Re: Meal Participation Program
From: Douglas G. Larson (
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:35:51 -0800 (PST)
I live at Songaia Cohousing in Bothell, Washington. Our food program has
been going in its present form for 9 years. There have been a few changes
here and there but it works for us. 

We serve 5 meals per week, 4 dinners and Saturday breakfast. We have a
sign-up sheet that shows each meal for the current week as well as the next
2 weeks. Each meal consists of 2 cooks, a lead cook and a 2nd cook, and 2
cleanup people. Each member of the food program puts their name under the
meal prep or cleanup task of their choice each week. The lead cook chooses
the menu and submits a list of needed ingredients to the food committee
(usually via email). Buyers, then go on buying trips, at least once and
sometimes twice per week. The buyers are a set group of people and they know
where the sales are and watch for good buys. We also buy much wholesale from
a local wholesaler in bulk. Generally the cooks don't buy any of the food,
though occasionally something was missed or the cook simply wants a special
item. In these cases the cook may decide to go buy the item him or herself. 

In the beginning, 9 years ago, everyone in the community belonged to the
food program. After 4 years or so 2 people dropped out and then a while
later 2 more did. Recently 2 of those who left have decided to return. We
also have guests who come on a fairly regular basis. 

We charge $125 per month for the program for adults and $5 per year of age
for children per month. We charge infrequent diners (mostly the guests I
mentioned above) by the meal but I don't recall what that is off hand. For
an adult $125 per month works out to $5.77 per meal, annualized. 

The number of attendees at each meal varies but probably averages around
20-25 people. That includes most of the 10 children we have in the
community. We don't give credits for missed meals but we do save plates for
people who know they will not be at a meal and request a plate be saved for

During the summer, when people are often on vacation, we do scramble to fill
all the work slots. Generally we are able to fill them all but on occasion
we cancel a meal if not enough cooks can be found. Clean-up people often
have to shift around and sometimes a call for help at the meal itself is
needed. We nearly always find help to do the job. Meal cancellation from
lack up clean-up people does happen, but its pretty rare. 

Recently we have instituted a new feature called "A Simple Meal" which any
lead cook can choose to do. The idea is to make a meal as simply as
possible, using, if possible, existing provisions and/or left-overs. We have
a simple meal about 1 meal per week. 

Left overs from any and all meals are left in the refrigerator and any food
program member is free to take a portion home for their own use. Many work
lunches and weekend lunches and dinners are supplied in this way, though its
impossible to say just how many. 

We occasionally do special event meals. Last summer we hosted a large group
of 60+ people for a bus tour that was part of the Cohousing Conference being
held in Seattle. For these special events cooks and cleaners volunteer and
we always get it done.

Even though we charge by the month and we don't give credit for missed
meals, I consider our program an excellent value. The price of $5.77 per
meal is a bargain. At what restaurant can you get a fabulously delicious
meal consistently for that price? Each member gets 5 meals each week, for
which they have to work for only 1. But the monthly fee also covers the
privlege of taking from our community pantry. While this pantry isn't a
complete store, it has many of the basics, (flour, beans, sugar, cereals,
milk, spices, teas, fruit, rice, pasta, canned goods (tomatoes, tuna, olive
oil)) and much more.

Finally I would like to add that our community has chosen to honor all
dietary restrictions at every meal. This can be a bit challenging at times
and occasionally, though rarely now, someones dietary needs get missed. But
I can think of no other single action that creates more community bonding
and good will than honoring individual dietary needs. 

Our program works for us and while we have had to raise the price maybe 3
times in 9 years, each time has been after careful analysis of both the
costs and benefits of the food service we provide. With our current fee
schedule we keep about a $2000 cushion each month for food pruchasing. From
the beginning we chose to operate from a position of abundance and not focus
on charging for just what people eat. It has worked for us for 9 years.  

Douglas G. Larson,
Songaia Cohousing
Bothell, Washington

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