Build Community with Meal Swapping
Here's how to start a healthy meal swap.
Do you ever feel lonely? As if something in you, deep down, longs for a stronger sense of community or belonging? If you do, then you’ve got a lot of company. A 2016 Harris Poll found that loneliness is something that most people—72 percent of Americans, in fact—report feeling.
For all the technological connectivity of the modern world, it seems as if something important has been lost. We can “friend” people on Facebook and “love” their tweets. But we all know that friendship and love take more than clicks of a button.
One of my favorite antidotes to loneliness is sharing food. I enjoy cooking. But I probably enjoy preparing food 10 times more when the food will be feeding other people.
Preparing healthy food for people who don’t eat the same way you do can be a challenge. But it can offer its own special reward.
Not everyone has a big family that likes to converge around food. Many people live alone or with people who don’t eat as they do. And even if you’re lucky enough to share food consistently with family members, the routines of cooking and cleaning can get a little old.
This is where forming a healthy meal swap team can truly shine. The basic concept is simple: Find another person, or a team of people, who want to eat healthfully like you do, and agree to create and share meals with one another.
This can start as simply as making some extra quinoa with coconut curry sauce and asking the neighbors if they’d like you to drop some off for their next night’s dinner. If their response is positive, you could ask if they might like to consider a routine of sharing extras back and forth.
If you’re setting up swaps with colleagues from work, you might decide to rotate who makes lunch for the bunch. If five people are in on the deal, a different one might feed the clan each day of the week. But you can also start small and just make lunch for a few colleagues on Monday and build from there. A big batch of chickpea salad served with all the fixin’s—sliced tomato, pickles, lettuce, sliced avocado—can make a fabulous, easy-to-transport, crowd-pleasing lunch.
You can even get a meal going with people you hardly know.
You might find interested people by hanging a flyer at your gym, natural-foods store, community center, senior center, library, college campus, yoga studio, or church; by asking friends, family, or neighbors; by emailing colleagues at work; or even by posting an invitation on Facebook or Meetup.
Here’s an example of what you might say:
Want to Join a Healthy Meal Swap Team?
Do you ever get tired of cooking the same foods over and over? Want to share your favorite healthy dishes with others—and to have healthy meals made for you? Contact me to join our Healthy Eaters’ Meal Team! When you cook, you can make enough to share. Then take a few days off while other people cook for you! Let’s build community, lighten our cooking load, and support healthy eating—all at the same time! Contact me to find out more and join in!
If you have specific dietary desires or commitments, be sure to include that information in your outreach. For example, if you want to organize your healthy-eating team around foods that are sugar-free, or vegan, or low-carb, or high-carb, it’s best to say that up front. You might also suggest incorporating rules. (For example, every meal has to include a leafy green vegetable.)
It’s possible the other swap team members won’t share all your food values or priorities, in which case you might have to do a little negotiation and decide what are your deal breakers and where you’re willing to be a little flexible.
By cooking in quantity, you’ll save time. By sharing meals, you’ll build social connections and discover new flavors and experiences. And by organizing your meal-swap team around healthy food, you’ll support nutritious eating for everyone.
And Yes, There's an App for That
Did you know that there are also meal-sharing apps? They function something like an Airbnb for home-cooked meals. You can volunteer to host, setting the price and stating what kind of food you’re offering to prepare—and then takers will book meal slots and can pay to join you for dinner. Or you can be a guest and search for hosts, taking them up on their offer of home-cooked meals. Meal-sharing apps such as Eatwith and Meal Sharing connect eaters with home-cooked meals provided by local people. Customer reviews, dietary preferences, and clear pricing help to ensure that it’s all aboveboard and that you get what you want, whether it’s as a host or as a guest.
Option 1: Make a healthy meal or dish for a friend, neighbor, colleague, or family member. Lead with generosity, and see where it takes you!
Option 2: Check out Eatwith.com, mealsharing.com, or another online meal- sharing app, and either offer to host a meal for guests or sign up to attend someone else’s meal as their guest.
Option 3: Create a flyer, email, or post and share it publicly or with at least 10 friends, inviting them to join a swap team. Follow up with everyone until you have a solid group set to make plans.
Excerpt adapted from 31-Day Food Revolution: Heal Your Body, Feel Great, and Transform Your World by Ocean Robbins. Copyright © 2019 by Ocean Robbins. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.