Friday, January 1, 2010

Once-a-Month Cooking Festival: Cooking Clubs and Co-Ops

More hands make lighter work. It's as true in the kitchen as it is in other areas of life. By sharing food preparation with others, you are blessed and you bless others!

One way to lighten your load when it comes to cooking and cleaning up is to get some friends together and start a cooking co-op. Essentially, you and 2-3 friends with like-sized families who live nearby would get together and discuss meals you like. One night a week you would cook 2-3 times more food than your immediate family needs that night. You would then deliver the extras to your friends (pre-cooked or prepped and ready to cook). Then the other two or three nights, your friends bring you the food!

To make this work, you and your friends will need to figure out what the meals will include: are you providing just a main dish or a complete meal (salad or other veggie, bread, dessert)? Also hash out meal delivery times, cost goals for meals, nutritional considerations, and a schedule of who's bringing what when. You don't have to aim for every week--maybe start with once-a-month and work up from there if it's working for all of you. You will also need to purchase containers your friends can use to bring your food to you--a large 9x13" pan, for example.

Another idea is to form a group of friends and begin a cooking club. Here you would meet one day a month, perhaps at your church kitchen if you can use it and it's large enough, and cook several meals for participants to take home and freeze. Each person would be assigned a dish to make and assemble for all the participants. So let's say I'm in charge of chicken parmesan. I would buy all the ingredients and make up five pans of it (if we had 5 people). I disperse the pans and go home with four other dishes.

Making a co-op work successfully requires these ingredients:
  • a large enough kitchen for everyone to work (or do it separately at home and deliver the dishes, but it's more fun to work together!)
  • discussion and planning about what meals to make, how much everyone wants to spend, etc. (Save your receipts for ingredients; everyone can split the cost).
  • a morning (or another 4-hour chunk of time) for everyone to work. Participants need to be committed to this and not back out at the last minute (of course there are exceptions, but if you're planning a cooking day and buy 10 pounds of chicken, and everyone cancels, it will definitely curb the enthusiasm).
  • Uplifting conversation and good attitudes while you work!
  • pans for everyone's food to go into, tin foil, and boxes to hold your meals on the way home
Making and baking extra foods takes time. Time is a commodity that is a limited resource--there is only so much of it a day. If you need to use more time to accomplish more baking than usual, you will have to come to terms with the fact that there will be less time that day for other things, like laundry (that's probably why I'm so backed up there but that's another post!). Trying to do it all won't work. I think that's what I finally realized. Making it work requires a great attitude about why you're doing the extra baking and cooking and an understanding and acceptance that, for those days, you will slack on other things.

I would love for you to share any kitchen-shortcuts you've found. Either link up with a post or share in the comments section! I'd also love to know if you've ever tried a cooking co-op or club and what your experience with it has been. Any additional hints to make it successful?

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