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Personal chef service, no invoice

(post, Alex Davis)

The bad news keeps on coming. I should feel chastened, anxiously death-gripping my wallet, only to splurge on a vat of marked-down peanut butter or perhaps a head of cabbage. But instead, the terrible economic news seems to inspire a certain defiance in me. When it comes to food, sacrifice is not my specialty.

Enter the dinner co-op, a tried-and-true life strategy that can ensure that you eat like a king on a pauper’s pittance. A dinner co-op is a small, geographically close circle of cooks who alternate cooking and delivering weeknight meals. You cook only once a week, but in exchange, you receive dinner two or three other nights. 

Can you save money by being in a dinner co-op? Yes, but it’s less about net savings and more about greatly enhancing what you get for your money. A dinner co-op can help you get the most value from for your weekly effort in the kitchen, while ensuring room in the family food budget for some spectacular ingredients. Here’s an example for how $100 might be spent during the week to feed a family of four. 

|!Old way|||
|Trip to the supermarket|$75|(Includes 4 dinner ideas)|
|Pizza joint Friday night|$25|
|!Total|!$100|
| | |
|!Co-op way||
|Gourmet store/butcher|$40|
|Farmers market|$25|
|Bakery|$10|
|Pizza joint Friday night|$25|
|!Total|!$100|

You can see that in the dinner co-op model, the same $100 buys a heightened culinary experience with higher-quality ingredients. Savings from buying in bulk add up, too — and you actually get to use everything up and don’t need to store it.

[%image reference-image float=left width=400 caption="You food budget goes farther with a dinner co-op."] 

Your time is money. In a dinner co-op, you are now free from expensive convenience foods. (“Real food” has now become convenient.) Say goodbye to the before-dinner dash to the market for something fast but lame. It’s 5:30, and the cupboards are bare? No problem — dinner is on the way. 

Belonging to a dinner co-op is like having a team of personal chefs — but the invoice never comes. We're eating homegrown vegetables that somebody else grew, and enjoying gourmet food that somebody else shopped for, prepared, and delivered to our door. Our personal likes and dislikes are accommodated, and we don't pay a dime.

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If your family has fallen into the expensive habit of restaurant dining on weeknights, a dinner co-op can help you instantly break that habit. Imagine the benefits on a huge scale: Instead of a family dropping $50 for one mediocre meal at Applebee's, they can spend that money on high-quality meats, fish, and fresh vegetables at the market to cook one amazing recipe. That single meal will effectively "buy" them two or three more dinners delivered for free.

We can now afford to serve Lamb Chops with Mint-Orange Crust or Crab-Corn Chowder made with fresh lump crabmeat. And since we only cook once a week, we can find the extra time to prepare fabulous healthy meals that require a little more effort, such as Shepherd’s Pie with Curried Spinach, Portobello Polenta with Wine and Figs, and Creamy Pesto Pizza with Zucchini Ribbons (recipes available in Dinner at Your Door).

So yeah, co-op cooks read the paper with all its bad news. But when it’s time to sit down to dinner, we prefer to live in la-la land.


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