Common Meals

Halloween costume dinner 2004

One of the biggest social differences between cohousing and traditional neighborhoods is our work program, which involves community dinners about 4-5 times a week. These dinners are quite a time saver for most families since we don't need to plan, shop, cook, or clean up after the meal. We sign up for the meals which we want to eat in advance, and then just show up, eat, and clear our plates. At the end of the month, we get a bill for the share of the meals that we ate, which average between 3-6 dollars per meal. Eating together is where most of the community's social interaction occurs, and is the crucial glue that binds us together.

Dinner cooks are given 4 hours of work credit per month for planning a menu, shopping, and doing about 2 hours of cooking, although some cooks plan on working for 3.

An RSS feed of what we're serving for dinner each night for the next 5 days can be found on our home page.

Example photos

Below is a sampling of various photos of dinners which we ate between April and June of 2008.

Lasagna with green salad

BBQ pulled pork or seitan sandwiches, cole slaw, carrots and a wedge of cake

Chili with TVP, carrots, grapes and tortilla chips

Chocolate volcano cake

pasta salad with green salad

Black bean chili, rice and green salad

Lentil loaf with dal, corn, and green salad

Spaghetti with garlic bread and spinach salad

Black Bean Burritos

Meeting night sub sandwiches with chips and fruit salad

Sandbox cake

Quiche with potatoes and green salad

10th wedding anniversary celebration: Mushroom Gougere and Ribs and green salad

A recent view of our dining billing statistics revealed that early March of 2004 until the end of 2007, we had served 28,695 dinner plates. We average about 30 adult meals per night, and 10 kids for 4-5 times a week. There are very few other cohousing communities who serve dinner that often, and they have membership smaller than ours, which led us to believe that Great Oak serves more dinners per week than any other cohousing community in the United States. Interestingly, 39.9% of them were for the vegetarian option. However, that's a bit inaccurate since some people sign up for the meat option when the meal is vegetarian-only, so perhaps half of the meals we've served have been vegetarian.

Nearly all of our meals are served with a vegetarian option, although there has been some controversy over this. We've ultimately settled on the agreement that you can serve anything you want, as long as your menu clearly describes what it is so that people can have an informed decision when they sign up. Our diners only pay for the meals they sign up for. This provides great freedom for people to choose which meals they want to attend based on merit, schedule, or trips out of town.

Ultimately, it comes back to the social rewards. Common meals are where we get to relax and spend time getting to know our neighbors, share experiences, and get out of the house. They can also be an attractive and easy option for inviting friends over to dinner - even on a weeknight since it means that we'll be served a home-cooked meal without all the work or the messy clean up. And on warm pleasant evenings we can take a walk around the flower-filled grounds with our guests.