Sunday, July 27, 2008

How Being Lazy Can Benefit You

And other true statements, when taken out of context.

A couple of you have recently asked questions about the Supper Swapping that my family does (and btw, I love seeing the comments -- thanks!). It's something that I actually first heard about on the blog Because I Said So! She hosted Trish Berg on a "blook tour" last September.

The whole concept sounded pretty cool. You cook once a week for families you know and deliver food to them, and they cook for you on their assigned nights. That means more home cooked meals for less effort -- really, if you're going to make a marinated chicken, how hard is it to toss in a few more chicken breasts?

The other benefit that Trish points out is that you can potentially save a whole lot of money. If you're having food brought to you, you're less likely to eat out, which makes sense. On top of that, though, when you're cooking for 8 or 12 or 16 instead of 4, you can buy more bulk foods which by their nature cost less money.

Oh yeah, and when your child decides that he doesn't like dinner that night, it wasn't you cooking, so you don't have to be offended! Plus, you'll discover foods your kids like that you'd never imagine. Mister Man's new favorite food is cabbage rolls. I honestly didn't think he'd even try them, but he loved them. In fact, when we were at that friend's house for dinner a few weeks ago, he unsolicitedly thanked her for making them and told her how much he loved them. And we had them three months ago.

Before I started, my biggest challenge I thought was going to be anyone who would do it with me. Ideally, you want to do it with people who live near you (or work with you) so that delivery is easy. Ideally, you want to cook for families who'll eat around the same amount of food you do so that it's fair for everyone. Otherwise, those savings mentioned above won't really happen for you.

I asked two families who have the same number of children around the same age who live in my neighborhood. I posed the question totally in a non-pressure situation, and to my surprise, both families agreed to give it a try. We decided to try it out for one month, at which point any of us could drop out with no hard feelings. We also agreed to sit down and plan out three months worth of meals so that we could just keep going if we all liked it.

I chose to cook on Tuesdays, D cooks on Wednesdays, and A cooks on Thursdays. Since Mister Man had Language Stars from 4:05 to 5:30 on Tuesdays, I delivered my meals uncooked around 3:45 with cooking instructions. D works from home on Wednesdays, and A is off on Thursdays, so both delivered their meals cooked between 5 and 5:30. You can be totally flexible like that.

In fact, a few times we delivered meals the night before because we had things going on the day we were supposed to cook. We've also swapped days and skipped weeks because things came up. We agreed that we're fine with that, and you just have to come up with the appropriate agreement.

We plan our meals out three months in advance. We'll take about three hours on a Saturday to sit down with our cookbooks and recipe cards and other ideas. We print out calendars to write down who's cooking what each week, and then I type it up and distribute it. The calendars also include who wants what changed on their particular meal (e.g., for my Mile High Tortilla Pie, D gets no black beans and A is light on the black beans, while I get no mushrooms in a particular dish).

For each meal, we do a main course and then a side dish or dessert. The side dish can be as simple as rice (although we've since learned that A's family doesn't like plain rice, so that is now out of the running) or fruit or a salad or as complex as a homemade ice cream cookie or homemade Spanish rice or whatever! Some of the sides end up being premade (e.g., biscuits from a mix or a salad mix from the grocery store), and that's fine. You can choose what you want to make if that means just an entree or including a vegetable each meal or never doing dessert. It's all about what works for you.

The first time we sat down, we talked about what we like and don't like and what we can't do. D's husband doesn't do fish, so we haven't had fish for any meal. D's son is lactose intolerant, so I did my corn chowder on a week when D was out of town. A's husband doesn't like raw onions, so we avoid those. I'm not a big fan of pork, so we only do a super yummy crock pot pork roast that D makes. When we choose recipes, we all have veto rights, and no one takes offense to any of it.

After that, we've sat down with the "old" recipes and decide which are keepers and which aren't. Sometimes they surprise you. I didn't think the cabbage rolls D made would be, but we all loved them. I thought my kefta kabobs would be a winner, but only my family likes them. No worries though! We do repeats, but we also introduce new recipes each session. Oh, and we generally ensure they're recipes we've made before so that we don't have any whoops recipes.

We serve the dishes in dishes that we each own. We all have Pyrex in a variety of sizes, and that's the primary serving vehicle. We don't worry about returning the exact dish, as we'll all get them back eventually as the swapping continues. Some of the items we serve in Tupperware and the like. Those we try to label with our names if we want them back, but we don't really stress about it. In Trish's book, she has a whole pan formula to ensure you always have enough pans to swap.

For the summer, we decided to cook once every other week since we're all so busy, and that works for us. Come September, I expect that we'll go back to every week. We also decided that once a month, we'd have a barbeque at one of our houses in place of the traditional supper swap. It's actually at my house on Thursday for my husband's birthday. It's a nice way for the whole families to spend some time together, which we don't get to do as often as we like otherwise.

Everyone's group will be different, and that's part of the fun of it. We've talked about finding a fourth member and doing cooking Monday to Thursday, but we haven't explored it yet. Some groups have people drop out and new people come in, as it truly is a fluid and flexible concept. It won't work for everyone, and that's ok. Some groups cook twice a week, so that have food more often. Again, whatever works for you.

It's a bit nerve-wracking to have other people eating your cooking. Especially when you realize you made a mistake, as A did once time with her lasagne. She doubled the recipe for all of us but forgot to double the sauce, so it was a little dry. But it's was fine. And sometimes, you get a phone call around dinner time and panic only to find out that it's one of the girls calling to compliment your restaurant quality meal. Now that's a great way to end a day!

If you have any questions about the supper swapping, let me know, and I'll do what I can to help. Trish Berg wrote a book that was my bible (until it mysteriously disappeared just before we were going to start up our group!), and it's also a great resource. She's got a ton more experience with this than I do!


xxxx July 27, 2008 at 8:28 PM  

What a fun idea! I love it!

Michelle July 27, 2008 at 10:38 PM  

Swishy - It is fun and a great way to try foods I never would make myself!

-Bridget July 27, 2008 at 11:23 PM  

That's a great idea for so many reasons. I'm storing that away for future reference.

MaBunny July 28, 2008 at 8:54 AM  

Sounds like a fantastic idea, but not many poeple around here that would do it I'm thinking.
Hope you had a great weekend !

Angie's Spot July 28, 2008 at 1:01 PM  

I'm SOOOO glad you posted this! Now I just need to find some willing participants. :-)

On the pushup front, I'm happy to report that I did mine on Friday and last night and I'm ready to move on to week 2 tomorrow. Hubby decided to join in with me, for motivation. Isn't that sweet!! Good luck with your routine this week!

Claremont First Ward July 28, 2008 at 6:36 PM  

I've actually been approached about doing this, and it's so appealing, but I hesitated because I have more kids than everyone so it's not fair. Also, I'm not into casserole/frozen dinners on a regular basis and that's how the person wanted to do, so it's nice to know that these groups work without doing it freezer style.

Angela August 3, 2008 at 9:46 AM  

Thanks for posting this info! I love the idea and I may try to start this (or get in on one) in my neighborhood. I love the variety and new recipes that can be picked up from others' favorite dishes.

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