Four people in a cottage for Christmas. How to do food?
November 28, 2016 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Four people going away for Xmas to a beautiful but remote cottage. How do I approach planning, cooking and splitting food bills? I like cooking, lists and being ORGANISED!! but three of us like to cook, so I don't want to trample over everyone else and get exhausted cooking. I also don't want it to be a mess or end up with not enough. Has anyone else here dealt with a similar group holiday meal/food planning situation?

ME -- Noiseless
HUSBAND -- Henry
Friend One -- Camilla, sister to...
Friend Two -- Charles

We're good friends and have known each other for years.

We ALL have allergies/diet restrictions. The most significant are that one of us is gluten intolerant and another is vegetarian.

I've organised the booking, and I've coordinated things like travel and contacting with the property owner so far.

We will be there from the 23rd December and leaving on the 27th, so this will involve Christmas dinner and, obviously, the other meals.

Camilla and Charles do not drive and will be travelling by train for two hours to the nearest convenient station and Henry and I will pick them up. They can't bring a huge amount of food.

The cottage is over half an hour's drive from the nearest supermarket (which will of course be closed early or completely for the holiday period). I'm very open to 'popping out' for supplementary supplies once or twice.

We haven't discussed food yet. I love cooking and planning, but I don't want to trample over everyone else's wishes.

I'm open to us cooking individually for almost every meal, or asking one person to cook dinner each day, or something else. We'll be eating Christmas Dinner together.

tl; dr:
How do I start the conversation about what we eat and who makes what?
How do I approach splitting the cost?
Has anyone else here dealt with a similar group holiday meal/food planning situation?
posted by NoiselessPenguin to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suggest you make a google drive shareable doc for a shopping list. Everyone puts the stuff on it that they need/want to have and prepare for the group (it sounds like you have enough restrictions that people will want to specify their special things.) You buy this stuff, bring it in coolers. Camilla and Charles each pay you back 1/4 of the bill (the bill as it turns out to be once you've bought stuff, including if you pick up additional sundries like hot chocolate and snacks etc.) Folks cook according to the thing they wanted to make. Err on the side of less cooking needed (ie more easy to prepare stuff, or even ready to eat like stuffed grape leaves or meatballs or whatever.) Consider using paper plates. Bring some spices, condiments etc from home. Don't worry about making it precisely even.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:00 AM on November 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I have shared a condo with others while on a ski trip. When it was three of us, we each chose to plan and cook a dinner. The main ingredients were purchased jointly and we each brought the meal specific ingredients, like spices, that we needed. Othere meals we ate out.

Breakfast was easier to plan since people tend to eat the same thing.

I have one friend that I do ski travel with regularly and we have a routine developed over the years, but when others are on the trip, generally there is an email based conversation where first we ask for input, then we make plans.
posted by TORunner at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2016

I've done similar things to this many times - generally where family was cooking for extended groups (~10 people, with some coming and going on random days) with the ability to do grocery trips every 1-2 weeks. From the first part of your question, everyone just like... talked about it no problem, so I'm not sure how to help with the first part other than just bring it up. Generally breakfast was just a spread of options, a variety of snacks were bought, and then various people claimed other meals and on your day you cooked your meal for everyone. One person did all the shopping.

So send an email that contains some options:
"Hey guys, thinking about options for food! There are a few things we could do:
1) I'm happy to take all the cooking responsibility. Every meal will have gluten-free & vegetarian options [or "be gluten-free & vegetarian"].
2) We could split responsibility. I could take X lunches & X dinners and you could take X breakfasts & X dinners.
3) We could just do a few meals together and other than that we can cook separately.
4) For breakfasts we can just bring up a variety of bread/jam/cereal/milk (or whatever!)
5) plus some snacks
I'm happy with any option! Though my first choice would be 1 or 2!

For logistics and cost, if you send me a shopping list [on preview I like the google doc idea] I can do all the grocery shopping on the way up [assuming you're willing to!] and we can split the cost after.

Let me know what you think or if you have a different plan!"
/end email

And take it from there.
posted by brainmouse at 10:04 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

So if the gluten thing is super severe to the degree that everyone needs to agree the house is clean of all gluten, then that's got to be agreed on right up front as well as anything else severe (allergies that will mean you need to use an epi-pen, or whatever). The person whose allergy it is gets to say how it's best managed.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:15 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

You should have a sign up calendar with BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER, and OTHER slots for each day. Or maybe BRUNCH instead of breakfast and lunch, if that's how you guys roll. People who want to cook can pick what meal they want to cook on which day. Fill in the event info with things like kitchen needs (oven?), prep time, if they want assistance or prefer to cook solo, and intended menu/ingredients. The kitchen needs part is important if it's a small space and you have two people working together on a meal so people don't need to be at the exact same spot at the same time.

