A few summers ago, I volunteered to spend several messy days atop a wobbly ladder repainting the entire interior of a house -- for free. A couple of years later, I volunteered to spend a tiresome afternoon setting up a nursery and what felt like a thousand-piece dresser for this same home -- for free.

Why on earth was I volunteering for all this free labor??? Because both times, my friends who owned the home promised me a free, home cooked meal as payment.

Looking back now, I realize my friends were geniuses.

They gathered a couple of poor college students, devoid of home cooked meals, put us to work, and gave us the best possible payment: free, delicious food. They also saved themselves a couple thousand bucks worth of hired painters. I'm telling you, genius.

So for your next big project, gather friends, siblings, neighbors -- whoever -- and end a day of work with a meal around the table. You'll love them for the free help, and they'll love you for the free grub. Here are some ideas to get started:

1. Your meal doesn't necessarily need to be fancy. It just needs to be something your friends can't easily pick up in the dining hall or nearest fast food joint. Think steak, seafood, fresh vegetables or a favorite cuisine (maybe French, Greek, or Caribbean.)

2. Odds are, you'll probably be working hard that day too. Choose a meal that you can make quickly. Avoid recipes that call for overnight marinades or hours in the oven. Grilling is a great option -- always fast and easy!

3. Think about adding something special. A sweet dessert or a fun drink can add a lot of pizazz to an otherwise mediocre meal. These look particularly yummy: Raspberry S'Mores, Chocolate Bar Fondue, and Frozen Strawberry Daiquiris.

Maybe all this sounds completely crazy, but hey, I fell for it more than once. So good luck! Let me know, did it work for you?