What is a Common Meal?

Common meals refer to communities eating together. Most often a team of two or three people cooks for the whole community. This giving of time and talent and receiving of sustenance creates a habit of giving and receiving that spreads to other aspects of community. 

Potlucks serve as common meals in some communities as well.


There are many approaches to scheduling common meals. Most communities have a standard schedule, though free form is also possible.
1. Set days each week. For example MWF at 6pm or Tuesday potluck, Sunday prepared dinner.
2. Every other day, except Saturdays: Monday, Wednesday, Friday one week, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday the next.
3. Variation in time: For example every other Sunday is brunch instead of dinner.
4. Variable: Each cook chooses the date and time of their meal.

Sharing Cooking and Cleaning

Figuring out how to share the work of common meals is tricky. Some people love to cook; others don’t. Some are happy to clean as often as needed; others prefer to do the shopping. Some want to participate in common meals; others don’t. Communities navigate these differences in many different ways. Most of the time the shopping is done by the lead cook. In some communities there is a common pantry or garden in use as well.

Some common approaches:
– Every adult in the community takes a turn in each role in each rotation: lead cook, assistant cook and cleaner.
– Members volunteer for roles of lead cook, assistant cook and cleaner.
– Expectation that each participant in the meal program will cook every sixth meal or clean/assist every third, based on participation.
– Each lead cook assembles a team to assist and clean.
– Other members volunteer to care for children of cooks, assistants and cleaners.

Sharing Costs

There are many approaches to sharing costs for meals, and a lot will depend on how communities participate and arrange to share the work. Some plans take significantly more work than others. Below is a list of common approaches.
– Every lead cook provides the meal. No money changes hands.
– A set amount is collected per person, per meal, and cooks are reimbursed up to a set budget.
– Cooks set an ingredient budget for their meal. Members know the budget and menu when they sign up and pay per meal.
– Cooks turn in receipts within a set limit. Total is divided between participants at that meal.
In most communities, children are charged a different rate. Some examples are:
– Child rate is half adult rate.
– Child rate applies to children under 13.
– Children under three are free.
– No charge for children. Parents provide a meal once a month as a “thank you.”
In most communities, guests pay the same as members.


Our recipes section is under construction. We appreciate your patience. If you would like to contribute to this section or help us build it, please contact Associate Director Karen Gimnig at karencohous@gmail.com.