Then someone (you, sounds like) goes through and compiles everything into a master list--if three meals are going to involve, like, chicken breasts or whatever, it's more efficient to buy a big family pack of chicken breasts than three smaller packs, right? A sign up like this will also prevent you from having 8 brunch plans and 1 dinner and can let folks with allergy needs plan ahead.
posted by phunniemee at 10:37 AM on November 28, 2016

For our family reunions, it goes mostly like this: One person is assigned the main dish, e.g. roast or casserole, and has responsibility. Others do a side dish or dessert. The person doing the main dish fills in additional veggies, etc as desired. Anyone with a special food need is consulted as is polite, but is ultimately responsible for taking care of him/herself. All food bills are put in a hopper and totaled at the end. Expenses are divided per capita.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:40 AM on November 28, 2016

Since you have 4 people/4 nights, assign everyone 1 night to cook, and 1 night to clean. The person that doesn't like to cook can swap their night for a cleaning shift if desired.

For Christmas dinner, everyone will help to both cook and clean but the assigned person is the leader/planner. The person that doesn't do a solo cleanup night will coordinate the departure day cleanup.

I wouldn't plan to cook any meal but dinner. Just take requests for what people want for breakfast, snacking, and the occasional sandwich.
posted by veery at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

We go to a beach house over Memorial Day weekend with a group of friends -- generally, three couples (each with children) and one single person. We just rotate meals -- we have eight meals, so each couple is responsible for two meals, and the single person is responsible for one. We're all responsible for the snacks or beverages we want to bring. We don't count actual amounts.
posted by linettasky at 12:28 PM on November 28, 2016

I think you are in the UK - ignore if wrong!

If so, you could check which (if any) supermarkets deliver to the cottage - my PILs frequently stay in holiday homes and get a supermarket delivery for just after their arrival- they've stayed in some pretty remote places and still got a delivery.

As to the other stuff, I think for Christmas day itself you need to think about how willing you are to compromise - as an adult I don't have the traditional Turkey/Goose but I'd be immensely unhappy if I didnt have a roast dinner of sorts.

For breakfast, I'd be asking if everyone was OK with cereal/croissant /toast.

Other meals I would say should be split as evenly as possible with some sign up /veto options available.
posted by threetwentytwo at 2:30 PM on November 28, 2016

I have done this tons of times with different groups.
A very simple solution was for a holiday with four "couples" (my dad and I were a couple, which we are obviously not).
The principle was that every day two people - mixed from different couples - had responsibility for meal planning and shopping. Those who didn't shop and cook, cleaned. All bills were shared equally at the end. I'm not certain if this would work for you, since a vegetarian diet is much cheaper than an omnivore diet.
For Christmas, the last few years I have celebrated with extended family. Everyone brings food and beverages to my house, where we all stay. I am head of planning, I make sure all needs are met, and everyone gets jobs to do. At the end, my brother and I who are the largest contributors compare bills, and even out among us if it seems unfair. Our experience is that everyone else are very good at giving a fair contribution, maybe because we are very open about it from the outset. Among the two of us, there is rarely a significant difference. But the point is, no one is shy about it.
Since we will be even more people this year, I'm going to send out a plan with a rough outline of chores and costs beforehand. I'll probably do this in close collaboration with my brother - either by mail or by spending an afternoon at their house very soon. Even though you are only four, it may be a good idea? Make a rough plan and budget and send it out for discussion - or even better, have a planning dinner where you go through the outline together, as soon as you can (that's what we did on the trip I went on with my dad).
posted by mumimor at 2:59 PM on November 28, 2016

I'm thinking about this in terms of a scout leader, with a dozen girls and several parent volunteers at a campsite. But the principles are still the same. No one wants to waste money on uneaten food, or deal with complaints from hungry hikers. I am assuming you will have limited but reliable access to supplies.

Good food is what you make in the comfort of your own home, with all your special gadgets within arm's reach. And if things go south, you can always shut the kitchen door and order out.
Vacation is a different animal. What you have in limited supply is time... do you want to spend it with your friends, or with food prep and cleanup? Unless someone in your group is a super chef, or one of your favorite activities is cooking together, then maybe focusing on simple meals is better for the stress levels.

