Re: A set of specific meal questions
From: RowenaHC (
Date: Sun, 9 Jan 2000 13:53:55 -0700 (MST)
In a message dated 1/9/00 12:15:15 PM Eastern Standard Time, 
floriferous [at] writes:

<< 1. How often do you have meals?  Cambridge Coho is now having three meals 
a week on a regular basis, plus additional "festival" or "holiday" meals, as 
appropriate.   It's taken us over a year to get to this point, which is a 
shame.  We thought we would "work up to it" but it turns out that 3 meals 
works out better and more easily than 1 - who would have believed it.
For one thing, with 3 meals a week, fewer people come to any one meal - more 
like 35 instead of 68!    This makes it a lot easier on the cooks and keeps 
the meals quieter and less frantic.
 2. How do you determine who is going to eat?   There are pre-printed sign up 
sheets.  The cooks write in the menu, time of serving, etc and the date when 
the sign up will be closed - usually 72 hours in advance of a major meal.   
If the food is flexible, most cooks also allow for late additions.  Units 
sign up the number of people who will be eating - kids may be counted as 
"half" if the parents don't think they will eat a full meal.  People also 
write notes on the sheet such as "I'll be late please set some aside for me."

 3. How do you determine what is for dinner? Are menu's posted in advance?  
See above.   We always provide a vegetarian option to non-vegetarian meals.   
If the food is not "kid friendly" the cooks will often provide a 
child-oriented dish as well.   The preprinted sheets also separately identify 
individual allergies and strong preferences.   Allergies will always be 
catered to if the individual signs up - mere preferences may be taken into 
account if the cooks are up to it! 
Again, with 3 meals a week it is less of a crisis if someone can't or won't 
eat a particular meal.
We provide pitchers of water (with lemon slices) on each table and decaff, 
coffee and tea on the side with milk (but not milk to drink straight).   
People who want wine or beer or milk or soda bring it.

"Holiday" meals, such as the one on New Years Eve, are more likely to be 
organized pot lucks - the coordinator puts up a list with headings: 
Appetizers, Main Dish, Veggetables/Salads, Desserts, Drinks.  People then 
sign up identifying what they will bring.
 4. How do you pay for meals?   Right now the cooks turn in their expense 
accounts to the meal bookkeeper, who costs out individual meals, based on who 
attended.  Every so often she does a reconciliation on her spread sheet, and 
anyone who either owes a lot or is owed a lot gets a check or a bill, as the 
case may be, and the balances are posted.   
 5. How much do meals cost?   We're averaging about $3.50 a meal and eating 
very well indeed.  For instance:  fresh salmon baked with leeks and 
peppers,with black indonesian rice, salad, bakery bread and butter, and 
dessert; or various chicken and vegetable curries with make-your-own-sundaes 
(home made fudge sauce); or posole with tortillas, sour cream and fresh 
cilantro,  and fruit salad for dessert.   Not all meals are elaborate - we 
also sometimes have pea soup with that good bread and a salad.  Weekend 
brunches (pancakes, bacon, sausages, fruit, granola and yoghurt, etc.), which 
are popular, cost less.
 6. How does your cook,help,clean up sign up system work?  Every 3 months a 
huge chart is put up in the entry hall (outside the mail room).  People are 
asked to sign up to work on three meals.  You pick your own work: chief cook, 
helper (3 per meal) or on the clean up crew.   The chief cook plans the menu 
and generally does most of the shopping, and organizes the work, including 
dining room set up (we  have a tradition of flowers and candles on tables).   
Since we don't have a dishwasher (everyone brings a basket with their own 
plates, etc and takes it home afterwards) clean up means washing pots and 
serving dishes, cleaning the kitchen floor, taking out the compost and trash, 
etc. and tidying the dining room.  Even so, more people want to cook than 
For most meals the cooks spend about 3 hours in preparation and cooking, plus 
shopping time.
PS No one checks to see how often anyone signs up and/or eats!

 7. When did you figure out your meal system, before you move in or after?
 After.  It took us a year,  but we should have done it sooner! >>

Incidentally, so far we have bought very little in the way of hardware for 
the kitchen.   We did buy a set of knives and things like potato peelers, but 
almost everything else was donated - pots, casseroles, cuisinarts, coffee 
makers, serving dishes, microwaves, pitchers, candle sticks, a freezer - lots 
of sets of dishes and glasses, which occasionally get used.  I'd suggest 
waiting to see what people donate before rushing out to buy kitchen 
equipment, particularly if you have a few empty-nesters as we do!


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