Today I want to share my meal sharing strategies that have taken me a couple of years to get right. I know some are thinking “how do you mess up meal sharing?!” well, I get tangled up in the details -and if you’ve ever filled a flimsy aluminum tin with food, then scrambled to find a cookie sheet for transport, then towels to keep your car dry- then you may have also thought “there has to be a better way.” There is!
You eagle-eyed readers will see that this is categorized as a Military topic. Of course it isn’t strictly a military family’s concern, but I only need to move food for squadron potlucks (obviously military related), or providing dinner on a meal train (for an active duty family). So the topic of food moving (as silly as it sounds) is totally confined to the section of my life that involves the military.
I know I would face this same challenges if I was regularly providing for potlucks, supper clubs, and similar. Regardless of why you move food, here’s what works for me; a lady who moves food regularly year round.
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Every year I can expect to move food to two to four potlucks, in addition to volunteering to cook for every Meal Train invitation that comes my way. These are all optional, and I am in no way obligated to cook, but I do it anyway because I just like it.
Potlucks are great because everybody expects a DIY buffet line, and it’s okay to bring your food in a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, or serving dish of choice. Regardless of choice you will take your vessel back home with you.
For ease of moving food, I started planning backwards; instead of wondering “what to share?” I shifted to “what to share in a lidded dutch oven?” Why? Because lidded dutch ovens are easy to move. I have two nice ones that I take to potlucks, and they each ride nicely in the floorboard of any car. My Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart round is my favorite.
So when I know what container to use, I can better pick recipes for that potluck. Earlier this year I shared chili in my Instant Pot – easy to cook, move, and clean. For past potlucks I have shared carne guisada in a small lidded cast iron container, shredded smoked meats in larger dutch ovens, or non-lettuce salads in a Pampered Chef mixing bowl with lid.
Meal Trains are a wonderful way to simply provide a family with a meal. My first meal train experience was as a recipient when Baby Jup was a newborn. We had a new feast each night for two weeks and it was amazing! Since we didn’t need to worry about dinners, we could better focus on everything else. Our meal train was a real lifesaver.
After receiving such an amazing slew of meals I am motivated to recycle the good vibes and provide as many meals as I can, so I do.
Meal trains obviously differ from potlucks, but from a strict food-moving perspective the difference is the serving dish – does it stay or does it go? *Cue The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go*
Disposable tins are the easiest for sharing a hot casserole, but not the easiest to move outside of a casserole carrier. So…casserole carriers -cheesy mono-tasker? Maybe. Amazing casserole carrier? YES. Something that does its job so well has space in my kitchen, and these carriers have been welcomed with open arms.
I recently assembled my own casserole carrying set. Two casserole carriers that each carry an 11″ x 9″ pan, plus a double decker thermal bag for easy transportation. If my route doesn’t work for you, there’s a million ways to deliver meals – it all depends on what you need to move. Since I move more hot casserole-type meals, this set is best for me.
The easiest way to plan the meals is to front load as many decisions as possible. Have a Go To Set. For example, my usual meal train contribution is a green been & chicken casserole, store bought dessert (something that looked good in the deli that day), and a box of Starbucks instant lattes. Deciding on a set makes everything else easier and I try to make decisions like this as soon as possible. Just like uniform dressing, if you decide ahead of time you won’t have to worry about this one thing.
☞ Related: How to start uniform dressing
But what if you don’t have a Go To Set? Make one…or five.
Since I start with transportation, I know what quantities I can move, then I think “I need a main dish casserole, a side, dessert or bread, and a just-for-fun drink mix.” Maybe you want to be the Salad, Soup, & Homemade Bread person. Maybe you have a panini press and want everyone to know. Maybe you’re making gourmet macaroni and cheese bakes and just need to find the perfect sides -regardless- I suggest you find a good cookbook to fall back on.
I wanted more sets so I can rotate different meals, and found my solution in Barnes & Noble’s bargain book section. I wanted simple recipes that didn’t fall into any specific cuisine, but also with photos of EACH DISH for side dish suggestions. Taste of Home published an Instant Pot cookbook in 2019, and it was exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t looking for IP specific meals, but I am happy to put more miles on my Instant Pot. Besides, while flipping through the book I saw a recipe for turkey breast with berry compote and was sold. This is going to be my official shared meal directory.
Over the next few days I will leisurely make some new set decisions. Recently I cooked for a no-pork family – easy. Later I’ll cook for a low-carb family, and I think that bœuf bourguignon will fit their family nicely. I want to have a celiac-friendly dinner handy, etc.
Advantages to front loading decisions is that
- I have time to make the recipes at least once before sharing. This will give me a realistic cook time, so i’ll know if I need to chop veggies the night before or not.
- Mister Jupiter and I can try something new and see if it is worthy of our greatest hits dinner rotation.
☞ Related: The InstantPot Post
Q. Wow. You have a lot to say about sharing food.
A. You bet! I am detail oriented to a fault and will spend all day fretting about details that people don’t realize are there.
Q. What if someone doesn’t want a casserole?
A. I can make a mean salad. Those are easy to move if you don’t dress them ahead of time.
Q. So…too long; didn’t read.
A. Just think about everything ahead in great detail. If you know what to make, how to make it, and how to move it, you can easily participate and share the good food with your friends and co-workers. Don’t bore them, share a special meal from the heart.
Q. But my special recipe takes forever to make!
A. Good thing you already thought ahead right? Think about it like this – if you have time to make it once for them, can you double it and have the special meal too? Making special dinners is fun, and the magic doesn’t have to leave your kitchen entirely.