1) Plan ahead, even if you are "winging it." Who is bringing the coffee /tea, spices, condiments? Are any specialty devises required (choppers, graters, blenders, drainers)? What is your alternative plan if the microwave is broken, the grill is toxic, the freezer does not keep foods frozen?
2) Those with special diets are responsible for their own meals. This prevents "saving face" by eating foods that are actually off-diet. Sampling other dinners is fine; bring recipes to prevent mishaps. Will separate preparation bowls and utensils be necessary?
3) Keep breakfast simple and stress-free, for early birds and late sleepers: cereal, bagels, croissants, fruit, milk and juices, plus hot drinks as desired (coffee, hot cocoa). Is a pot of coffee available by 6 a.m., and who cleans out the pot before putting it away?
4) Mid-day meals are usually scheduled around activities. No one wants to leave early for food prep, or miss afternoon fun to wash dishes. Again, are there any meals that can be prepped ahead and eaten as people want them (crock pots, slow cookers, microwave meals)?
5) Evening meals are when people gather together and reminisce about the day and plan tomorrow's activities. This is when one of the group can be the master chef. Or not, as desired.
6) Plan an easy meal for the last meal, with almost no clean up. Assume that packing is almost done and those uneaten groceries need to go somewhere.
7) Consider donating your excess foods rather than throwing them away. And I speak from experience, you don't need to bring home those foods, especially if there is any chance that the cooler will be left in the garage for a week. Yep, been there, done that.
posted by TrishaU at 5:39 PM on November 28, 2016

I do this probably at least once every couple of months for groups, and I second the google docs idea, and the idea of only planning out dinners. I find that people appreciate when someone takes the lead on this kind of thing, so if you feel up to it, they would probably appreciate an email and a link to an edit-able document with suggestions on group dinners! To take off even more of the pressure, you can start a sample list of popular group foods or foods that you know you like to eat, making sure to throw in there some breakfast-y items (like juice, cereal, eggs, coffee, etc.) and some lunch-y items (sandwiches or soups, salad fixings, etc.) and invite people to add in their own! People may prefer to do their own thing for breakfast and lunch, but having staples allows flexibility for spontaneous cooking, which is always nice in a group of people who all like to cook.

In the email broaching the subject, I would make a point to ask about food allergies AND foods they hate/won't eat, just to make sure; whether the group wants to include alcohol in the grocery budget; and what people's approximate budget for food might be (assuming it's not too unreasonably low, you should be able to work around it, and then split the total by 4).

It's probably also a good idea to start a list of items you think will be needed for cooking, which is something I typically do when camping and is probably a good bet for a cabin. Off the cuff, I'd suggest you need a pot, a pan, a spatula, a large spoon, a casserole dish, bowls, plates, silverware, cups, a coffee maker, and some basic spices. Then you can put names next to each item to indicate who can bring it (although you may want to take the lead on this one if your friends are traveling). If anyone has a more specific/extravagent idea, you can add items to match (like a crockpot or a specific needed spice, oil, or sauce).

I personally love group meal-planning. Have fun with it, and hope you enjoy your trip!
posted by likeatoaster at 6:12 PM on November 28, 2016

Vacation properties usually have terrible blunt knives, so bring a good chef's knife from home!
posted by monotreme at 11:14 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I've done this type of meal planning for 2 families sharing lodging for a few days, we made the assumption that we would all cooperate on food - so that's the first thing you need to determine: do they want to cooperate or keep every person for themselves?

If they want to cooperate, offer some suggestions via email, let it go back and forth a few times, then have a meeting (or set up a conference call) for an hour or two so that all 4 of you can get together at the same time and walk through the meals for each day. During the call, you can decide whether that meal will be together or separate, what will be the food/drink and who will do the cooking for that meal.

One person takes notes, types it up and emails it out. Give everyone a few days to look at recipes and write down a shopping list and a list of equipment needed for their meal, then one person collects that info and makes a single shopping list and packing list to cover all of it. Based on you driving vs them flying, it would make more sense for you to shop and transport food and equipment.
posted by CathyG at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2016

Vacation properties usually have terrible blunt knives, so bring a good chef's knife from home!

If you've forgotten to do this you can sharpen a knife on the bottom of a ceramic mug in a pinch.
posted by koolkat at 1:35 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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