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Our Experience with a Cooking Co-Op

Want to save time and stress on food? Try a cooking co-op with friends!

And this has nothing to do with building your downline or firing your boss to make 5k per week! (Insert intended sarcasm toward the end of that last sentence).

Some people in our neighborhood are actually doing something that's helping them save significantly on their dinner bill and help them save time in the process.

A cooking co-op.

Julie and I joined one recently and last night was our first experience picking up the dinner from our friends and enjoying (every bite of) it. Julie loved the fact that she didn't need to prepare dinner (she was able to do a ton of other things on Her List) and I loved the fact that Julie loved it.

How does a cooking co-op work?

You find three other families nearby to participate. Each family is assigned a day of the week (excluding Friday and the weekend). When your assigned day comes, you prepare enough dinner to feed your family and the three others. The other families come by to pick up their dinner and you're done.

On the other three nights of the week, you simply go over to the assigned family's house and pick up your dinner.

There are variations on the idea. You can do only main dishes and worry about sides on your own. You can do one dish and one side, you could add dessert... we're actually only doing it on Wednesdays at the moment -- so every fourth Wednesday Julie prepares a meal. On the other three Wednesdays, we receive a meal.

At first I thought we were doing this because of our recent belt tightening, but it's bigger than that.

Monetary Benefits of Cooking Co-Ops

When you're making "bulk" dishes, you don't end up with leftover (sometimes wasted ingredients). You don't need to go to the grocery store nearly as often. You simply spend less on groceries. It's phenomenal.

Consider the fact that if you make yourself aware of deals at the grocery store, you can really capitalize on savings by purchasing that sale item in bulk. Plan your meal around the sales and you'll save even more.

Other Benefits of Cooking Co-Ops

Instead of saving time by purchasing pre-made meals or eating out (both more expensive and not nearly as healthy), you're still saving time, but enjoying excellent food. Can you imagine what other things you could accomplish if you needed to make dinner three fewer times each week? The time it takes to make four main dishes instead of one is marginal. You quickly scale and your efficiency is there almost immediately. Another benefit is that you can grow closer to your neighbors/friends who are participating. You'll see them more frequently and will build a stronger, more meaningful relationship.

A Few Tips Regarding Dinner Groups

Make a great meal when it's your turn. Our first meal last night was phenomenal and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The great part about cooking less is that when you do cook, you can pull out all the stops. A fancy ingredient that you wouldn't normally use for just one meal now becomes easily justified because you're making four times the normal amount.

Also, on the flip side, make sure you create a dinner group with families that have similar tastes/food standards. By that I mean, if you're not the biggest fan of fried food, you may not want to organize with families that love it :)

It helps to find families of similar size, though it's not required. You simply make enough to feed the largest family and smaller families will have a few more leftovers they can take as lunch.

Communicate well with the group. Be selective about your feedback and remember the golden rule :)

If you're single, dinner groups make even more sense, since you're likely to forgo cooking for just a single person, resulting in paying more for food that's not nearly as healthy.

Cooking Co-Ops: Our Experience

They work. They'll save you money. They'll save you time.

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Our Experience with a Cooking Co-Op