How to throw a main dish exchange party
Cooking every night can be exhausting and time-consuming. Wouldn't it be nice if you had a home-cooked meal already prepared for every night of the week?
You don't like grabbing fast food after work or heating up a frozen dinner, but you're so tired you just can't muster up the motivation to cook. Well, grab four to six friends who are facing the same dilemma and have party (grab more friends if you want food for two weeks)! The concept of this party is easy -- everyone prepares a shareable, freezable dish in bulk beforehand, and exchanges with each other so that your freezers are stocked with delicious, convenient home-cooked meals for every day of the week. It's a budget-friendly way to eat well all week!
Pick a theme
Decide if you want your guests to bring a dish of their choice or if you want to specify a type of cuisine for each person so that everyone has a variety of food for the week, such as Italian, Mexican and American. Or to keep the calorie count down, specify that everyone bring their favorite healthy dish, from low-calorie to low-fat. Just be sure to discuss among your friends what types of foods are off-limits due to allergies or food aversions.
Send an e-invite out to all of your friends and family who might be interested, requiring everyone to RSVP so that each person knows how much food to prepare. People can also specify the size of their family, so that everyone knows who will be taking more than one serving. For the invites themselves, sites like Smilebox and Punchbowl have cute templates and allow you to email the invites for free. Have fun with it and let everyone know that it's a casual get-together with drinks, snacks and lots of meals to swap. You may want to include suggestions on meals that reheat well, such as casseroles, soups, stews and most crockpot recipes.
Food and drinks
You will likely have some friends who would love to have a stocked freezer because they don't cook at all. If this is the case, invite them anyway and in lieu of bringing a shareable dish, put them in charge of purchasing bottles of wine and finger foods for everyone to snack on at the dish exchange party. It's a good idea to serve food and drinks so that people aren't tempted to eat the food for the exchange! It might also be fun to pick a theme for the evening itself, such as a wine and cheeese party or even a beer tasting party.
Now that everyone has prepared enough food for an army, it has to be divvied up into smaller portion sizes. Decide if you're going to have your guests bring their own storage containers to take the food home in, or if you're going to provide disposable freezer containers for everyone. If you decide to have them bring their own, be prepared with several spare containers in case someone forgets or doesn't have enough. You will also want to have plenty of plastic wrap to wrap the food so that it's freezer-ready.
Labels and instructions
Have everyone who is coming email you the name of the dish they are bringing, along with the reheating instructions (knowing what each person is bringing beforehand also eliminates the possibility of duplicate dishes). Type up small cards with all the information so that guests can take one home for each meal. Provide tape or rubber bands to affix the cards to each storage container.
Because everyone will have a different-size family, allow guests to decide how much or little food they want to take home. (Remember, they will have provided their family size beforehand so there is enough food to go around.) Set out all the food on your kitchen table or in the dining room, allowing each person to scoop their own portions.
The last thing you have to decide is if you want to make this a regular exchange -- weekly or monthly -- or if you want to make it a one-time event. To make it easier, a new person can host the exchange each time around.