January 9, 2013

Dream Dinners - Make Dinner Ahead of Time

Since Baby Sister is on here way, and we live a long way from our family and most of our friends who might otherwise visit (and bring food!), I jumped on the chance to try one of these prepare-ahead-freezer-meal places with a Plum District deal to try Dream Dinners and make 3 meals that should each serve 3 people.

When I arrived, I was warmly greeted and given my own private drawer to stash my purse. I was given an apron and offered some beverages and an appetizer of Canadian Bacon Stuffed French Bread. Then they gave me the recipe cards for the meals I'd already selected beforehand and showed me the setup. Each station was devoted to 2-3 recipes. The recipes were clearly displayed, with color-coded ingredient measurements.

I made my 3 meals in under 30 minutes, and that was even more time than I really needed (mind you this was only special 9-serving deal, and a usual session requires at least 36 servings, but still.). The staff was super friendly - maybe even overly friendly. They really took their time explaining how everything worked, from the color-coded measuring utensils and recipes to the portion sizes and storage freezer. Since it wasn't busy, the associate helping me even did most of it for me (even though I'd kind of wanted to do it, and maybe even could have done it faster).

The real time saver in this process is not having to prep, or cleanup, or wash your measuring utensils between ingredients, or hunt for the right size measuring cup. Plus they have several of the main ingredients pre-packaged - in my case, chicken breasts, shrimp and rice were all in pre-portioned baggies. And... you haven't actually cooked your meal yet, just done all the up-front work.

The price is a little steep. They do have a loyalty program where the more times you come back the more you will save. However, you definitely have to consider the cost (prices may vary by location): A regular session requires you to purchase 36 servings (12 3-serving meals, or 6 6-serving meals), which on average will cost you about $200. I feel like our weekly grocery bill is $100-$120/week, and we shop at a granola/organic grocery store for our family of 2.5. We usually make 4-5 meals that make 4-6 servings each, plus our bill includes veggie sides (the Dream Dinners options are mainly meat-and-starch only) and milk and breakfast items and other snacks for the week.

BUT what you are paying for is convenience. I really have no idea if/how we will be able to cook a meal between work and bedtime with TWO kiddos (starting in February!). And by taking an hour on the weekend once or twice a month to save some time during the week could be a big help (and you can go with your girlfriends, bring your own wine, and get away from anyone referring to you as 'mommy' for a bit). The Fountain Valley location even offers a New Mom deal where for three months before and after your due date they will pre-package the meals for you and waive their normal fee for this!

They also have a freezer with prepackaged meals you can choose from while you are there (many of them on sale). In addition to my 3-meal deal, I picked up a pre-made six-serving white bean chili with cornbread for $17.

A couple other minor cons:

- You use A LOT of baggies. I am a pretty green person, and in the last 12 months we have probably used 1 box each of of gallon-sized and sandwich-sized baggies... and that's it. We use a lot of tupperware and reusable containers, so it felt a little weird to use 4 baggies (three separate baggies inside a bigger baggie) for one meal.

- Beware of the cooking time on your meals. Several on the menu take up to 90 minutes... which may defeat the purpose of eating something sometime between school and bedtime or soccer practice (we only have about a two-hour window at our house). Perhaps better for the work/stay-at-home mom or weekend meal.

I really hate to even mention anything bad about my experience because when they helped me out to the car with the meals (my delicate condition, and all), I found that my car wouldn't start. So while I was stranded the lovely ladies were kind enough to feed me Butternut Squash Ravioli while I waited on AAA. YUM! I hope all my meals are this delicious!

Now... do I try these before Baby Girl arrives, or keep them as the start of my stash? I feel like I need to evaluate if the other meals are as good as the ravioli... and if the cooking part is really easier since all the prep is done. And I think I will at least have to give this one more try so that I can really put a value on the convenience of it. If not by May (when I expect to go back to work), then soon thereafter.

1 comment:

  1. Love the new look!

    I have not been to one of these dinner places - thanks for the review! Not sure if we have one here....

    Before Li was born, I had a couple of freeze-a-thons and made a bunch of frozen meals/cooked meats. They really helped! Just pop out of the freezer and heat up and add veggies/fresh food to make a full meal. Also, the crock pot was my friend for a long time (and still is I guess).

    Freezing is a major staple in our house especially since dear husband has a crazy schedule. Whenever I make a meal that freezes well, I try to make double or triple (on top of lunch for the next day) so that I can put some in the freezer for a night when he is working or when we just dont have time/energy for a fresh meal. Helps us from making unhealthy choices like grabbing something from out.