[Update: I answered some of your objections at the end.]
Eating is broken. Our entire system of preparing and eating food is a relic from less complicated times. In the olden days of 1955, Mom’s full-time job included shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. Everyone in the family ate the same food at the same table at the same time, like it or not. That model worked.
Fast forward to today. Little Timmy has wheat sensitivity, little Amber is lactose intolerant, Mom is trying to go vegan and Dad wants a burger. And they all have complex schedules, with work, school, sports and whatever.
Restaurants are a partial solution, but they can be pricey, and they don’t solve the problem of everyone in the family needing to eat at a different time.
Perhaps we need to move from what you might call a hostess model (Mom in 1955) to what I will call a project management model. We would need some applications on the Internet to make this approach work.
Consider one part of the eating process: shopping. Today, each family in your neighborhood makes a trip to the store. It’s cheaper than home delivery. But imagine the process of shopping becoming a Walmart-like “just in time” model. Suppose your food for the coming day is delivered fresh to one central neighbor’s garage in the neighborhood. That saves eight shopping trips and the delivery fee is divided eight ways. So far, so good. You might even have enough combined buying power to get discounts.
Now imagine that the project management application does everything from keeping track of individual diet preferences to scheduling neighbors for specific food tasks at specific times. You wouldn’t mind being the prep cook on a given Tuesday if you did it with three neighbors while having an adult beverage and chatting. The idea here is to find as much benefit in the “work” of food preparation as you get from the eating. Shared tasks are a great way to get to know neighbors. If you need to work late, the software broadcasts a request for a substitute.
After the various neighbors have done their project tasks to create a meal for each individual, the food will be placed in microwaveable containers and labelled. Each family performs their scheduled tasks and takes home their food to heat up whenever it makes sense for the family. The project management application ensures that over time, every family puts in equal labor and equal funding.
The software would come up with menu plans and shopping lists that are the most efficient and optimized. For example, the carnivores’ side dishes would be the same components as the vegan’s main meal. And the planned excess would be tomorrow’s lunch .
You can imagine a hundred ways to improve the system. The point is that a collaborative project management approach to family dinners makes sense when the complexity of modern life makes the single hostess model impractical.
This approach is also a great opportunity to lower food costs, reduce waste, improve your nutritional variety, network with neighbors, and have some fun at the same time.
I realize this model might not work for the loners and virulent anti-communists. Assume it’s optional. No one will force you to talk to your neighbors.
Update: Here are my responses to your objections
Objection 1: Families should eat together! It’s important!
Response: With the model I described, a family can still eat together. And if your shopping, cooking, and clean-up time is reduced, you might have more family time than before. The ability to eat meals at different times is simply an option.
Objection 2: TV dinners are already cheap and convenient!
Response: TV dinners are mostly salt, carbs, hooves, and miscellaneous. (Legal note: That was a humorous exaggeration.) Check the nutritional labels and get back to me.
Objection 3: The model I described has already been tried. It was called a co-op, and it didn’t catch on.
Response: It hasn’t been tried with a project management application that assigns duties, creates schedules, creates shopping lists from menus, minimizes costs, tracks everyone’s contribution, creates custom meals for various diet preferences, orders online for delivery, and tracks nutritional variety. By way of analogy, you can get to work on a bicycle and you can get to work in a car, but that doesn’t make a bike and a car the same idea.
Objection 4: Businesses such as “Dream Dinners” have tried this concept. With their model, you make an entire week of meals and freeze them.
Response: Those businesses have little in common with what I described. First, you have an extra corporation involved that needs to make a profit. Second, you can’t freeze a salad, so there is still work to do at home. Also, freezing and thawing ruins the taste of some foods. You’d have far fewer meal choices with the corporate model, and Mom or Dad need to spend one afternoon per week in an industrial kitchen, without adult beverages. That’s like work.
Objection 5: In my house, everyone eats what gets cooked. And if they don’t like it, they all know how to make something for themselves.
Response: Apparently I love your family more than you do. How is the tough love/eating model better than eating a good variety of food that each person enjoys, with less effort, at a low price?