How to Start a Dinner Co-op

Dinner, As if By Magic
What if we said you only had to cook one nightly meal each week? What if we told you that on the other nights of the week, you'd be eating hearty, healthy, home-cooked meals that would appear at your door, as if by magic? And that your food bills would likely be lower? And that your kids might even become more adventurous eaters? We suspect you'd be quite pleased. Are we right?

We'll admit it sounds a bit fantastical. But the reality is quite easy: Start a dining co-op. Before you conjure up images of barefoot hippies stirring big pots of lentils, let's explain how a dining co-op works.

How a Co-op Works:
There are two basic types of co-ops: the Cooking Together Co-op and the Take Turns Cooking Co-op.

In a Cooking Together Co-op, a group of friends gathers in a kitchen and prepares a variety of meals in one afternoon or evening. The meals are then divided into freezable containers and everyone takes home a week's worth of dinners. These clubs are a great way to socialize with friends while simplifying one of life's daily chores. You go home with a collection of meals perfect for pulling out of the freezer and reheating when there isn't time to cook a real dinner.

Parents of young children can turn it into a playdate for both grown-ups and kids. The adults can enjoy some (relatively) quiet time in the kitchen, while the kids can play elsewhere. Hire a local teenager for inexpensive babysitting help.

A Take Turns Cooking Co-op is less of a social event, but also provides a stream of nightly dinners. Each member of the co-op is responsible for one night's meal for all the families in the group. A meal typically consists of a main course and two sides, and is dropped off at each member's house just before dinner so there is enough time to reheat it.

Whichever co-op you choose is up to you, but the benefits are all the same. Co-ops provide balanced unprocessed meals. They offer variety, when—let's face it—even the most accomplished cooks among us fall back on the usual dinner standbys more often than we'd like to admit. And while scrambled eggs do make a nice, simple dinner, branching out might do the family good!

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