A recipe to lighten the mental burden of parents: “It changed my life! »| dollars and cents

My neighbor Valérie, who calls herself a “tired mother”, didn’t go too far in saying what she thought of my trick to simplify the preparation of midweek dinners: “It changed my life!”

This miracle recipe, which saves a lot of time and some money, is simply to swap meals with neighbors.

My little family started this two years ago. Every week we cook a recipe at home in large quantities, so we exchange enough portions for a whole family with neighbors who have done the same.

There are currently three families from the neighborhood, including my neighbor Valérie. 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 will eat, only to remember that a good dish awaits you in the fridge!

The time savings are significant. Sure, we need to chop a few extra carrots and onions when preparing our meal to share, but it’s a lot less time-consuming than cooking two other dishes. The grocery work is also shorter as there are fewer ingredients to purchase.

Financially, it’s less impressive. I estimate the savings at five dollars a week, mainly because discounts are available for bulk purchases and because losses are rare. When cilantro is needed in a three-family recipe, the bundle usually goes all the way.

The main challenge with this trick is to find one or more people near you ready to try the adventure. For the exchange to work, they must be compatible both in terms of culinary tastes and appetites. A carnivorous couple with a two-year-old girl who pecks her plate paired with a vegetarian single mother with three older teens who empty the fridge every other day is a combination that may not last …

Simplicity

Once you have convinced another family, you will need to agree on a formula that satisfies everyone. The possibilities are numerous, but to guide you in your thinking, here is the method that our group has chosen.

The watchword for choosing a meal is simplicity. The temptation can be strong, especially for those who love to cook, for wanting to amaze others with refined dishes. But the goal, he recalls, is to make things easier, not to add another level of pressure to our already overly busy lives. In short, shepherd’s pie, fried rice, and mac and cheese are more than acceptable options.

We also agreed not to take children’s tastes into account when choosing dishes. Too bad for them if they don’t like our pasta with mushrooms or the asparagus accompanying the fish. Sometimes it is enough for a food to be prepared differently by another family for the little ones to ask for more. This was our case with baked Brussels sprouts. Otherwise it can also be an advantage: “When the children don’t like the meal, he gives me a great lunch for the next day,” emphasizes Pierre-Yves, another neighbor who participates in the exchange.

Yes, sometimes there are disappointments. The person who has cooked a less successful meal is often aware of this and is a little embarrassed – this was the case with me this week with my salted chicken pie … But everyone is nice and we take the time to compliment each other on the particularly good food.

In terms of logistics, it all starts on Saturday morning when we indicate via text message if we are participating in the exchange – sometimes we skip a shift – and that we specify what we are going to cook. This allows everyone to buy the right quantities at the supermarket and avoid similar meals, for those who plan the whole menu for the week.

The limit we have chosen is to deliver the meal no later than Tuesday evening. By having everything in the fridge since the start of the week, every family can save their dishes for when they really need them, for example on the evenings of the children’s swimming lessons.

Everything must be included in the meal: if it is a vegetable soup to eat with bread, bread is also provided, but not salt and pepper; don’t overdo it either. Above all, everything must be ready to eat, with no additional preparations, after a simple rotation in the microwave, except for dishes that only need to be baked, such as whipped but uncooked lasagna.

For transport we use reusable containers in plastic or Pyrex or aluminum for the meals to be baked. We usually return them the following week, along with the new delivery. One of the families in our group also took care of identifying their containers with adhesive labels to make sure they arrived safely.

During the summer we completely suspend the exchange. It gets too complicated with the holidays and is usually a less stressful time when we have a little more time to cook. Same thing during the holidays.

Ready to try it?

It will probably take a few weeks to find your balance. But you will quickly see if the concept is for you. One of the first families we set up the system with stopped participating after a while. Okay: the idea, once again, is to simplify the routine, not complicate it.

However, if you are, like my neighbor Valérie, a weary parent, there is a good chance that swapping meals will change your life!

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