Recipe for easing the mental burden of parents: “It changed my life! » | dollars and cents

My neighbor Valerie, who describes herself as a “tired mom,” didn’t exaggerate what she thought of my trick for simplifying weeknight dinner prep: “It’s changed my life! »

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

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

Three families from the neighborhood are currently participating, including my neighbor Valerie’s. This means that each week my girlfriend and I have two less meals to plan and cook. Imagine coming home from work and wondering what you’re going to eat, only to realize there’s a good meal waiting for you in the fridge!

The time savings are significant. It is true that we have to cut a few more carrots and onions when we prepare our dish, but it takes much less time than cooking two other dishes. The grocery shopping task is also shorter because there are fewer ingredients to buy.

Financially, it’s less impressive. I value the savings at five dollars a week, mainly because it is possible to take advantage of discounts for bulk purchases and because losses are rare. When cilantro is called for in a recipe for three families, the bundle usually goes all the way.

The main challenge with this trick is to find one or more people near you willing to try the adventure. For the exchange to work, they must be compatible in both culinary tastes and appetites. A carnivorous couple with a two-year-old pecking at her plate combined with a single vegetarian mom with three grown teenagers who empty the fridge every other day is a combination that might not last…


Once you’ve convinced another family, you’ll need to agree on a formula that satisfies everyone. The possibilities are numerous, but to guide your thinking, here’s the method our group chose.

The motto when choosing food is simplicity. The temptation can be strong, especially for those who love to cook, to want to impress others with fancy dishes. But remember, the goal is to make things easier, not to add another layer of pressure to our already too demanding lives. In short, shepherd’s pie, fried rice, and mac and cheese are more than acceptable options.

We have also agreed not to consider children’s tastes when choosing meals. Too bad for them if they don’t like our mushroom pasta or the asparagus that accompanies the fish. Sometimes it is enough that the food is prepared differently from another family for the little ones to ask for more. It was the same for us with the Brussels sprouts in the oven. Otherwise, it can also be an advantage: “When the kids don’t like the food, it gives me a great lunch for the next day,” points out Pierre-Yves, another neighbor involved in the exchange.

Yes, there are sometimes disappointments. The person who has made a less than successful dish often realizes this and is a bit embarrassed – that was the case with me this week with my under-salted chicken pot pie… But everyone is nice and we take the time to compliment each other on a particularly good meal.

In terms of logistics, it all starts on Saturday morning, when we text to indicate if we’re participating in the swap – sometimes we skip a line – and that we specify what we’re going to cook. This allows everyone to buy the right amounts at the grocery store and avoid similar meals for those planning the entire menu for the week.

The limit we have chosen is that the food is delivered no later than Tuesday evening. By having everything in the fridge from the beginning of the week, each family can save the dishes for when they really need them, such as the evening of the children’s swimming lessons.

Everything must be included in the meal: if it is a vegetable soup eaten with bread, the bread is also provided – but not the salt and pepper; don’t overdo it either. First of all, everything should be ready to eat, with no extra preparation, after a simple trip to the microwave, except for dishes that just need to be put in the oven, like lasagna that has been whipped but not cooked.

For transport, we use reusable plastic or aluminum containers for dishes that are placed in the oven. We usually return them the following week, along with the new delivery. One of the families in our group also took care to identify their containers with stickers to ensure they arrived safely.

In the summer, we completely stop the stock market. With the holidays, it gets too complicated and it’s generally a less stressful time when we have a little more time to cook. The same during the holidays.

Are you ready to try?

It will probably take you a few weeks to find your balance. But you will quickly see if the concept suits you. One of the first families we built the system with stopped participating after a while. And that’s a good thing: again, the idea is to simplify the routine, not complicate it.

However, if you’re, like my neighbor Valerie, a tired parent, there’s a good chance a meal swap could change your life!

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