Re: Exploring meal and common space scheduling options
From: Sheila Hoffman (
Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2018 08:55:06 -0800 (PST)
Greetings all from Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing in Seattle.

To be honest, I've been off this list a long time and one of our members
asked me to tell about our meal program since I was part of that team that
created it while we were still forming. I also have not gone back to read
every single message posted. But for what it is worth, here's our little
meal program story.

I think there are many right answers and some will depend on the size of the
community as well as the demographics. We are a 9 household community with
17 adults and 11 children. We have 2 vegans, about 5 vegetarians and the
rest are omnivores with some strong preferences for meat too. We also have
medical food  allergies to accommodate. 

Last summer a woman named Heidi from cohousing in Australia stayed in our
guest room for a week and ate with us several times. She declared that our
meal program is "BRILLIANT!".

Why? How?  

We made an early decision while forming that the meal program would be our
community "glue" or as our founder Grace Kim says in her TED Talk, our
"secret sauce". We created an expectation during the recruitment period that
everyone would participate in 3 meals a week. With the small size of our
community this was critical or it wouldn't work. We designed our Common
House to hold ALL our members with enough room for guests. Our kitchen has
two ovens and two residential dishwashers. We often have guests. Our first
Thanksgiving we accommodated about 40 folks at tables. 

Initially we created a small team who researched how our area cohousing
groups did their meal programs. We took notes and talked at meetings a lot.
Most communities do some variation on a theme that includes taking
reservations, tallying, shopping, reconciling accounts and charging those
who attended, etc. You know the drill.

We decided we wanted something inclusive and not complicated. We set a
mission of "nutritious and delicious meals for all" which means we
accommodate all food needs as best we can.

To make it inclusive our schedule alternates M-W-F one week and then
Sun-Tu-Th the next. That means if I have a recurring event every Thursday I
still attend 5 out of 6 meals in that two week period and request a
late-plate for the sixth if desired.

The lead cook sets the menu, posts on Facebook, shops and pays for the meal
ingredients and does the preparation. The 2 assistants come an hour before
dinner to help with chopping prep and room setup and then stay afterwards to
do clean up. The lead doesn't usually do any clean up. Everyone loves this
arrangement. If someone can't do their assigned time once or twice it's on
them to locate a sub and trade. 

To simplify accounting we don't track money. Some meals are simple and
inexpensive and some meals are more complex. It's purely up to the cook. It
comes out of their pocket. We recognize not everyone has the same resources
and that's OK. As long as everyone gets something nutritious and delicious,
we're happy. The value is in being together at meals and not the cost of the
food. We wanted everyone to feel they could bring a guest anytime so we
always fix more than enough food. That way guests can attend because it's an
extension of your home. 

We have a Facebook private Group which we use for a lot of our internal
communication. It's free and nearly all were already there regularly. We use
the FB group to announce every meal so people can RSVP. That way we know if
people have to miss a meal or are bringing guests. These events are also
added to our Google Calendar and when someone gets a sub that is noted on
the calendar so we can always look there for accurate information. 

The Meal Team reconfigures the teams every 18 weeks so we get to work with a
variety of community members over time, deepening our connections. In an 18
week cycle I'll be lead cook 3 times and assisting 6 times. That means for
the remaining 45 meals I can enjoy a worry-free meal then sit around and
socialize as long as I want.

Happy to answer questions. 
Hope this helps someone. 
Your mileage may vary!

Sheila Hoffman

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