Spreading the Good Word of Dinner Share With Friends

by Evelyn Garcia

In January, my friends Erin and Christopher had a baby and so a fleet of us descended upon their house with assorted casseroles and other heat-and-eat type meals. It’s a beautiful convention that when a loved one’s life is upended, whether by a newborn baby or illness or grief, people show up with food. For wimps like me though, even day-to-day life can feel like trying to find a foothold on a wall of slime. Erin thought so too, and so she rallied a few households of her friends to start an informal dinner share. I am unbearably evangelical about this now, so I have interviewed myself about it for Billfold readers’ benefit.

How does it work?
We bought nine collective matching Pyrex casserole dishes divided evenly among our three households of two people each. Each Sunday, each household makes three dinners’ worth of a meal. It should be something that can be baked from frozen or refrigerated to make a full meal without much additional preparation. Then we all exchange dishes, leaving us with two new dinners in addition to the dinner we made for ourselves. In our case, all the households are vegetarian. My husband and I alternate Sundays cooking so I really only have to do it twice a month. After we eat the meals, we wash the casserole dishes and cook the next week’s thing in them. There is usually enough food in each meal to portion out for the next day’s lunch for both of us, so EXTRA MEAL.

Is this the greatest?
Yeah, it is really good. We spend $15-$20 in groceries used just for the dinner share. That excludes staples like oil, rice, garlic, or spices that we have at home already. So $15–20 is the amount we end up spending per week on 3 dinners, and 2–3 leftover lunches for 2 people.

Are you rich from the savings?
No, but I am rich in ENTHUSIASM about cheaply eating good food that I didn’t have to cook.

Shouldn’t you set this up with five households so that you have a different meal for every weeknight?
Yeah, I guess if you had really enthusiastic and organized friends, that could be a thing. We usually eat out one night a week, and I might have a night where I work late and don’t feel like doing anything when I get home besides eating cereal in bed while my laptop scorches my bare legs. Also, you run into problems of scaleability if you have a modest apartment kitchen and non-industrial cookware. And why would you have a 10 gallon stock pot? You’re just a guy.

Is it a drag to schlep the food around each week?
Not really. The whole thing is far less annoying then gawking around the produce section in my sweaty workout clothes trying to remember how cooking works on a Tuesday night. These are my friends so it just means I stick around for a drink on the porchm or sometimes if Erin’s baby is awake, I get to smell his neck. He tries to play it cool, but dude breaks really easily, so I get to feel hilarious in his presence for the full 20 minutes that we are bros before he starts crying. If you form a similar dinner share with people who haven’t seen you ugly-cry, it might work to have a standard weekly meeting time and location. We just text each other when we’re good for a pick-up or delivery. And sometimes we have to ask for an extension, just like in life.

I feel like you are eating a lot of lasagna.
It probably seems like the one-dish heat-or-reheat format makes for some heavy, boring meals but we have been able to keep it interesting. Kashi makes a black bean and mango pilaf frozen entree thing that I ripped off one week to great success. Soups and stews work, too, and you can send them along with biscuits, corn muffins, etc. This week, my husband made some koshari that was delicious. The meals are a little dense, and we usually do some quick veggies or a salad on the side. That can be done while the entree is in the oven.

Do you worry about people judging your food?
Not really. I am a serviceable home cook and welcome the challenge of cooking something interesting for my friends every week. My husband and I are both veterans of the intense potlucking that happens in DIY culture so we have been offering up homemades for years. We also were in a rut of making some lame tofu curry thing with rice every goddamn day, so now I get to learn how other people put food together. Also, if you totally shit the bed one week and roll up with red sauce on elbow mac, they’re just your friends! They will probably think it’s funny. And then eat it, because why not. Maybe if they were acquaintances or coworkers, their judgement would be ice water in my colon, but I doubt it. I do yoga or whatever.

Evelyn Garcia tweets from Columbus, Ohio about running and sour candy.