Since our cooking party is planned so far in advance it gives plenty of time for each person to shop at their convenience and find the best bargains out there. I usually carry around my assignment list with me for a few weeks during my regular shopping trips to make sure that I don't miss any good deals. Because we don't collect receipts and split the cost evenly, using coupons and shopping sales really pays off. Once when my recipe was stuffed shells, I was able to buy all the pasta for free with coupons and the cream cheese for half price bringing my total to next to nothing. My only cost for the 8 meals was the meat and eggs and cheese. What I can't find on sale I purchase in bulk at Sam's or GSF. I will often call the store to ask for a price quote so that I don't have to shop at both stores.
Since meat is a large portion of the cost, it is necessary in order to find the best prices. Being able to buy chicken breast at $1.87/lb is quite different than picking it up at the last minute for $3.99/lb. Because I often buy our meat at Kroger's on Manager's special it needs to be cooked right away. I asked the butcher about these marked down meats and was told that they need to be cooked within 24 hours of purchase in order to be considered safe. But because I already have my assignment list, I can prepare the meat as I'm fixing dinner that night and put it in the freezer for the cooking party.
Aside from the meat, there is other preparation to be done for cooking night. Each lady will need to bring all the ingredients in her recipe already prepared for the group. This means that if something needs cooked, like potatoes or pasta, then it is done at home. Also, items that need to be chopped or diced should also be done ahead of time. Some like to separate all the prepared meals into individual bags for each person and others bring it in a big pot or bowl to be scooped out. Both ways work well.
There are some other preparation short cuts in this post that you might find helpful.
Tomorrow will feature the final post in the series, which the best part of all- Cooking Night! I appreciate all the email and comments. I would love to hear about any plans you are making for yourselves or further questions you might have.
Hope you are able to come back Saturday for the recipes that have been requested!