Our "Cooking Club" was inspired by the book Cooking Among Friends. For many years I did "Once A Month Cooking". Some call it freezer cooking, or other names, but basically it amounts to spending all day on a Saturday cooking or assembling enough meals for your family for the month. In the past, it had been a wonderful thing as it helped me better plan what we'd be eating, come up with healthier meal options, save tons of time, and money! So, I got to thinking, what if several people did this and swapped. Then, I could divide the labor, and save time again! This way, instead of cooking all day on a Saturday, I would just cook for a few hours once a month. So, here's what I did.
- I started out by asking around to see who might be interested. We currently have 7 in our group.
- Next we met to discuss family preferences. Who likes what? Who won't eat what? Food allergies? Picky kids. Etc... From that meeting we came up with a menu for the first month. Each person agreed to fix two dishes for all of the families.
- Then, we decided on a date for our next meeting to get together and swap food and choose menu items for the next month.
- Once that is all planned out, each "cook" is on their own. They are responsible for purchasing enough of the ingredients needed for their meals, and making the same thing for all 7 families. For instance, if you got spaghetti sauce, you would make enough spaghetti sauce for 7 families. Our guidelines were that it was to feed 4. Then, if you got chicken casserole, you'd make 7 chicken casseroles. Once you have them prepared, you label them and freeze them.
- On the determined swap date, we all meet at my house and swap food. Everyone goes home with 14 different meals for the month. We also take the amount that each person spent, put it into a spreadsheet that one of our members put together for us (thanks again Christie!), and it figures out who owes what. Some may spend $100 on their ingredients, while another only $45, so this helps us get things evened up.
We average around $65.00/month, most months. That's a very nice savings for the grocery budget! We've not encountered too many problems, but when we have an issue, we just talk about it at the upcoming meeting. If a recipe is a flop, we don't fix it again. If it's a hit, we make it a "staple" and it's on the menu each month. Spaghetti is one of our staples. We had our's for dinner lastnight as a matter of fact, delicious and ready in a jiffy!
Now you might be asking yourself, why not just buy frozen meals if that's what you end up with anyway? Good question. The reason is because this way, we know what's in our food, or better yet - what isn't in our food. You will not find preservatives designed to make them last for 2 years in the freezer! This stuff is fresh, it needs to be eaten within the month, it won't last forever. Fresh ingredients make better meals, and are certainly healthier for you and your family. Plus, we make items with brown rice, and other healthier options, you won't find that in many store bought freezer meals.
We try to stick to pretty normal sounding recipes and add in a couple of unusual items each month to make it fun. We always include one breakfast dish that can be used to serve brunch to your family on the weekend, or in our case to take for Sunday School breakfast when our time roles around. We try to make sure we have a good balance of beef, chicken, fish and meatless dishes. We fix a few dishes that are intended as sides, and always include one dessert. Great to have on hand when you need to take a meal to someone who is sick, just had surgery, or just had a baby.
So, if it sounds like fun, try doing it with a few of your friends. It is a real time and sanity saver! Here's a list of some of the meals we've had on our menus:
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Homemade mac and cheese
- Spaghetti Sauce (For a super quick night - heat sauce, boil noodles and your done!)
- BBQ Chicken
- Terriyaki Chicken
- Beef tips with peppers and onions (for the crockpot)
- Cheesy Chicken Casserole
- Baked French Toast
- Country Sausage and grits casserole
- Honey mustard bacon smothered chicken
- Marinated flank steak
- Green beans amondine
- Squash casserole
- Taco meat (this is one for a quick night fix - tacos or taco salads)
- Chicken and dressing
- Baked Ziti
- Chicken Enchiladas
The list goes on and on! Need help getting started? Feel free to post your questions, comments or suggestions.