Want Cheap Eats? Host a Food Exchange!

My friends and I all like to cook/bake but it sometimes it gets old eating the same meal for days on end, especially if the recipe is written for several servings you don't really need or want to bother to half. So my friends and I decided to put our kitchen skills to work and share large batch meals for others to enjoy!

This past weekend I started a new event for my cooking group, What's Cookin Chicago. My Brunch & Barter event is one that started over the weekend and it was a great success! Over the past two years, I have hosted swap events revolving around a specific food (cookies, cupcakes, muffins, etc). I've switched it up by having participants decide what to make and barter with everyone. If you think back to the popular cookie swaps that often happen during the holidays, this is pretty similar but instead of cookies, we're meal swapping! Attendees prepare and package the same meal for those attending, brings them to where we're meeting up together and everyone takes a packaged meal from everyone, leaving with a whole assortment of meals to enjoy for weeks to come.

For our recent Brunch & Barter event, I prepared my Thai Green Curry Chicken over brown rice and some meat empanadas for everyone. In return, I came home with some delicious meals including:

  • Lemongrass pork chop with fried rice
  • Gorgonzola Pasta
  • Mushroom Risotto
  • Spinach Lasagna Rolls
  • Smoked Paprika Chicken Stew

This Brunch & Barter monthly event was inspired by another food community I'm active in. We have been doing it now for a few months and I wanted to share this fun monthly event with What's Cookin Chicago. If you're interested in perhaps doing this with your friends and family, read on for details (modeled from the food group I participate in)...

Number in Group - Attendance at each gathering is capped at 10 so that participants are never making more than 10 servings of anything. Couples will be counted as one serving (unless each person wants to be counted as one participant, in which case they will bring multiple servings of two separate dishes.)

Brunch & Barter Meetup Location - This monthly event will meet on the last Sunday of each month for brunch. The location will change with each month and will be decided by a participant who will host as the organizer.

The Food - Each participant will bring one pre-portioned serving of their food for everyone who has RSVP’d to come that month. A serving is whatever you think it is for your food item. There will be no restrictions on the food/recipe you make. If you wish to participate and have a specific food restriction, allergy or diet, you're welcome to join in but you must let everyone know what food you cannot have. We cannot guarantee all your food restrictions, allergies and/or diet specifics will be accommodated since we don't want to limit those participating from using a whole list of ingredients.

The Containers/Delivery System - Everyone in the group will buy 10 of the Gladware 3 1/8 cup square entree sized plastic containers (it’s the approximately 7” x 7” square). You’ll portion your food into those containers to bring and hand out at the meetup. There is no need to fill the container, just put in whatever is a serving to you. Please label your containers with the name of the dish on a piece of masking tape (which can be peeled off easily without ruining the container). If there are garnishes or other elements that are to be added to your dish before serving, please indicate that on the container.

The Process - We'll all meet for brunch at the chosen location. After our brunch and the table is cleared, each person will put their servings at their place at the table. Each person will then move about the table, collecting one serving from each of the other participants.

Each of us will have the opportunity to take turns being the organizer/host each month. Each time we meet, someone can offer to organize the next month’s gathering and choose where we will be meeting for our Brunch & Barter. The organizer will be responsible to make reservations for the group at the restaurant where we will be gathering if needed.

How to Participate - Participants will need to RSVP no later than one week before the monthly gathering. You will also need to post what you are bringing no later than three days prior to the meetup event. This is to help make sure we have a balance in the food that can be eaten and/or frozen to enjoy later.

Remember that the core purpose of the Brunch & Barter will be for participants of our group to exchange meals we've made with minimal hassle and restrictions over a great brunch!


  1. What a great idea! Sounds like fun!

  2. This is such a great idea!!!!! I wish I lived in Chicago!

  3. Sounds like it was a lot of fun. I was bummed that I could not RSVP yes, but it was my husbands birthday, and we already had plans. Looking forward to next time.

  4. This is a great idea! I always thought cookie swaps were a great way to get different types of goodies and it would apply so well here. Thanks for the framework!

  5. what a great idea! you explained it perfectly. as soon as hubby & I are finally moved into our new home I would love to start something like this around here (much needed).
    thanks for sharing!

  6. This souds great- I am working on hosting a recipe exchange but may expand it to something like this.

  7. Very cool idea. I'd be curious to know how many of the ten dishes people enjoyed.