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How to Start a Neighborhood Meal Swap

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Recession Mama: It's 6 PM. Do you know where your dinner is? Are you trying to figure out how you can make a meal out of a can of tomato sauce and four wilted scallions? I'm not ... anymore. And I'm not going out every night or ordering takeout.

mom cooking

I've tried weekly meal plans, cooking ahead and stocking my freezer, and buying in bulk so I would always have food in the house. What worked, though, was a meal swap a neighbor and I started years ago. She cooked dinner for me and my family once a week, and I did the same for her and her family. There weren't many rules. The food had to be delivered by 5 PM on the agreed-upon date. There had to be a main dish and a side. You could deliver food that needed to be heated, but the recipient would have to do no actual cooking. Pretty simple concept, but it changed my life.

You definitely put your best foot forward when making a meal for someone else. There was no way I was going to fall back on my mother's tuna surprise. (Surprise, it's terrible!) I could pull myself together once a week to make a nice meal. And of course, once a week, dinner was delivered to me. I have done the exchange with a couple other families and it has evolved into additions of fresh fruit for dessert and usually a couple of sides. That's a lot of food, so it usually makes two meals -- two for them and of course, two for us.

So now I've got four meals taken care of during a week so jam-packed with after-school activities I'm constantly afraid of missing a preschool pickup (poor forgotten third child) ... And for all that, I only need to cook once. I have to cook a lot of food, but now I buy that value pack of salmon or the whole pork loin that is always on sale. I can play outside with the kids on those glorious warm nights when it stays light for ages right up until we want to eat. And then we can eat a healthy, home-cooked meal -- and half the time, I didn't even have to cook it!

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