Too busy to cook? Set up a dinner swap!


“What’s for dinner tonight?” The absolute LAST thing anyone wants to think about after an exhausting day of mind-numbing meetings, traffic jams, juggling kids between after-school activities and tackling homework. So how do you avoid this situation? Meal planning of course…probably the next to last thing anyone wants to think about! Hear me out though.

While meal planning is extremely important for your health, wallet and sanity, it often gets pushed to the wayside amidst the hecticness of life. However, there is a new way to take the dread out of dinner prep while easing stress, saving time and money and increasing your recipe repertoire. What’s this magical method? A dinner swap of course.

Save Time, Eat Great

A dinner swap is a group of families (or couples or individuals) who take turns cooking for one another. Your family is responsible for cooking for all of the families on an assigned night and the other nights your family enjoys home-cooked meals from the others. Basically, cook once (in a larger quantity) and eat several times (but different recipes versus boring old leftovers).

It’s a fantastic way to discover some new delicious dishes that your family will beg you to make again. It also makes the task of weekly meal planning much less daunting. Instead of planning and cooking 7 dinners a week, you’ll only have to prepare 2-3 dinners and be set all week.

If you're concerned about COVID-19 precautions, currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. That being said, of course wash your hands, cook food to safe internal temperatures and temporarily opt out of cooking if you or anyone in your household is sick - but that's important anytime, COVID times or not.

Take the dread out of dinner prep while easing stress, saving time and money and increasing your recipe repertoire with a dinner swap! #saslife Click To Tweet

Setting Up a Successful Dinner Swap

There is no right or wrong way to do a dinner swap. Below is a general outline with tips and strategies for how to get started. The most important thing to remember is the success is in the simplicity. If it becomes overwhelming and stressful, something needs to change. Remember, these are your friends so be honest and open with them throughout the process to ensure it’s working for everyone. Be flexible, have fun and enjoy some time back in your evenings while reaping the benefits of healthy, home-cooked meals.

1. Generate a group.

  • Keep the group relatively small, around 3-5 families. This could include families from your neighborhood, children’s sport teams or after-school activities, work or church.
  • Pick other families about the same size as yours to keep things fair and easy.
  • Choose families with similar dietary restrictions, food allergies and meal preferences if possible. For example, if you are gluten-free, a swap would only work well with others who also want/need to eat gluten-free. If you prefer kid-friendly or health-conscious meals, the same applies.

2. Select a swap schedule.

  • Arrange a realistic delivery time, location and frequency that works best for the group. Everyone does this a little differently depending on schedules and routines so there is no one way this has to look.
  • Will you deliver hot and ready to eat meals between 5:30 and 6:00pm on an assigned day of the week? Do you prefer to meet once a week to trade several days’ worth of prepped dinners to pop in the oven, reheat or freeze and eat at your convenience? Will you swap after a practice or game, meet at a central location or deliver meals door-to-door? Do you want weekly or monthly swaps? Customize it to meet your needs.
  • See what works, be flexible and share feedback. If it becomes more trouble than it’s worth, cut back on the frequency and/or try a different preparation or delivery method.

3. Set clear guidelines.

  • Before the first dinner swap occurs, outline expectations. Will everyone bring just a main dish, or an entire meal complete with sides? What about condiments? How often can meals be repeated? What happens when someone is out of town? You get the idea.
  • Establish a price range. You don’t want one family making cheese quesadillas while another springs for steak and shrimp!
  • Clearly explain any food allergies to the group so everyone can eat safely as well as food preferences. If you simply hate cilantro, speak up!
  • Decide what type of containers will be used (disposable, reusable, glass, plastic, etc.) and who is expected to provide them (everyone chip in for a communal set, each family provides their own upfront, etc.).

4. Get cooking (or eating).

  • Prepare one recipe with enough to feed your family plus the other families…the other nights, kick back and relax and enjoy a meal prepared for you by someone else!
  • When selecting recipes, choose recipes that travel, store and reheat/freeze well.
  • Get creative and use this experience as an opportunity to prepare (and eat) dishes you may not normally gravitate towards. It’s doubtful there will be any complete meal failures and we all know that everything tastes better when you’re not the one making it!
  • Include a copy of the recipe with your delivered dinners, complete with reheating instructions (if not delivering hot and ready to eat) as well as assembly/finishing suggestions.
  • Check out the Instant Pot Mongolian Chicken recipe below for a super quick, crowd-pleasing meal. Your friends will think they’re eating takeout!

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

  • Share your recipe with the group to help avoid duplications. Send a quick text (Taco Tuesday!) or nominate someone to create an online meal calendar or sign up tool.
  • Create a group text to keep everyone in the loop. Running 5 minutes late? Send a quick text. Wondering if others have sour cream on hand? Send a quick text.
  • After a swap or two, check-in to see how things are going. Discuss the good, the bad and the ugly and any tweaks that could be made. If you feel uncomfortable critiquing others’ cooking, use an anonymous online feedback form.

Have you tried a dinner swap? If so, share your successes!


Instant Pot Mongolian Chicken

Makes 4-5 Servings
Recipe Adapted From: Eating on a Dime


1-1½ lbs chicken thighs, sliced into thin strips
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp minced garlic
¼ cup low sodium soy or tamari sauce
¾ cup water
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 cup shredded carrots
green onions and sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)


  1. Season thinly sliced chicken with salt and pepper and place in Instant Pot.
  2. Add garlic, soy sauce, water, maple syrup and carrots and stir to combine.
  3. Lock lid and ensure valve is in the Sealing Position.
  4. Press the Manual Button and cook on High Pressure for 8 minutes.
  5. When timer beeps, let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes. Then release any remaining pressure manually until float valve drops.
  6. Unlock and remove lid.
  7. Stir to combine. There will be some liquid left, but it will thicken as it cools and makes a great sauce.
  8. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.
  9. Serve over brown rice, quinoa or cauliflower rice or in lettuce cups and pair with sautéed bok choy and mushrooms.


  • You can also make this recipe with flank steak.
  • If you’d like to cook the rice along with the chicken in the Instant Pot, start by placing 1 cup of brown or black rice and 1 cup of water in the Instant Pot and cook under High pressure for 10 minutes. When the timer beeps, let pressure naturally release for 5 minutes and then release remaining pressure manually. Remove lid and follow original recipe instructions to cook chicken.



About Author

Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP


Ashley is a Nutritionist at SAS Institute in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner, Certified Biofeedback Instructor and also has a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys crafting, cooking, walking and spending as much time as possible at the beach. Follow @abaileyRD on Twitter.

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