We’re spending 5 weeks chatting on the sofa over hot tea, cookies, and 5 questions about in real life friendship. Won’t you join us?

  1. 09/04 Week 1: “What does community mean to you?”
  2. 09/11 Week 2: “How do we stop hiding from and open ourselves up to community?”
  3. 09/18 Week 3: “How do we forgive past hurt by community?”
  4. 09/25 Week 4: “How do we build local community: some practical ideas.”
  5. 10/02 Week 5: “How do we build community right where we are, not letting circumstances limit our connections?”

Every Friday we’ll invite you to share your thoughts – link up a post, share a comment, discuss on Facebook.

We loved hearing your thoughts last week on how to come out of hiding and connect with community. Congrats to Mindy who won the(in)RL DVD Set and Devotional Booklet for the post she linked up – here’s a peek – you should really go and read it:

We’ve all got our stories of how we’ve been hurt. Family and friends that betray. Acquaintances who injure with an off-hand remark. A reader who can leave comments that draw blood. People who can wound and don’t even know of the disaster they’ve left in their wake.

Community can hurt.

But community can heal.

For every bad taste that community can leave in your mouth there are ten times…one hundred times as many that are good.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you guys and blessing at least one of you each week with some of our (in)RL resources.

So, this week we’re discussing some practical ideas for building local community.

Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to attend an old fashioned Quilting Bee.  As I rock on my covered front porch, I feel the warm breeze brush against my cheek.  Busying my hands by stitching beautiful fabric squares, I catch up with all my neighboring girlfriends who come together regularly to share community.

I open my eyes, and reality sets in. I don’t sew, nor do I have the desire to cut quilting squares, yet I’m enchanted with this concept because there was a fun purpose for gathering, they shared life together, and productivity occurred.

That desire was the genesis behind my Kitchen Sisters’ Club (a phrase coined after not enough sleep): a gatherings of friends, who came together to make meals for our family. As a young mom, it was often difficult to justify a “girls night out,” yet when I combined the best of sharing sweet friendship with my girlfriends, along side making multiple meals for my family, it was a win-win proposition.

Over the last fifteen years, I have organized these meal making get togethers multiple ways, with many different ladies, and varying sized groups ranging from six to twenty-six. One constant remains. When the need for community mixes with very practical needs, it’s truly the best of both worlds.

This past weekend, I led a meal planning workshop at my Becoming Conference where hundreds of women raised their hand in agreement that the “What’s for Dinner Question” remains a constant source of strife.

I mean, do we really need to feed them again? They just ate last night?

When I think of meal time,  the old adage rings true, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” When I have no set plan, I tend to resort to the same three or four meals over and over again, which doesn’t always win the adoration of my family. Since I’m always looking for new inspiration and accountability in the kitchen,  meal swapping meets both of these needs, along with a beautiful outlet to spend time with friends.

It’s a wonderful way to try new recipes, eat healthier, and fellowship, while saving both time and money in the kitchen. As a bonus, I  go home energized and encouraged to do a better job for my family.

So many scriptural principles are lived out during our time together, including Galatians 6:2. We truly carry each others burdens together as we desire to live intentionally with even the most mundane of tasks.

Briefly, there are three different ways in which I have organized my Kitchen Sisters’ Clubs. The method I choose depends on the group and my schedule.

1. Make all the meals at your own home and drop them off at friends’ homes.
They, in turn, do the same thing for you on another day. Typically, this group shouldn’t exceed four women.
Example: I make four of our family’s favorite Taco Casseroles, or possibly my Simple Sesame Chicken, salad, and my easy homemade french bread, and deliver them to three neighbors. Then the next week, they do the same for me. This is the one option where the meals do not need to be freezer friendly, since you deliver and potentially eat it the same day.
( I write a lot about meal planning and easy food preparation over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, so my readers know that cooking a main dish in bulk takes the same amount of time as one recipe, so one of my biggest kitchen tips is to always double or triple our recipes, so that we’ll have another meal for later.)

This first option only works well if you’re in close proximity to each other. I know of ladies who have done this for years with the same four friends, now that is a blessing.

2. Host a meal making party in ones home where everyone brings the ingredients for their main dish.
Typically, I have done this with eight ladies.
Each friend was “assigned” one main dish (her preference). She would bring all the ingredients for that entree (x the number of ladies in attendance), and we would then assemble the meals together in my kitchen. So if I choose Mexican Lasagna, I would provide the ingredients for eight Mexican Lasagnas. If I am shopping for one, I might as well shop for eight.
Through much trial and error, I eventually set down basic ground rules, such as everyone had to provide two lbs of meat per meal, the recipe must fit an 8×10 pan etc. For those with smaller families, they just divided the meal in half, and received even more meals for their family. There is always so much fun and laughter to be had by all.
The only down side is that my kitchen is a complete wreck when it’s done, but so worth it.

3. Host in either a home or church kitchen – one person organizes, sets the menu, and buys the ingredients.
This requires more work from one person, but there is the option of taking turns with organizing this every month.
The pictures shown above was an evening like this. I set up “stations” with instructions for each meal. I provided all the ingredients (except for two of the meals in which attendees brought their choice of raw chicken or beef in ziplock bags, and we made crock pot meals). The guests then covered the costs of the ingredients.

