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Stretch the shopping budget
Try a dinner co-op, says cookbook author Carol Frey, to lighten the cooking load, not your wallet
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Carol Frey has written two cookbooks, and in her latest she explains the idea of a dinner co-op.

Mothers (or fathers) everywhere face the task every week - the grocery shopping list.

Seven days of dinner menus are cobbled together, and seven nights of cooking begin once again.

But what if you could lighten your load a little and save money, too?

Well, cookbook author Carol Frey, has the perfect solution - a dinner co-op.

"You gather together a group of friends," said Frey, author of two cookbooks. "It's most helpful if you live near each other and that your family sizes are similar ... basically what you do is once a week you cook for your family and the two other families. And then another night that week one of the other families cooks for you and delivers to you. And then another night that week the third family does the same thing."

Frey, of Norcross, said what families end up doing is cooking one large meal for three families each week and "the other two days you are eating bon bons and taking a bubble bath, or taking your kids to soccer." The first thing to do if you want to plan a dinner co-op is to have a planning meeting, Frey said.

"You need to have a planning meeting so you can decide on what kind of food you all like the best," she said. "So you are basically on the same page about nutrition and what should be included in your meals.

"If you find out some in your group are picky eaters, you might not want them in your group. You don't want to have to make macaroni and cheese every week."

After the meeting and the co-op begins, make sure to create a questionnaire that is passed out after each meal.
"I try to make it humorous," Frey said. "Like, you say you love the meal, or it was good, or it was a once-in-a-lifetime meal; meaning you only want to have to eat it once in your lifetime. Was the quantity just right? Was it too much or was it not enough?"

Frey added that you have to be honest with your friends about the meals.

"Cause if you are not honest you are going to end up having fried eggplant squashy surprise every week," she said.

There have been a couple times in Frey's life that she has participated in a dinner co-op - when her children were very small and when they began junior high school.

The dinner co-ops are what eventually led Frey to write two cookbooks: "Have You Considered Cooking?" ($11.95) and a Southern cookbook called "The Grits Shall Rise Again!" ($9.95).

"I've always loved cooking my whole life and I've always loved humor and I really wanted to combine the two," Frey said. "My whole point is to make cooking light-hearted and fun, to make people feel like it wasn't drudgery when they walked into the kitchen."

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