I joined the Blackboard design studio in December 2017 and quickly learned that this studio was like two-thirds of the offices in America 1, almost everyone eats lunch at their desk. Some of us were spending hours on Sundays prepping meals for the week to save money, others were relying heavily on take out and food delivery to save time. But what if lunch could be cheap and easy?

I’d been thinking about this question long before joining the team at Blackboard. I wondered, what if five people got together to each cook one meal a week? The whole group would reduce the amount of time and money spent on lunch during the week, with the added bonus of connecting daily with each other. With that, the idea of Club Meal Prep was born and my search for willing meal partners began. I proposed my community lunch idea at our next studio meeting.
To really sell the idea I teamed up with another designer and planned to cook the first two meals for the group. The response was better than expected! We had five people sign up and a handful more mention they would be interested in joining in the future. Thrilled to have this opportunity, I began to create activities that would aid in helping us share preferences and goals.

During our second lunch together, I guided the group through the activities. Using swim lanes on the whiteboard, we answered the following questions:

• What are your favorite foods?
• What are your least favorite foods?
• What foods are you allergic to?
• What foods would you like to try?

Through this exercise, we identified what foods to avoid and our shared favorites. There was brief concern about how this would work with both vegetarians and meat eaters in the group but it was quickly resolved by what we’re calling “the deconstructed meal,” which allows for group members to customize their own plates.

I reached out to a few members of our Club Meal Prep to learn about their experience with community lunch. “[When] you’re eating a meal together you are automatically invited into community, family, and friendship so that’s how it felt here [when] you invited me to Club Meal Prep,” Senior Designer Trip Carroll reflects on his first invitation to join the group for lunch. Inviting new studio members during their first week for a free lunch has become our tradition. That first lunch creates a time for longer introductions and demonstrates the value of the community lunch. “It’s like designated time to share and be friends, talk and hang out. ‘Cause if I don’t have that, if I don’t set the time aside, I will just make my food, sit at my desk and get my work done.”

“I think it’s important to take time for yourself and get out of that work head space to revive yourself and refresh yourself,” Senior Designer Kelsey Emerson has enjoyed the break in her daily work. She also shared that it has saved her from monotonous lunches and excess expense. “I don’t spend as much money out on food and I love, love, love to eat out. It’s been really fun not to have even worry about it … I don’t need to spend this money. It has been really nice to only plan for one day as opposed to five days … it’s always something different because if I cook it for myself then I’m eating the same thing for lunch every day of the week and that just gets so boring.”

As the months went on more and more desk seats grew vacant at lunch. Within three months we had 8 studio members participating simultaneously. The daily presence of our group at the kitchen table has impacted more than just the people participating in Club Meal Prep. Often, other studio members join in the table discussions and studio guests often comment on how the midday break is a great idea. Hopefully, visitors take this trend back to their office. This started as an idea for myself and my coworkers, but it would be amazing if preparing meals for friends and colleagues becomes commonplace. Every work environment could benefit from deeper sharing, more authentic relationships, and great food.

1. Wollan, Malia. “Failure to Lunch” The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Company, 25 Feb. 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/failure-to-lunch.html

The daily lunch scene around our kitchen table.

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