• I love to cook but juggling children, a crazy work schedule and chauffeuring everyone to their extra-curricular activities leaves me little time for more than a basic meal on the table.  When I was growing up my mom made soup every night for dinner, even in the dead heat of summer, despite our groans and complaints.  I have been determined to make meal times for my own children a little more varied and exciting.  Real life, though, is so hectic that there is a big gap between my intentions and reality.

    Then, out of sheer chance, I accidentally stumbled on an easy remedy for some days of humdrum meals

    So, despite my best intentions I fell into a food rut and heard complaints from the kids about having the same old meatloaf dish again, week after week. Of course, I have a few staple dishes that I make outrageously well (if I may say so myself) but even the best foods get boring after a while.  And I like the idea of mixing things up a bit.  Yet, though I have a library filled with cooking books and an unlimited supply of recipes online, motivation and time to jump into brand new recipes are low. I did begin to try ethnic theme nights, vegetarian night, etc, but am always searching for easy ways to keep the meals healthy and varied.

    Then, out of sheer chance, I accidentally stumbled on an easy remedy for some days of humdrum meals. I was speaking to my friend Abby on the phone while we were both cooking; talking about the guests we were each having that night and what meals we were preparing.  Mid conversation I got a text from one of the couples canceling coming over for dinner that night at my house. I told Abby about the cancellation- I had already made a large portion of curried vegetables and didn’t want them to go to waste- so I offered some to her. She was hesitant at first and then accepted saying that she had made extra Spanish rice.  And so the trade was on. She stayed home with her family for dinner and I stayed with mine and both of our families loved the surprise dish.

    Since then, we’ve branched out and invited several of our friends to join in the exchange. It makes sense since we’re already cooking a dish, it’s just easier to make extra of one specific dish than to make four or five different ones.  We usually each make our own main dish (meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian) and then we rotate assignments of the side dishes. We have a general idea of what’s coming (rice, veggies, salad, etc) but no idea of the specifics. It makes it fun for the whole family.

    Feeling so happy about our ‘invention’ we have spread the word among our friends.  Now there are several offshoots of our little group — at least two or three other little groups have formed. We can’t pull it off every night because of logistics but we do try to have it once a week. The kids are always excited to taste someone else’s cooking and we all look forward to the potluck meal.  Often the food exchange happens during pick-up time at school, which eliminates having to make an extra trip in the car.  I recommend trying this with a group of your friends- it will introduce your children to new foods and recipes and make at least one meal a week a treat for everyone.