1. Choose a schedule that you can live with. Some groups meet weekly to trade several days’ worth of dinners; in other groups, members are assigned one night of the week on which they deliver a dish to the other members’ doors. Select the structure you prefer, then seek out participants. “We found families through our three sons’ sports teams, and we trade dinners after the games,” says Elizabeth Cooper of Sioux City, Iowa.
2. At your first meeting, address potential trouble spots, such as food preferences, and how much each meal should cost. Hate cilantro? Allergic to shellfish? Speak up! And be sure to set a price range for each meal. “You don’t want to have one person making hot dogs while another spends a lot of money on filet mignon,” says Shannon Pifer of Tallahassee, Florida.
3. Pool your containers. Or ask everyone to contribute money to buy a communal set. Look for tight-sealing storage that transports well and can go from freezer to oven.
RS pick: the Bake ’N Store line from Pyrex ($8 to $12 each, shopworldkitchen.com).
4. Plan the menu. Nominate one person to keep a meal calendar, or rotate the responsibility. Focus on dishes that travel, store, and freeze well. (For meals delivered frozen, be sure to include reheating instructions and accompaniment suggestions.) Groups that opt for nightly delivery may swap more perishable dishes, like salads and tacos, or hand off “dinner kits” with all the ingredients of a meal (say, lettuce, cheese, dressing) packaged separately.
5. Get feedback. After the first few weeks, the members should meet to talk about what’s working and what’s not. Don’t feel comfortable openly judging someone’s cooking? Type up a form in which members can comment anonymously.