While researching another assignment last week, I reconnected with a mom I admire who told me about a “dinner swap.” Here’s the deal: A group of families joins forces to tackle the dinner hour. They work out a monthly schedule cooking in bulk for the entire group and then deliver meals at dinnertime on the day of their assignment.
While researching another assignment last week, I reconnected with a mom I admire who told me about a “dinner swap” that she participated in when her kids were a bit younger. I immediately recognized this brilliance as something that frugal folks could really benefit from.
Here’s the deal: A group of families joins forces to tackle the dinner hour. They work out a monthly schedule cooking in bulk for the entire group and then deliver meals at dinnertime on the day of their assignment. I know it seems strange at first, but any new mom in a kid-friendly neighborhood knows how much help the meals delivered for the first week or two helped. Imagine that same relief long term.
I can’t say I’ve implemented this in my own life, but I’m very intrigued. The stress of cooking dinner on activity-filled nights, or two overworked parents providing less than optimal faster food options for our kids leaves me feeling terrible. And the frustration that comes from trying to cook, serve and clean during homework or play time is the worst. Wouldn’t it be great to do it only once during the work week? Here are some thoughts about giving it a try:
For Jill Huskisson, a mother of three from Oconomowoc, Wisc., “dinner swap” gave her back something she was missing: time with her family. “I distinctly remember running around, goofing off with the kids or sitting on the driveway catching up on a magazine while watching the kids play … right up until the moment you saw the wagon coming up the hill,” Huskisson says. Hours spent playing short order cook lead to less time with the ones we love.
Trading meals with other families can lead to big savings, especially for families that eat out frequently. “With dinner trade four nights a week, our grocery bill went down, we stopped eating out, and we started saving an average $150 a week,” says Heather Newall, creator and owner of DinnerTrade.com and working mother of two. “Even the families who never ate out still saved money.”
Newall advises that it may take some trial and error and lots of asking before you get the right group together. “My suggestion would be to find people who live close to you, who have roughly the same size of family that you do,” Newall says. “Talk individually to each member your potential group and gave them an overview of what a dinner swap is and have them read over the start-up guide on DinnerTrade.com.” At the meeting, answer questions and determine expectations and details. If all parties are still interested, plan the first month’s meals.
Keeping things on track
Lots of tricks keep a dinner trade running smoothly, like being on time, being honest about things that don’t work and always putting your best serving spoon forward. “Don't use a dinner trade night to experiment,” says Newall. “You want the very best brought into to your home, and that's what you'll get when you provide the best. Use the weekend to try out new recipes.”
Molly Logan Anderson is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband Mike, three kids and black lab. Join Molly on her family’s journey of living a frugal life and making financial freedom their reality.