That’s the deal: You get together with a few of your friends (bring the kids too, if you have to), and cook up a bunch of big-batch family meals with them. Dinner when you need it, done.
Last year at this time, my husband was out of town on a month-long trip to South Africa for work. That meant I was home alone, except for our four kids under the age of eight. That’s when I called in reinforcements. My friend Katharine came over with her daughter, and we set the kids up with a movie and turned on the stove. After only a couple of hours in the kitchen (and one giant bowl of popcorn), we each ended up with a handful of meals to enjoy for both of our families, eight people in total. It worked so well I’m planning another make-ahead-meal party, and this time we’ll invite two more friends. Here’s the plan.
1: Pick your team:
Invite 4-5 people. Try to pick friends who have similar tastes or nutritional expectations. The best way to organize is by creating a Facebook event. That way all the invitation information, recipes and ongoing conversations are in one place.
2: Choose a leader and a location:
Whoever has the most organizational talent gets the job! This person might be tasked with setting up the Facebook group, printing out recipes and possibly grocery shopping — or at least coordinating the gathering of supplies. As for location, the friend with the biggest kitchen probably wins.
3: Agree on the recipes:
In advance, plan the meals . Everyone can toss a couple of recipes into the mix. In the end, try to agree on 3-4 meals that you’ll plan to double/triple/quadruple. A few pro tips:
– Choose recipes that freeze easily.
– Plan to double, triple or quadruple the recipes so each person leaves with enough to feed a family at least once.
– For each recipe, plan on bringing dishes with lids that can transport without spilling. Or buy disposable casserole dishes and use aluminum foil that can be recycled when you’re done. Don’t forget labels or painter’s tape and a marker to label what you make!
4: Grocery Shop:
When gathering supplies there are three ways to do it, but be sure to agree on a general price range and shopping strategy ahead of time (always buy store brand versus name brand, or substitute a close ingredient if it’s on sale, and so on).
– Distribute the recipes ahead of time and everyone brings all of their own ingredients.
– Each person is assigned a dish or two and they bring enough ingredients for everyone.
– The leader buys all the ingredients and everyone reimburses later on.
5: Start cooking!
On the day of the party, it’s wise to bring a laundry basket or a cooler to easily cart all your cooked meals home. Both are big and easy to wipe down in case of any spills.
The host should have the kitchen as clean and free of clutter as possible. Make bowls, spoons, can openers and any other needed tools easily accessible. Turn on some music and be sure to set out drinks and snacks too.
Start making recipes with the longest cooking time first. Set up stations for prep: chopping, grating and so on. Then move on to cooking. It’s best to create an assembly line to cook and assemble one meal at a time. That way will be less confusing with all the ingredients for the various recipes.
In the end, you should be able to pack up enough meals to serve a family for around a week.