Last fall my aunt Kathryn invited me to join her Meal Co-op. I had never heard of such a thing. It turns out that joining was one of the best things I've ever done, and I think you should do it too. Here's how it works:
You find five friends who have families approximately like your own. So, if you're a vegetarian, find five vegetarians. If you have a family of 5 like me, you want to find five other similarly sized families. It won't work as well if your families are all different sizes. And if you have three growing teenaged boys in your house, you don't necessarily want to co-op with people who have empty nests (although it could work, with some extra packaging and planning - you'd just divide the empty nesters' share into two or three packages instead of putting it all in one, I suppose). You can do it with more or fewer families, but fewer and it's not as worthwhile, and more and it's going to get overwhelming. 6 - 8 total families seems to be the sweet spot where it's do-able and worthwhile.
Each month you're going to make one thing six times and freeze it. For example, I just made a drunken pork tenderloin - I made the marinade in a one gallon pitcher with totally ridiculous amounts of food - 8 pork tenderloins, 32 cloves of garlic, 2 cups of Jack Daniels (woo woo!), and so on. I put each tenderloin in a one gallon ziploc bag, then poured the finished marinade over the meat, squeezed the excess air out of the bag, and froze them.
|Marinades are easy to make in huge quantities.|
|This chicken is amazing! I got the recipe from Kathryn.|
|Shepherd's pie tastes better sideways, right?|
|And my freezer will look like this! That whole middle shelf is filled with meals, all ready to rock!|
My co-op in Grammaland (the one I'm in with Kathryn) has fewer families than my local group, but we each make two, sometimes three meals. Each month I have about 3 weeks worth of meals in my freezer - then I fill in the other week with fresh stuff, or we eat out, or whatever.
I was concerned about the money aspect of it - if I make filet mignon and someone else makes chicken soup, how is that fair? Well, it is a simple matter of filling out a template lists all the ingredients listed, figuring out a cost per entree, then figuring out the total amount spent per "set" of meals.
|Google Documents makes this super easy.|
The entrees generally work out to around $8 each. They usually feed us dinner with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.
Before the co-op, I had gotten into such a rut. I was making the same five or six meals every week, and we were all completely bored with all of them. Well, since joining the co-op we've eaten a much greater variety of foods that we would never have tried otherwise. (At the meeting we decide what we're going to make next time, so no one ends up with too much lasagna - as if there is such a thing as too much lasagna!)
We eat out a lot less because I have to plan ahead and get something out of the freezer the night before (generally I'll go out to the garage freezer to grab a vegetable to go along with tonight's dinner, and I'll grab tomorrow's dinner at the same time). Since it's already thawed and almost entirely ready to go, I don't tend to get lazy around 5 pm (the hardest time of the day for parents of young kids) and say, "Let's just order pizza," or "Let's just eat out," the way I used to.
My kids are trying new things, too, which is so important. I always make sure that there's at least one thing per meal that they will eat - so if I'm not sure that they'll like the entree, I'll make mashed potatoes and broccoli which everyone loves. Or I'll make bread or rolls. It's really easy to fill in and make sure everyone gets enough. And if they totally can't stand it, there's always PB&J.
The great thing about it is that you set the rules - in my Grammaland co-op we prefer whole ingredients and meals made from scratch. We avoid artificial sweeteners and other chemical ingredients. We also have guidelines for cleanliness (I must have washed my hands 82 times - cooking for friends makes me a lot more careful than when I cook for my family!) that are in writing and agreed upon. I'll be happy to email our guidelines and templates to you, if you want to start your own co-op (just email me) but the beauty of it is that you can shape it to fit your situation!
As for where to find the recipes, if you don't have an aunt Kathryn, try this fabulous cookbook (LOVE). All Recipes scales recipes up easily, too. Or just do the math for your own favorite recipes. Just remember that eights are easier than sevens! Raw potatoes don't freeze well. Undercook pasta so it doesn't get squashy. Lettuce and banana also don't do well when thawed and heated. But really, who eats hot lettuce, anyway? Dairy products separate, sometimes, so be careful of sour cream based sauces and so on. Most everything else, though, will freeze beautifully if you remove the extra air. It's easiest to freeze things flat so they transport and store easily.
My Grammaland co-op was so terrific, I started another one locally. I encourage you to try it with your own friends. Life changing stuff, here, folks.
10 Benefits of Frequent Family Dinners
Sounds worth it to me!!
- Everyone eats healthier meals.
- Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
- Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes.
- They're less likely to drink alcohol.
- They won't likely try marijuana.
- They're less likely to use illicit drugs.
- Friends won't likely abuse prescription drugs.
- School grades will be better.
- You and your kids will talk more.
- You'll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
- Kids will feel like you're proud of them.
- There will be less stress and tension at home.