Re: Meal Participation Program
From: Muriel Kranowski (murielkvt.edu)
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 2010 19:46:52 -0800 (PST)
Here's what we've been doing for about four years at Shadowlake Village.

Meals schedule:
-A cooked dinner on most Sunday evenings, requiring a head cook and two co-cooks plus 4 cleaners. We sign up to eat (and indicate a meat or vegetarian preference if it isn't an all-veg meal) so the cooks know how much to cook and how much they have available to spend. Some people are permanently signed up; if they forget to take themselves off when they'll be away, they will be billed for the meal. Late plates are saved for those who request it. -A potluck soup salad and bread dinner one Sunday evening a month, requiring two cleaners.
 -A potluck dinner on Wednesdays, requiring two cleaners.
 -Winter Saturday-morning breakfasts, requiring two cooks/cleaners.
-Occasional warm-weather potluck grill-outs are scheduled instead of that week's Sunday cooked dinner (usually on the 3-day-weekend holidays, 4th of July, etc.) - the Meal Teams Signup coordinator decides how many cleaners will be needed for those.

Accommodating food issues: Some Sunday-dinner cooks are very keen to avoid all known problem foods, or at least avoid one or two of them (at this time the no-no's are gluten, soy, and dairy); it's up to the head cook to decide how to handle that. Our original assumption was that a default meal would include meat and the cooks might offer a vegetarian option, which was encouraged but not required. Now there is almost always a vegetarian option if there is also a meat option, and many meals are vegetarian only. But still, it's up to the head cook to choose the menu. Additional newer considerations for the cooks: many of us now want to eat organic vegetables and humanely raised animals, which tends to make meat dishes unaffordable. There's also a significant desire for whole-grain breads, pastas, and rice as an alternative to white-flour or white-rice versions.

Number of diners (out of 33 households):
-Sunday cooked dinners draw anywhere from 25 to 55 adults & children; a typical crowd is about 35 to 40 persons. -Wednesday potlucks have had low attendance in the past year - typically from 5 to 10 adults and possibly a few kids.
 -Sunday once-a-month potlucks usually draw 20 to 25 persons.
 -Winter breakfasts draw around 25 to 30 adults and kids.

Costs: We charge $4.50 per adult for the Sunday dinner, half that for kids. The cooks are supposed to spend up to $4 per adult & $2 per child, with the rest being available for staples and kitchen supplies. The three cooks eat for free, which they should think about when determining how much money they can spend. Some cooks are careful to stay within budget, others seem to shop in a cloud of wishful thinking in which they hope the expenses will all work out right. The head cooks give their receipts and their diners' signup sheet to the Meals Accountant, requesting either immediate reimbursement or a Meals Account credit. The Meals Accountant sends out a monthly email showing each family's meals-account situation. The Saturday wintertime breakfasts are outside of the standard meals accounting and signup systems. One of our committees fronts the money for the first breakfast in January. Those who come pay $3 (less for kids); the next breakfast is paid for from the previous week's take, and at the end in March whatever money is left goes back to the hosting committee. Participants don't sign up, they just show up, pay, eat, and hang out.

Cooks and Cleaners System:
  Our rotations last 3 months. The signup process has two rounds, as follows.
(1) Expressing commitments: The Meal Teams Signup coordinator posts a list in the CH of all (resident) members plus active non-member residents, showing what each person was willing to sign up to do, ie, their level of commitment, the last time around. We can leave our commitment as is or change it at this time. There are two kinds of commitments: specified, like "I will take 1 cook slot and 3 cleaning slots" or "cleaning only" or the like, and "Fair Share", meaning that we're willing to take our share of whatever the Signup person determines the remaining need for cooks and cleaners will be after the specified commitments have been applied. (2) Signing up: A calendar is posted in the CH of all planned dinners for the coming quarter (both cooked and potluck). Next to the calendar is a list of each person's expected commitment based on round 1. If I said "Fair Share, cook and/or clean" and the list shows me as needing to "cook twice, clean twice", that's what I sign up to do. Some members, instead of signing up for specific dates, ask the Signup person to assign them (according to their stated commitment level) to fill in the blanks. The Signup person then assigns cooking/cleaning slots to the "just tell me" people, transfers all the info from the paper signup to an electronic Meal Teams Calendar document, and sends that to our listserv and also prints it and posts it next to the kitchen. If at some point you realize that you can't meet your commitment on some date, it's up to you to find a substitute.

Once a week an email goes out to the listserv showing the signed up cooks and cleaners for the next week's meals as a helpful reminder. Even so, cleaners will occasionally forget to show up if they didn't also come to the meal as diners. Oh well.

As you can tell, we have expectations but no fixed requirements related to doing this work (or any other work). This generally turns out okay, as almost all who come to the meals also cook and/or clean at least once in a rotation. Many do a Fair Share or even more of cooking/cleaning, and we've been covering all the planned meals, though some rotations cause the Meal Teams Signup coordinator more grief than others to cover all the slots.

It's true that some members would no more sign up as head cook than they would join the circus as trapeze artists - they are terrified of the very idea - but some are willing to co-cook, and the others will usually take several cleaning shifts instead. Many who cook started out as co-cooks and eventually were brave enough to be head cook once in a while. Then there are those of us who started out with fools' confidence, choosing to scale our favorite recipes from 4 or 6 servings up to 40 or more servings. Those meals typically went way over budget, were served quite late, and were often disappointing because the cooks found they had to cut corners to make the meal happen at all after deciding on their lovely menu - and the cooks ended up exhausted and discouraged. We generally wised up after one or two such disasters apiece, and shifted to making much simpler meals!

  Muriel Kranowski
  Shadowlake Village Cohousing
  Blacksburg, VA




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