically appear so I could just spend the afternoon outside, rather than keeping my energetic children in the kitchen and trying to cook while they're whining and begging for something to eat and throwing fistfuls of flour onto the floor....

A month ago, I decided to do something about my dinnertime frustrations. I enjoy cooking--when I don't have children to look after and when I have all the ingredients on hand. I especially enjoy eating good food and trying new flavors. How could I find a way to enjoy cooking, to eat good meals, and to avoid the 4pm doldrums?

I invited two other families to join a dinner co-op. Once a week, we cook and deliver a meal to the other families. Then twice a week, we have dinner delivered to us. We kept our rules simple:
  • Meals should be healthy and balanced
  • Dessert is optional
  • Dinner delivered by 5:30 pm
We are all adventuresome in our cooking and enjoy a wide variety of flavors and foods. None of us eat a lot of meat, so we decided to keep the meals mainly vegetarian. The co-op runs every other weekday on Mon/Wed/Fri. We all live within 5 blocks of each other, so delivery only take about 5-10 minutes. To have enough dishes & containers for both families, I stocked up at a local thrift store.

Here's a rundown of the past two weeks of meals:

  • Me: Chipotle black beans with masa dumplings & greens; garlic rice; mesclun topped with with avocados, toasted pumpkin seeds, bacon, queso fresco, & honey/lime/chili dressing.
  • The O Family: Thai-style stir fry (lots of veggies & fried tofu) with peanut sauce; basmati rice; pear crumble.
  • The P Family: Indian dal (lentil) dish; homemade naan; sauteed vegetables.
  • Me: Meatloaf Wellington (a small amount of local pastured beef, herbs, and lots of grated potatoes, carrots, & onions, topped with a crust); arugula & tomato salad; lemon tart.
  • The O Family: Butternut squash risotto with parmesan (Cook's Illustrated recipe...mmmm....); sauteed green beans; chocolate chip cookies.
  • The P Family: Enchiladas stuffed with sauteed zucchini, beans, & cheese; salad with fresh mozzarella, red onions, cherry tomatoes, and homemade dressing.
I LOVE the dinner co-op! Love it! Once a week, I get to cook a meal that I'm really excited about--and prepared for. Then twice a week, a delicious hot dinner magically arrives at my doorstep. I rarely need to cook on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because we often have leftovers. And on weekends, Eric can cook.

Dinnertime has turned from the bane of my existence into something I really look forward to--both the days I cook and the days I receive meals.

On the menu for next week: wild rice soup (I'm a Minnesotan, after all!), homemade bread, and either a salad or dessert. 


  1. A - I must start a meal co-op with my neighbors. We're Navy, they pack us in like sardines in military housing so it's not hard to find willing (and close!) participants.

    B - The site looks GREAT! It was wonderful before, but now it has a very polished, streamlined look. It's completely gorgeous :) Good job!

  2. i want YOU [and your neighbors] as mine!! :) what a great idea!

  3. as Jasper would say 'Great idea Mumma!'

  4. Mmmmm. Your meals sound delicious. I love the idea of a food co-op. Too bad all my like-minded friends live too far away to make something like this workable. :(

  5. I love how easily this all came together for you all. Great idea and initiative on your part!!

    We recently moved in to a cohousing community and we have shared meals three times a week in the big common house (it works out to be 12 meals for 2-3 shifts of work a month -- either shopping, cooking, or cleaning). We've been loving living here!

  6. I love the idea of a dinner co-op!

  7. How does your family eat while you're traveling (esp. road trips)? I end up getting way too much fast food and I'd like to figure out something better.

  8. Yes, I understand the dinnertime frustration! Although it only happens occasionally for me. What would be nice is a bedtime co-op...bedtime is the bane of my existence. Can people come over and put my kids to bed? :)

  9. What an awesome idea! And I bet you now eat a lot healthier over-all coz you dont need to resort to bottom of the pantry meals or processed quick cook foods.
    I wana do this, so brilliant!

  10. Awesome to hear someone else who does this!
    Our family joined with 2 others about 6mths ago and started a dinner co-op very similar to yours except we pick up our meals (or eat in with the family that cooked) instead of having them delivered.

    I agree - its fantastic, and its really not much extra effort to make a larger amount of the food you were going to cook anyway! love it!

  11. We're doing a dinner coop with two other families from our birth preparation class, and it's just awesome. We have to keep it gluten-free and vegan because some babies have food allergies, which means we have to be a bit more creative, but we also end up with a much more varied diet.

    My favorite dinner coop dish to make is chickpeas with whole garlic cloves roasted in olive oil with fennel seeds and sauteed Swiss chard served over rice (or pasta). I call it in the nursing moms' special ;-) Our favorite dessert to make is avocado chocolate 'mousse'. Yum!

  12. This is a cool idea! I have also heard of doing a "freezer meal exchange" where everyone cooks enough of two meals for everyone in the exchange and then they all trade, so you can have home-cooked meals in your freezer you just have to heat up!

  13. I've been in a dinnercoop for over two years. It's amazing! We keep a blog of our dinners to comment on (and refer back to), which I highly recommend. The url is
    If you get a blog of your dinners, let me know so we can use it for inspiration!

  14. oh yes, I would also like links to any other dinner co-op blogs from other folks, as I love looking through them for inspiration...

  15. I just have one comment. MOVE CLOSER!

  16. How about you move closer to me? :)

  17. What a great idea! I don't think this would work for me, since I am VERY picky. The biggest help for me is planning. I make a menu every month with a shopping list, make one huge shopping trip at the beginning of the month, and fill in with weekly trips for produce and milk. It has worked out great! And I don't have a Mon we eat A, Tues we eat B plan, just a list of meals that I know I have ingredients to fix. They range from easy to complex so I can fix what I am in the mood to fix every day. Perfect solution:) And my DH loves baked chicken, so on a tired day, I throw some chicken in the oven and the kiddos eat sandwiches:)

  18. I did this for a year or two and loved it! Maybe I should try to restart it. It was so great, especially after I had T3, I had 3 weeks off, but others still brought me meals.

  19. I LOVE this idea! I'm wondering how I could do this with the dietary restrictions I have right now (no gluten).

    I think between this and a childcare exchange, a lot of families would have less stress. We should all help each other out a lot more in this world!

    Thanks for the I just have to figure out how to implement it. =)

  20. I want to see what more you all have been making! The one post with your menu inspired me to make a lemon curd/tart dessert for my dinnershare this week.


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