Friday, September 4, 2009

Thoughts on Supper Swapping

(This photo has nothing to do with supper swapping, but these are the gals with whom I supper swapped! Here Linda, Wanda and I are photographed after church one Sunday while on vacation together. At home in Orrville, we all go to different churches. In fact, both their husbands are pastors.)

Have you ever thought about participating in a supper swap? Do you know what I mean by the term 'supper swap'? It’s when you team up with friends, neighbors and/or co-workers to make meal-time easy! Trish Berg, author of The Great American Supper Swap, says “Supper swapping is moms helping moms by sharing the cooking responsibilities for their families. One day a week you cook enough food for everyone in your group, usually 3 -5 families. You keep one meal for your family and deliver the other meals to the families in your group. The rest of the week, they deliver supper to you.” Sounds easy enough, right?

Now that Ken and I are empty-nesters, we don't cook as much as we did and we are not currently participating in a supper swap (which I actually miss a little). However, every fall I always think a lot about supper-swapping since that's the season when we started. I guess that's why it's been on my mind a lot lately and also why I thought you might enjoy reading about the experiences Wanda, Linda and I shared during our supper swapping days.

I first learned of this concept from an article I read in Today’s Christian Woman, one of my favorite women's magazines (by the way, I just learned yesterday, TCW is no longer going to be published. It's going to be strictly an e-magazine). I read the article about three years ago and suggested the idea of supper swapping to Linda and Wanda, two friends who were also willing to give it a try.

Incidentally, I later realized that the author of the article and the aforementioned book, Trish Berg, is a gal who lives in Dalton, a community very close to our town of Orrville, Ohio! What a small world! In fact, after my friends and I met to discuss the idea of doing this, Wanda presented Linda and me each with a copy of Trish’s book, The Great American Supper Swap, after she heard Trish speak locally.

As the book suggested, before beginning the supper swap, the three of us met to discuss how we would approach it. Even though there were just our 3 families, it seemed to be such a huge undertaking at first! Some groups swap with 4 or even 5 families! We thought we'd be flying for 3 of us to do it since we live close together and it would be easy to deliver meals to each other. As it turned out, 3 did turn out to be perfect for us and we opted to leave our supper swap group at that size. (My friend and neighbor, Janeen, later started one with 5 in her group, and they love it!)

We also learned from the book that it's best to begin supper-swapping with families similar in size to your own. That makes sense from a meal prep standpoint. I mean, if there are 4 in your family, it really wouldn't feel normal for you to make dinner for a family of 7 or 8. Both Linda and Wanda have 4 in their families, and although we only had 3 at the time, as Matthew was still at home then, we always planned on at least one extra teenager for dinner, so that worked out great for us, too.

Before commiting to it long-term, we decided we’d try it for a month with each of us cooking once each week for the other families. So we met with calendars in hand and ideas of dishes to prepare. Not knowing how much to make or really where to start, we were still anxious to give it a try. We decided to make one main dish and one side dish each time. So, for example, on my night, I might make baked spaghetti with a salad and bread. Often we would add items, but only the two items would be planned and depended upon. (We figured we could easily add an extra veggie, salad or bread ourselves on our own, if we chose.) We decided our menus in advance so that we didn't plan to prepare chicken for our families when we cooked for ourselves in addition to when we cooked for each other. That all worked out better than we thought. Not knowing exactly how much food we would need, we made more than we needed. That turned out great because we often had leftovers, depending on the meals, which generally meant we had enough meals for the weekday meals. We liked that! That first month went great and we loved it, so we continued to swap.

I loved the 'swapping' part of the day! I looked so forward to packing up the food I had prepared for my friends and carrying it to my car to be delivered! Sometimes Ken or Matthew would help me deliver. Matthew had just gotten his license as I recall, and sometimes he would do the delivery himself! And wow, did I look forward to seeing my friends come in with their delicious food! Yum-my! I love to cook, but I really looked forward to having them deliver our supper! There were some days when we would have extra kids for supper (not unusual for us) and I'd just add some extra stuff to the dinner table. I'd always tell the kids who'd supplied what. I remember telling Trent (one of our boys) one night that Mrs. Pfahler had made something one night, and he responded, "Yeah, I remember when she made that once before!" Like I said, these kids were regulars at our house. Once we had favorite dishes, we would request them monthly. We'd meet at one of our favorite local restaurants for breakfast (a good excuse for a girls' outing!) and start our planning for the next month's meals. It might start out something like... "I don't know if you have anything in mind, but Vanessa, we'd love to have those Chickens Puffs again..."

