Common Meals

Common meals are one of the key defining elements of a cohousing community, and "breaking bread" and cooking together is a wonderful way to share our lives and stay in touch with each other as friends and neighbors. Everyone in the community is welcome and encouraged to participate in meals, both as a consumer and preparer, to whatever level is desired. Some of us attend almost every meal and cook regularly; a few of us attend only one or two meals per year; most of us are somewhere in between. There is a Meals Committee (See committee chart in mailroom for current members) that thinks about what's working or not working in the current meals arrangements, suggests new approaches, oversees kitchen organization and supplies, and takes care of the accounting for the cost of the meals.

We currently have three common meals (most weeks): a takeout pizza and potluck combination on Mondays, a home-cooked meal on Wednesday or Thursday evening, and another home-cooked meal sometime over the weekend - Saturday or Sunday breakfast or dinner. During the summer months, this schedule tends to fall off a bit and we tend to have more potluck or picnic/BBQ meals.

Pizza/potluck meals began as a simple way for us all to eat together even when we were too busy moving in to organize and cook common meals - now we enjoy them too much to stop. If you bring a potluck contribution, you can eat for free (actually, we do charge 50 cents to cover incidentals). The definition of a potluck contribution is six servings for each person who is credited with a contribution.

Otherwise, the cost is $3.85 per person, which covers the cost of the takeout pizza. For home-cooked meals, we ask the meal team to keep the cost to $5 or less, per person, unless it's a special meal that's been advertised as likely to cost more.

We also ask every meal team to accommodate food restrictions (e.g. vegetarian, allergies to dairy or wheat or tomatoes) from those who have signed up for the meal in advance, by providing some variation on the main menu if it's needed. Think marinated tofu in addition to the roast, one pizza without cheese, tomatoes on the side of the salad, etc. Many meal teams also provide PBJ or macaroni and cheese on the side counter, to the delight of several of our younger participants.
Meal Sign-up

Meal sign-up sheets are posted in the pantry a few days before every scheduled meal. Usually the meal team will post a note about the sign-up and the deadline for that particular meal on the white board. Sign up for as many meals as you will be eating, approximating children's participation as either 1, 0.5 or 0 meals, as you think is appropriate. Include any guests that will come with you, and note any particular requests or food restrictions that the meal team should know about. Cancellations after the sign-up deadline are generally not permitted, because the meal team has already bought or even cooked a sufficient quantity of food and we usually don't have any way to use up leftovers. (See if you can arrange to have your portions set aside for you for later pick-up.) Late sign-ups are often possible - when the regular sign-up deadline has passed, the meals team will usually tack up the sign-up sheet and leave a few lines for late sign-ups on the back of the sheet. If there's a surge in last minute sign-ups, and you want to cancel, it works out nicely. Check with the cooks (unless they're looking really harried!).

Every three months, the billing team goes through the meal sign-up sheets and divides up the costs for each meal among the folks who came and ate. Then a "bill" is sent to each household, showing their share of the costs of the common meals they ate, how much they spent on common meals they helped to prepare, and whether they now owe some money to the community meal fund or are due a refund from the community meal fund. The community meal fund is maintained in a separate account from the regular association funds. The records for all the meal accounting are kept in folders by the co-billing team. If you think there's a mistake, point it out to the co-billing team who will try to resolve it.

Meal Work Teams

Meal planning is structured in 6-8 week cycles, organized loosely around the seasons and major holidays. Near the end of each cycle, a new chart for the following meal cycle is posted in the common house lobby for several days. Everyone who participates in common meals is expected to sign up for three work slots, either cooking or cleaning up, during a given cycle. There is no formal monitoring of this expectation - we trust each other to contribute more when we have the time and energy and recognize that sometimes it's not possible to come up with that level of time and energy during a given cycle, and it's still okay to sign up to eat common meals!

The meal chart usually has blocks for three meals every week: pizza/potluck on Mon, a home-cooked meal on Weds/Thurs and another on Sat/Sun. There are four cooking slots and three clean up slots for home-cooked meals; and three slots for organizing and cleaning up after the pizza/potluck meals. The first person to sign up as a "leader" in a given block usually gets to choose the exact date, time and menu for that block, so if you have a favorite menu you're dying to show off, this is your chance! Once the slots are more or less full, the schedule is typed and a copy put in every mailbox. If a meal doesn't have all of the work slots filled in, one of three things happens:

1. the people who did sign up write a note on the whiteboard and ask for extra helpers and go on with the meal;
2. the people who signed up decide to cancel that meal (and write that on the whiteboard and put a big X through the sign-up sheet in the pantry); or
3. The team leader can offer to facilitate a potluck for that night.

Meal teams are completely self-organizing. Usually the leader checks in with the other team members a few days in advance to finalize the menu, figure out who will shop and when to do the actual cooking. Many meal teams split up the effort over a few days and times to accommodate different schedules and reduce last minute frenzy. There is a detailed meal preparation checklist posted in the kitchen to help teams remember every step that goes into a successful common meal. Cleaning teams generally drift into the kitchen near the end of the meal and figure out who will do which tasks as they go along.

Pizza/potluck teams order pizza, organize potluck contributions, and clean up after the meal. To help this process go smoothly, the pizza coordinator posted a set of guidelines in the pantry.

When the meal is over, someone on the team should attach the food receipts to the sign-up sheet, note who spent how much on the bottom of the sheet, and put it in the appropriate mailbox as noted on the sign-up sheet. When the next meal accounting takes place, any purchases you made for common meals are credited towards your share of common meals expenses. If you need a speedy reimbursement for food that you bought, check the "reimburse" box and a co-treasurer will write you a check from the meals account. (If you need an advance to purchase food, contact a co-treasurer who will write you a check.)

Hygiene and Safety in the Kitchen

When the cook teams are working in the kitchen (before and during the meal), non-cooks should refrain from entering the kitchen for any reason unless they have asked permission from the cooks. This is a safety precaution since sharp knives, and hot food and pans are being used and moved around.

Good hygiene in the kitchen includes the following:

* Cover hair with scarf or cap.
* Use latex gloves when handling food if you have any cuts in your hands.
* Wear non-slip shoes that cover your toes.
* Use a clean spoon each time you taste something.
* Wipe counters and cutting boards with clean wipe-up cloths (NOT SPONGES).
* Some cutting boards have labels such as NO MEAT; please abide by the label.