A recipe for reducing the mental burden on parents: “You changed my life! »| Dollars and cents

My neighbor Valerie, who describes herself as a “tired mother,” did not go overboard to say what she thought of my trick to simplify the preparation for weekend dinner: “You changed my life!”

This miraculous recipe, which saves a lot of time and a little money, is simply the exchange of meals with neighbors.

My little family started this two years ago. Every week, we cook a recipe at home in large batches, and then exchange enough for an entire family with neighbors who have done the same.

At the moment, three families from the neighborhood are involved, including my neighbor Valerie’s. This means that, every week, my girlfriend and I have two fewer dishes to plan and cook. Imagine coming home from work wondering what you’re going to eat, only to remember that there’s a good dish waiting for you in the fridge!

Big time saving. Admittedly, we have to cut more carrots and onions when we prepare our meal to share, but it takes a lot less time than cooking two other dishes. The chore of grocery shopping is also shorter because there are fewer ingredients to purchase.

Financially, this is less impressive. I value the savings at $5 a week, mainly because it is possible to take advantage of discounts for bulk purchases and because losses are rare. When cilantro is needed in a recipe for three families, the package is usually complete.

The main challenge with this trick is to find one or more people near you who are willing to try the adventure. For the exchange to be successful, they must be compatible in terms of culinary tastes and appetites. A carnivorous couple with a two-year-old pecking at her plate with a vegan single mom and three adult teens emptying the fridge every day is a combination that may not last…

simplicity

Once you convince another family, you will have to agree on a formula that will please everyone. The possibilities are many, but to guide you in your thinking, here is the method our group chose.

Simplicity is the motto of meal selection. The temptation can be strong, especially for those who love to cook, to impress others with fine dishes. But the goal, remember, is to make things easier, not add another layer of stress to our already demanding lives. In short, shepherd’s pie, fried rice, macaroni and cheese are more than acceptable options.

We also agreed not to take into account the tastes of children in choosing dishes. Too bad for them if they don’t like the mushroom spaghetti or the asparagus that accompanies the fish. Sometimes it is enough that the food is prepared differently by another family so that the little ones ask for more. That was the case for us with the oven-roasted Brussels sprouts. Other than that, it can also be an advantage: “When the kids don’t like the meal, it makes me a great lunch the next day,” notes Pierre Yves, another neighbor involved in the exchange.

Yes, sometimes there are disappointments. Often someone who has cooked a less successful meal is familiar with this and is a little embarrassed – this was the case for me this week with the unsalted chicken pie…especially good food.

In terms of logistics, it all starts on Saturday morning when we text us whether we’re participating in the exchange — sometimes skipping a turn — and that we’re deciding what we’re going to cook. This allows everyone to buy the right amounts of groceries and avoid similar meals, for those planning an entire menu for the week.

Our limit is to deliver the meal no later than Tuesday evening. By having everything in the fridge from the start of the week, each family can save dishes for when they really need them, for example on the evening of the children’s swimming lessons.

Everything must be included in the meal: if it is a vegetable soup eaten with bread, bread is also provided – but not salt and pepper; Don’t overdo it either. Above all, everything should be ready to eat, without additional preparation, after a simple run in the microwave, except for dishes that only need to be put in the oven, such as whipped but uncooked lasagna.

For transportation, we use reusable plastic, pyrex or aluminum containers for oven-baked meals. We usually return them the following week with the new delivery. One family in our group also took care to tag their containers to ensure they arrived safely.

During the summer, we completely stop the exchange. It gets very complicated with the holidays, and it’s usually a less stressful time when we have more time to cook. Same thing during the holidays.

Ready to try it out?

It will likely take a few weeks to find your balance. But you’ll quickly see if the concept works for you. One of the first families with whom we set up the system stopped participating after a while. And that’s fine: the idea, again, is to simplify the routine, not complicate it.

However, if, like my neighbor Valerie, you’re a tired dad, there’s a good chance that meal swaps will change your life!

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