Shalinee and Heather began “The Swap” in March 2010 and have been sharing family meals weekly since then…
Why the Swap?
Heather and I meet for lunch once a week. Home life, work life (we’re both professors at the same university), kids’ school, (our kids go to the same Waldorf school), students, parenting, teaching, marriage, the academe, husbands’ unusual professional tracks, our own dilemmas with trying to make it all work….we put it all on the table…right next to our meals (usually a hardy salad) and drinks (usually water). In two simple words: We unburden.
Our lunchtime conversations have several repeat offenders: work/family balance is a BIG one. Especially how it fits (and those many times it doesn’t) with being a female academic, in her thirties, newly tenured, with young kids, and, most poignantly, with dreams and aspirations that are transforming before her eyes.
Last year, our lunch conversations kept returning to another question…a simple one really, but one that haunts parents far and wide: What to make for dinner? Both Heather and I kept talking week after week about how much this dilemma hangs over our heads every evening. It isn’t that we don’t have ideas for what to cook; it’s more that we don’t have the energy or wherewithal to put our culinary creativity to work after full day’s of work. There has to be something we can do? In the past, we had both independently tried the cook-for-the-week solution. In both our cases, it was a bust…good intentions butting heads with busy schedules and tired bodies.
Then, it happened! This past spring semester, we came up with a solution that works…it actually works. We came up with our swap and have been doing it for six months. I repeat…it works! Good intentions still butt heads with busy schedules and tired bodies (quite frequently at that)…but in this one case, it’s all trumped by a promise…a promise to swap with a dear friend.
How does it work?
Here’s how it goes: Heather and I have picked Tuesday as Swap Day. This means that Monday evenings we are on our own for dinner (we either cook or use weekend leftovers). After the little people are in bed on Monday, we cook. Heather cooks at her home and I cook in mine. We make dinner for Tuesday night but in twice the quantity. Half of what we cook, we keep and the other half is for each other. Tuesday morning, we put the food for each other’s families in a cooler (with notes on how to reheat said food) and bring it all to work. (Tuesdays, incidentally, are also when Heather and I have our long-standing lunch dates.) We swap the coolers at the end of the day and when we are home, we basically have enough food for the rest of the work week!
Usually, we eat what we cooked for ourselves for Tuesday dinners. We eat our swapped food for Wednesday dinners. There always seems to be some leftovers, which usually goes into Thursday dinners. And voila…we’re done…it’s the weekend!
Why it’s awesome!
There are many things that are simply awesome with this arrangement.
- It helps us ensure healthy, home-cooked meals for at least three nights of the week. If we can cook one more night (say, during the weekend), we are batting better than 500.
- Because we have promised each other a swap, we don’t back out last minute. Of course travel commitments and the like are reasons that we have cancelled the swap on a given week, but that’s with plenty of advanced notice. Once we have committed, no matter how tired or overwhelmed, we cook. Many times, it’s really hard to get yourself to do it. But every single time, when the meal’s cooked, the relief and sense of joy and achievement you feel, is a very un-Monday-like feeling.
- Kids get to try different kinds of food. Not only because what the other person cooks for your family but also your own meals are generally more inspired.
- This is one of the most unique ways to build a friendship, not just with a person but also with their family. We care and fret about what we are feeding each other’s kids! Many times the food we cook has a story. We end up sharing these stories with each other in the notes packed in the cooler. And the kids get tangible, edible proof that Mummy has a friend.
- Most importantly, by doing this, we are gifting each other more family time! We get time with the family when we get home on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday! This means time to go for a walk, watch the little ones in the sandbox while the older ones do their latest tricks on the monkey bars, fly a kite, teach your kid how to ride a bike without training wheels….the possibilities are absolutely wonderful!
Our swap does have a couple of simple rules:
1) No pizza. There are always birthday parties during the weekends and the kids get pizza aplenty.
2) No pasta. Easy fallback meal so we both end up cooking enough of it as it is.
3) No dessert. Besides the fact that neither of our families is into desserts, the effort and health implications contradict the goal of the swap.
4) No nuts and no sesame. This is a new one…introduced in the last three months. It is because we recently learned that my two-year old is allergic to all forms of nuts and to sesame seeds.
That being said, both of us have broken rules 2 and 3 on occasion. We have made pasta (both Italian and Asian versions) for each other when it is a side dish or plays a somewhat minor role in the meal. And we have broken the no dessert rule…but just for those rare, special occasions.
So, that’s our swap. In the weeks ahead, we will document the swap on this blog…what we cook, how we cook it, and how it goes over with our families. It occurred to us that this would be something fun to share for interested folks to follow along.
As each one of our cooler notes end: ENJOY!