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5 Dos and Don’ts When Starting A Food Swap

Tabulated is excited to welcome our very own Chelsea, as the January Guest Blogger!

I think we can all agree that providing a nutritious and delicious meal each night for our family can be a bit overwhelming. 

After my son was born, I felt out of time and ideas to feed my growing family. But, a fun idea to trade some meals with a group of Mom friends turned into one of the best decisions I have made… besides my husband and son. 

These 5 Dos and Don’ts for starting a food swap will give you more time and keep your family happily fed.

Do: Find your group.

This can easily be the hardest step in starting a swap.  You may already have a great group of Mom friends, a church growth group, gym friends or local interest group that you are ready to swap with.  The group needs to be made of people with similar dietary needs, family sizes, and availability to meet for each swap.

There are exceptions to each of these rules:

  1. One member doesn’t have the same dietary needs. What do you do? My husband has an allergy to pork. Anytime a member was making a meal with pork in it, they would leave it out on our portion and we would add our own protein.  Our group did not eat a lot of pork so, the occasional meal with pork was not an issue.

  2. What if Andi has a family of 7 and everyone else has a family of 4? Everyone will swap meals designed for a family of 4, Andi will need to add another protein/side to help round out her families portions. 

  3. Alex works when everyone else can swap. How does she swap her meals? Andi will pick up and drop off Alex’s meal during each swap. 

Don’t: Get too big for your saucepan.

The great thing about a swap is that you fix a lot of one thing, saving each person time and money. In return, you end up with multiple different meals. The perfect number of members for your group depends on your ability to mass produce.  Consider that if you only have room to make two batches of soup in your crockpot but you need four, you will need to do everything twice. Or, if you only have enough room in your freezer for 2 more popsicles, you are not going to have room to freeze 6 pyrex dishes.  

One of my biggest food swap fails was the infamous “Pancake Swap.”  I make amazing banana pancakes; we eat probably 20 at a time. So, when I made them for my swap group of 7, I had to make at least 140 pancakes! It took over 2 hours of dipping and flipping. 

During my swapping days I invested in an extra large stock pan and 2 extra baking sheets (for roasting lots of veggies and potatoes).  These items are not necessities but did help minimize the time needed to prepare all the meals.

Don’t: Make too many exceptions.

“Kyle doesn’t like onions, Mila will not eat carrots, My husband only eats steak and potatoes.”

Some dietary restrictions can work in the group (my husband’s pork allergy), but excessive needs will become complicated and lead to very unhappy members.  

The best part of a swap is trying new things. During our swap we got to try rabbit risotto, burgoo, and red curry for the first time.  Don’t get me wrong…there were meals that were not my family’s favorites, but you have to be open to new experiences when others are cooking for you.  You also need to remember that we are all in different places in our culinary journey. There will be times you will need to add a few more spices or toppings to create the perfect meal for your family’s acquired taste.

Do: KISS! Keep It Simple Stupid.

As a group, create very specific guidelines and streamline swaps. Ours were:

  1. Each meal must include a protein and 2 veggies.

  2. All meals must be frozen.

  3. Crockpot meals only from October to March. 

  4. One soup per swap. 

  5. No repeating the same meal within 4 swaps.

Decide on a frequency. Ours was every other Friday at 10am at Amy’s house, and it was over by 1pm so the kiddos could take a nap. We used Facebook events for each swap to keep everyone organized.  Members had until the Friday before the swap to opt in and note the type of meal we were planning on making.

Everyone in our swap used the same glass containers (  Having a universal dish keeps serving size, and storage consistent with each swap. Members do not need to track whose container belongs to each person for the next swap.  Each container had a label that included the maker’s name, date, type of meal and heating instructions.

Do and Don’t: Give feedback.

Scratching your head on that one? You do need to have open communication regarding the meals your family enjoyed and did not enjoy.  The first time I made pineapple chicken curry, I made it just like I do for my family, which apparently was “WAY” too hot for everyone else.  The feedback was great, and when I made it again (a few months later), I kept it very mild and had extra hot sauce on the side if anyone wanted to spice it up.  

Remember that people can take your feedback very personal. This is a meal that they spent time and money on, so be aware of your tone and words used. 

If you have made it this far, you now get bonus points!

Have fun with themes and Holiday swaps. Try vegetarian only for a swap here and there. During Thanksgiving, try a “Sides Only” swap, and for Christmas do a “Breakfast” swap. When one of the Moms had her third baby we each surprised her with an extra meal.  

I can honestly say that our little Mama Tribe food swap is the only way I survived the first few years of Motherhood.  You are not just swapping a few meals, you are swapping love and friendship and the warm feeling of knowing you have someone who has taken their time to provide you with nourishment.  Food is my love language, and the swap allowed me to share a part of myself with an amazing group of women. As the new year starts I challenge you to find your “tribe”, and swap both food and friendship.

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