How a 'dinner exchange' could keep you out of the kitchen

Dinner Exchange

contributed by Amy

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Many of you have probably heard of cooking-for-a-month techniques. That is too big a project for me and my freezer, but I am in a dinner exchange with several friends. Each month (same day and time) we exchange dinners we have prepared and base it on the number of participants. (We use email to coordinate.) I make the same meal, multiplied by the number of families. Then we all show up with our frozen meals in coolers and exchange them. We usually package the meals in freezer bags (label BEFORE freezing because your marker won't work on a cold bag) and stack flat on a cookie sheet for space-saving freezing) or in disposable aluminum 9x9 pans. I take five of the same dinner and come home with five different dinners. We all bring recipes so that everyone knows the ingredients and can also recreate the meal if it is a family hit.

Some tips if you want to start your own dinner exchange:

  • Pick a night and be consistent in the exchanging
  • Decide how everyone will cook (reduced fat, etc)
  • Decide how many portions each meal should serve
  • Determine how spicy meals can be (most of us have small children who don't eat spicy)
  • Learn about what items freeze well and what items don't (For instance, lasagna noodles should be slightly undercooked.)
  • Be sure to tell everyone to label and date the meals so that you know what's what in your freezer
  • I like having 5-7 dinners to exchange. I can handle cooking that many and can store about that many in my small, over-the-fridge freezer. Count on at least one person not being able to participate each month.
  • We have decided that typical pantry supplies (rice, noodles) need not be supplied with the meals.

The whole idea of dinner exchanges is to save money by having things ready in the freezer. It's less tempting to go out, even to a fast-food restaurant, when dinner is in the freezer. It may seem like you're spending a lot of money when you purchase five pounds of chicken breasts at once, but in the long run you save by having healthy, home-cooked meals ready to defrost and serve in your freezer rather than prepared foods or going out to a restaurant.

Hope you all can enjoy the benefits of dinner exchanges with your friends!

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