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Food blogger Cari Snell, with son Taylor, and friend Heidi Degenstein share homemade meals in North Vancouver twice a week. (LAURA LEYSHON)
Food blogger Cari Snell, with son Taylor, and friend Heidi Degenstein share homemade meals in North Vancouver twice a week. (LAURA LEYSHON)

Food swaps

I made chowder, you made pickles. Let's trade Add to ...

You've cooked up a giant pot of Moroccan chickpea and vegetable stew that could feed you for days. It's healthy, hearty and saves you time and money. The trouble is you're now stuck eating the whole thing yourself.

Innovative home cooks have found a solution to that age-old problem of making too much of a good thing: They're banding together and swapping their creations.

Food swaps - individuals cooking big batches of certain items and trading portions - have become popular among epicures and busy parents looking for convenience without compromising on nutrition and food quality.

The concept also encourages participants to try new dishes, challenging their palates and culinary skills, food swappers say.

Andrea Potter, head chef at Vancouver's Radha Yoga & Eatery, started food swapping with a friend a couple years ago when she found herself tackling various culinary experiments.

"I'd be learning how to make bread and sauerkraut and beer and wine and pickles and all of those things," Ms. Potter said. "It occurred to me, just for practical matters and because I love having homemade food, why don't I just get really good at making one thing and [my friend]gets really good at making one thing, and we swap?"

Their idea eventually evolved into monthly gatherings at her friend's house, where up to 10 people now show up bringing heaps of edibles to exchange.

Ms. Potter also conducts informal swaps with co-workers and neighbours, trading her sauerkraut and pickles for a weekly supply of homemade granola, bread and fresh juice.

"I love the fact that instead of going to the store, I get to just go to work or go over to my friend's house and come back with a loaf of bread," Ms. Potter said.

To get around potential discrepancies over the cost of ingredients, Ms. Potter and her fellow food swappers decided each person should trade whatever they felt was the equivalent of a loaf of bread.

"It's tricky when you take into account some things take a long time to make, even though they're inexpensive," she said.

Cari Snell, a mother of two in North Vancouver, exchanges entire meals with a friend on a twice-weekly basis.

"My Monday nights are crazy and her Thursday nights are crazy. So we thought, 'I'll double-cook on Thursday night and give it to you and you can double-cook on Monday nights and deliver it to me,'" she said.

Ms. Snell, who writes food blogs www.CanIGetTheRecipe.com and www.Dinnervibe.com, said she enjoys testing new recipes out on her food swap partner, such as seafood chowder or garlic chicken breasts with grilled asparagus and potatoes.

And their families are able to save money because the regular swaps force them to plan ahead and buy ingredients in bulk. Cooking a dinner for four adults and four young children can cost as little as $10 in total, she says.

The concept is gaining popularity among less proficient cooks as well.

"I actually hate cooking," said Tracy Schenkers Cross of North Vancouver, who conducts a similar dinner swap with another family. "It's just nice to have dinner made for you one night a week."

She acknowledged there's been the odd occasion when their concoctions have come out less than perfect. Once, she made an unfortunately mushy Mexican casserole. Another time, her food swap partner called minutes after delivering a meal with an urgent warning not to eat the side of rice.

"She was like, 'Don't give it to the kids. You'll kill them!' There was so much sodium in it," Ms. Schenkers Cross laughs, noting it's important to swap with like-minded partners who have similar tastes and attitudes toward food. "My friend always says, 'I don't care what you put together, as long as I don't have to do it.' She doesn't care that it's not fine dining or anything."

Mass-producing and swapping on a larger scale, adherents of The Big Cook , a cookbook written by three mothers in Medicine Hat, often assemble dozens of meals at a time, which they freeze and then trade with each other to be cooked at a later date, co-author Lorelei Thomas said.

The Big Cook, which provides recipes for preparing and storing meals in mass quantities, has sold more than 33,000 copies across Canada since it was first published in 2006, Ms. Thomas said. She attributed the sales to a renewed interest among families to eat together at home, in spite of their hectic schedules.

Ms. Thomas's own freezer contains several months' worth of nutritious, ready-to-cook meals that have been assembled by friends.

"A lot of moms are feeling the stress and feeling like, 'Oh, I've got to go through the drive-through again' or 'I've got to order pizza,' and they don't feel good about that," she said. "The idea of the meal swap is if we can do something better together, do it."

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