Thursday, May 31, 2012

Best Idea Ever: Dinner Swapping

The night off saves me from instant & take-out food!
I really, really love to cook (I don't know if you had noticed...) and I really, really love to share food and recipes with people. But preparing dinner 7 nights a week is a lot of thinking and working and time consumption. Several years ago we had excellent neighbors and we all loved to cook.We concocted the idea of dinner swapping - it's probably not an original idea but we did come up with it on our own. Ultimately we wanted to eat together more often, but it wasn't practical with our situations. So we traded weekly dinners. When they moved, I started trading with a different neighbor. When we moved, eventually I found a new neighbor to trade with. That means I'm on my third set of dinner partners now - always due to moving, never due to the arrangement not working.

Here's how it works...Extremely well. 


Each of us picks one night of the week that we have relatively free. On my cooking night, it is my responsibility to prepare dinner for my household and my neighbor's household. On their cooking night, I put my feet up, knowing dinner is being prepared (well...I don't actually put my feet up, but I do get to not think about cooking just that one night...tonight I'm writing this blog post when I otherswise would be cooking). We trade dropping off and picking up as it is convenient for each household.

Things to consider:

1) Keep it in your immediate area so that drop-off/pick-up is easy. If your swapping friend is across town, you're giving yourself another errand. Swap with someone in easy walking distance.

2) Make sure you have similar diets - they don't need to be exactly the same, but everyone should enjoy good food. A household that relies on Cayenne as a staple flavor might not pair well with a household that can't stand spice... Likewise very concientious vegetarians might feel uncomfortable with their meal being cooked in a house where meat has touched every pan.

3) Don't tally or keep track too closely. People go out of town, people get ill, life happens. Skip when you need to skip, keep trading, and trust that it will all work out.

4) Write down strong food preferences for the folks who will be cooking for you. Everyone should know if there are any allergies or food sensitivities. Also if there are strong dislikes that will ruin a meal for someone.

5) Find a way to keep track of the other households dishes and containers you receive your meal in - otherwise you will end up with extra random stuff floating around your kitchen without a home. And keep track of your own too - know what you send over so you can get it back.

(Funny side note on that - in my current trade there is a 13x9 baking pan that I'm pretty sure is not mine and she is pretty sure is not hers. What?)


Some of the benefits I've noticed:

*I can get my kitchen super clean on the other household's cooking night, and not worry about cooking dishes messing it up. I can just enjoy the clean for an evening.

*Cooking for someone else makes me think outside my usual fallbacks because I want to show off a little. I want to challange myself and having an "audience" helps me do that. I cook better these nights!

*A couple of the households I have swapped with had similar tastes in food, but very different diets. My current swap is mostly paleo (for one of the members), so I get to learn about new diets, cooking ideas and methods. This further challanges me to think diferently than my traditional cooking habits and learn new things. I love that!

*Cooking an extra dinner is not really much extra work. I'm cooking anyway and doubling is not hard. In fact, it's more than a trade-off for having a  night off cooking & thinking about feeding my family that doesn't cost me the increasingly expensive price of take-out. Because it's a swap, buying extra ingredients doesn't actually increase my food budget at all, since I pay nothing for the wonderful dinner delivered to my door.

*I love the element of surprise...4 blocks away, something tasty is being cooked for me. And when it shows up it's always exciting to see what we get to eat. I can't remember ever being disappointed.


I think you should try this out if you can. Find a near-by friend and trade a couple meals. Share recipes, taste test new things, build that neighborly connection, and eat well. See where it goes. How can you improve upon my idea?


  1. This is an amazing thing! Who would think what difference one night off a week can make. Also I think that pan fell from the sky?

  2. I love the idea of trading fresh meals like this - I may be talking to my new neighbors soon! For a while, my sisters and I did a similar project with freezer meals: each of us would make 4 sets of a whole meal for the freezer, and then trade them around. I liked having more variety in my last-minute dinner plan!

    1. Anything that diversifies a diet AND helps everyone have more time and more whole foods is a win. Go for it!