Meal Participation Program
From: Joelyn Malone (
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 2010 08:53:39 -0800 (PST)
Here at Monterey Cohousing the meals system is all voluntary. We've always done meals as a separate activity from either our regular monthly operating budget or our community work expectations. We have meals twice a week, Thursdays plus alternating Mondays or Tuesdays (to accommodate folks who can never make Monday or who can never make Tuesday). The expectation is that if you eat community meals, you will either cook or clean, or both. Number of times you cook or clean depends on overall participation levels and who is willing to cook. Our theory is, "if you don't like to cook, there's plenty of cleaning shifts that need to be covered". We'd rather eat meals from those who like to cook, and not force anyone to do something that doesn't suit them. Since we are small, we have one cook per meal who recruits whatever extra help they might need. Exceptions are people who've stated they need a cooking partner, and new cooks. (Often we pair up the experienced cook who wants a partner, with a newbie.) The cooks put up their selected menu for the meal they'll be cooking, at least a couple of days in advance. Then anyone who plans to eat for that meal, signs up. (We have columns for Omnivore, Vegetarian, and Vegan.) The cook purchases any additional items needed beyond the "staples" that we purchase on a regular basis. We use a meal ticket system, and when people purchase their meal tickets the money goes into a single-purpose account from which the cooks are paid for their purchases. Meals cost $3.50 for adults, and half that for children under age 13. Meal tickets are marked off at each meal for each person eating. Leftovers are available anytime after the end of the meal until about a week later, and anyone taking a leftover meal marks it off on their meal ticket. (Half a meal of leftovers are accommodated by marking off 1/2 meal on the ticket.) The main administrative task is done quarterly, collecting info from all the participants about when they will and won't be available to cook or clean, and from that developing a roster of cooks and cleaners for the upcoming quarter - a task assigned to two people who have a head for that sort of detail. Other than that, we have some willing shoppers for keeping staples on hand, and the keeper of the checkbook who receives requests for reimbursement of receipts and writing checks to the cooks. This voluntary system has served us well for nearly 17 years. We've had a drop-off of "regular" participation due to a couple of self-employed members who work long into the evening at their store, and others with crazy work schedules. But when those individuals are available, each of them cooks and each does a fabulous job. Interesting that communities have high turn-out on Sunday nights. I might suggest that as a third meal option. I don't know that we would have enough cooks to cover, however. Fifteen households isn't quite enough to spread the work around.

Joelyn Malone
Monterey Cohousing, Minneapolis

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