We tried foods we wouldn’t normally try and we learned to be honest. What we were willing to try once sometimes we wanted to try only once. And we were honest about that. We decided at the beginning that we needed to be upfront about those kinds of things and we were. Wanda, a health-conscious person who liked my (baked) Chicken Puffs, was not so excited about seeing my family's favorite fried foods on the menu. (But I am from the SOUTH! I would jokingly remind her.) So, we worked around those things and honored each others' opinions. It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us. I would not trade that time for anything.

When Wanda decided to take a break from participating for a few months, she told us she really missed not seeing us. It’s amazing how those few minutes a few times a week helped each of us to feel connected to each other.

We prayed for each others’ families in a concerted effort on the days we cooked. I felt really close to my friends’ families, especially on those days. Preparing food is very personal and truly is a labor of love.

We decided to take a hiatus during specific sports seasons because it was difficult to work out schedules. We picked up the swapping at a later time, but Wanda later opted out, telling us that she was "the weakest link." We assured her that was not the case! Her salisbury steak is heavenly and you've already heard me rave about her cinnamon rolls in a previous posting! Yet, for her, the timing had run its course and Linda and I understood.

Linda and I continued swapping on and off, depending on our schedules. Even now, although we don't swap on a regular basis, I am often blessed by a call from Linda when she knows I've had a particularly busy or stressful week, telling me she's bringing over supper. Oh, that is music to my ears! Her chicken pot pie, as they say, is to die for! And I would be remiss if I did not mention her Asian broccoli salad...and her chicken and noodles, oh my goodness! Linda's cooking reminds me so much of my mom's cooking, so to me it's comfort food. I try to reciprocate and help her out with meals sometimes, too. She has a fondness for my chocolate chip cookies. And that reminds me, I'm sure I'm long overdue in making something for her family.

Obviously, I cannot adequately explain all the nuances of supper swapping in such a small space. I just wanted to share some of my personal insights with you and to tell you that supper swapping enriched my life and my friendships and for that I am so grateful. I am happy to answer any questions about my supper swapping experiences anytime. You are welcome to contact me here, by email or on Facebook.

To learn even more about all aspects of this fun endeavor including how to start your own group, the best recipes for supper swapping beginners, cooking/baking container suggestions, how it will save you money, Q & As, and so much more, BUY THE BOOK!!! It's a wonderful resource. Or better yet, visit the library and borrow the book. Also, Trish Berg's website is full of useful free downloads like recipes and calendars. She will even do a free 15 minute chat on the phone with your group to answer questions to help get you started - all more than I could offer! So, if you haven't already, I hope you'll check out Trish Berg's website at:

Incidentally, I've also attended a small group session she held on supper swapping and highly recommend her as a speaker for any function you might have at your organization or church. She fun, funny and down to earth. Again, the book is The Great American Supper Swap by Trish Berg.

If you have even an inkling to try it, find a friend or co-worker with an interest and give it a whirl. You might just be surprised at how fun it can be. It can enrich your life and your friendships more than you can imagine.


Trish Berg said...


WOW, what a humbling experience to read your blog. Thank you so much for your sweet and kind words about me and the book. And I am so blessed that you have become A SUPPER SWAPPER....I can not imagine life without my friends, and friends helping friends is what supper swapping is all about.

Hope you have a great weekend...blessings my friend, Trish

Trish Berg said...


WOW, what a humbling experience to read your blog. Thank you so much for your sweet and kind words about me and the book. And I am so blessed that you have become A SUPPER SWAPPER....I can not imagine life without my friends, and friends helping friends is what supper swapping is all about.

Hope you have a great weekend...blessings my friend, Trish

Vanessa said...

Hi Trish,

You're welcome! Thanks for your comments. :) Supper swapping really has been a wonderful experience and one I would recommend for anyone to try - even for a little while.