Hopefully, this quick introduction might get your creative juices going in the meal making department.

What are some of your biggest struggles when it comes to meal time?

If you have the desire to build community through starting a Kitchen Sisters Club, I’d love to help.

These gatherings are such a wonderful time of fellowship, and yet there’s a feeling of total accomplishment when the evening is completed. I  know that many readers here have probably done similar things, and I’d love for you to chime in with the specifics of how you have set up your meal swapping groups.

On October 1, I will be launching my new food blog, 10 Minute Dinners, where I will be tackling the day in and day out challenge of getting quick and easy meals made, so that I can have more time to spend gathering around the table with family and friends. I will make sure and incorporate a follow up post on the details of starting a Kitchen Sisters Club, including some of your insights that I glean through the comments you leave, so please chime in. I’d love for us to brainstorm and learn from each other.

by Jen Schmidt, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam (and soon to be launched, 10 Minute Dinners)

Free Printable: Just CLICK HERE to download a free 8.5 x 11 printable version of the above quote on friendship.

It’s this week’s free (in)RL Check-In Printable – featuring copy and art from a postcard in the our new Postcards from God’s Beach House, Friendship Set.

{The downloadable print is available through DaySpring.com. This is a free download and your credit card information will not be requested. You’ll receive a link to the Printable in your confirmation email. Easy. Free. And Fun.}

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  • http://athomejournal.blogspot.com Eileen

    Growing up we had all kinds of gatherings at the local church food pantry. My folks (mother and her grandfather) did not attend church regularly but did partake in helping local families get enough food to eat, as well as other needs. The local farmers gathered every Sunday to have fun together, share a meal, recipes, and package meals for those around to either take home with them after the meal or to be taken to the ones who could not make it. In my younger days, farmers helped each other; we had a community that shared joys and trials together.

    Every year one farmer or the other had some kind of trial to face and they never faced it alone. We had a small corner café, general store, gas station the local male farmers met at nearly every morning for coffee. They shared “fish stories” and found out how their neighbor were fairing up. During the week if it was found out that a farmer was in need, the following Sunday, the families met up and worked on the solution.

    This is the sense of community I grew up with, so it is hard not to compare what I see today with this. In these gatherings on Sunday, God was not spoken of, nether was the message of salvation, but the book of Acts as lived out by helping each other and helping with the true need. Sad that this balance was so lost on me until the Lord was back in my life with fuller understanding, the gospel message and the works the Apostle Paul said was a sign of the message lived. Paul said show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.

    May we be blessed with the fullness of this message, living it out in balance.

    • http://www.beautyandbedlam.com Jen (Balancing Beauty and Bedlam)

      Ellen – thanks so much for sharing this. We all desire to bring that sense of community to our everyday lives.
      Isn’t it so neat how we can truly live out that gospel message by being the hands and feet of service?

  • http://www.sarahmae.com Sarah Mae

    Jen, I love your ideas! They are so fun and I love the community you have created! Thank you for the inspiration today!!!!

    • http://www.sarahmae.com Sarah Mae

      Oh, and I don’t have a kitchen group yet, but I’m pondering it…

  • http://www.givinguponperfect.com Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect

    Jen, I love this idea so much. And I’ve tried to start a group like this, but it just hasn’t worked so far. {What’s wrong with my friends? Why don’t they understand how awesome this would be?} :) Their objections were that their husbands don’t like casseroles or their kids don’t like olives, onions or fish or nobody has a kitchen big enough to do this…and on and on. Do you think this kind of group works best with people in a certain life stage? Or what is it – what’s the “key” that I was missing when I tried this before? {HELP!?} :)

    • http://www.beautyandbedlam.com Jennifer Schmidt

      Let me have a little chat with your friends. ;) I have done it with all different life stages, but maybe there’s just a little intimidation because they don’t know anyone who has done it before?? And yes, it’s tricky with picky eaters, but there are so many great meals that work for everyone. Italian, Mexican, Chili, Homemade pizzas, and for those that don’t do casseroles, we’ve done whole evenings where it’s just putting together crock pot type of meals into zip lock bags, good to dump and go on those crazy, busy days.

  • http://www.sarahmarkley.com Sarah Markley

    i love your ideas Jen! You are the go-to girl for everything kitchen-easy, i think. thank you for sharing your successes so that we can take note!! =)

    love you!!

  • Amanda

    I’m doing this with a group of friends this weekend! (The second way on your list.) This will be my first time with this group, although I’ve done something similar with other friends in the past. A couple of good ideas this group had — to make cost splitting easier, each person provides the meat for all of the meals they will be getting. Some of us like (or have) to deal/coupon-shop more than others, or use organic meats – so this gives people some flexibility. Then you provide the rest of the ingredients just for your assigned meals. The group also has a shared Pinterest board for freezer meal ideas. :)

  • http://thenester.com The Nester

    a few friends and I did #1 for awhile and it was heavenly. just reading about it makes me want to do it again! as always, love all of your well earned tips, jen!

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  • Deb Stevens

    great idea and i love to cook :)