Dinner is Done! Meal Assembly Kitchens
The meal prep/assembly shop concept has been around for a while. But I had personally never experienced it before. Why would I, I thought? Our family understands the value of family dinners and we do all sit down to dine together at least 4 times a week. And I know how to cook and – most of the time – enjoy it. Why would I ever need a meal prep service?
Well, what a wonderful discovery this was… Exploring the meal assembly service all happened by accident when my husband and I, on a beautiful fall day, decided to explore the very picturesque village of La Grange, Il. whose quaint little downtown has been voted “Best of” in 2009. With cause. It's perfectly charming and filled with shops and restaurants. And, it's also home to The Dinner Club, a local meal assembly kitchen which we stumbled upon during our stroll. The Dinner Club was so inviting that I vowed to return to give it a try.
And so I did, just last week, discovering a great, easy and FUN way to get healthy meals on the table. The Dinner Club's specific concept is to offer a meal assembly kitchen for guests to come in and themselves provide the “labor” to assemble the meals. The Dinner Club also offers to assemble meals for their clients for pick up or delivery for an additional fee. There is a monthly menu from which each guest can pick 8 or 12 meals. Typically, 12 meals which serve 6 people each, will cover a family for about a month, or about 3 sit-down family meals a week.
What I loved about my experience at the Dinner Club:
- In the words of the Dinner Club, their services take care of the shopping, the chopping and the mopping. Indeed, there is no meal planning beyond choosing items from the Dinner Club's menu, no list-making (and forgetting items and returning to the store), no prepping and no clean up. Divine.
- Fool-proof and mindless. I say that in a good way. All recipe instructions, ingredients, utensils and tools were laid exactly according to need for each specific recipe. I'm a seasoned cook, but it was entirely relaxing to have the luxury of simply adding, say, the one cup of chopped onions and the two tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs and the half cup of sundried tomatoes to my recipe. And I think that this is a perfect solution for people who say they “can't” cook or for beginner cooks. Even the sides (pasta or rice) are provided and packaged with cooking instructions. In my world these days, mindless = relaxing.
- Enormous time saver. That's a bit of the repeat of the point above, but to break it down further, I prepared 8 meals (which I actually split since each meal serves 6 and there are only three of us with my son away at college. so for me, that makes 16!) in under 80 minutes (and that includes the coffee-bar break with the delicious scones!). That is about 10 minutes per meal (or 5 min in my case) . Plus, let's say another 10 at home to reheat. For a quality, healthy, home-cooked meal. Wow.
- Everything was immaculately clean. Everyone wore aprons and gloves and had their hair tied back or wore a loaner head scarf. Staff members were right behind me, cleaning up for the next guest to use the station.
- The meals tasted great. The ingredients used by the Dinner Club are all of high quality. The recipes have been tested for freezing and for being reheated under their instructions, so all recipes turn out perfectly. And then I got to “customize” the amount of spices and ingredients to suit my family's taste.
- All the nutritional information is provided for each recipe. Plus I know exactly what went into each meal. As opposed to eating out. After reading stories like this one that mentions, for example, the 1450 calorie Olive Garden meal, it's a real case of Dinner Beware.
- Cost less than buying everything myself. At under $4.00 per portion, I would be hard pressed to create the same meals, from scratch myself. Shrimp with Ginger Herb Butter or Smothered Roast Beef for less than $4 per person? Only the serious coupon clipper can get that done. In any case, it's definitely much cheaper than going out or getting take out.
- Guaranteed more time with the family. We are all running around like chicken without heads. How do we fit the time to sit down together for family meals? (and here's a recent study that really brings the point across of WHY you want to sit down with the kids a few times a week). Services such as the Dinner Club are a great way to make it do-able. And, since I now have all these meals packed in the fridge and freezer, I haven't been in panic mode at 4:00pm when I realize that I completely forgot to to plan the evening's meal …
And, this type of service is not only of value for families. Think of bringing meals to someone who is sick or recovering, a family with a new baby or to someone who has just suffered a death. There is no easier, faster, more cost effective way to do it.
There are meal assembly services located throughout the country though many of them (franchises) have closed because of the recession. The Dinner Club of La Grange has remained strong not only because it is an independent business, but because of the outstanding and affordable service that it offers. I would suggest that you check them out The Dinner Club specifically if you are in the Chicago area or if not, some popular names in the business are Dream Dinners and Super Suppers and many more that you can find in your immediate area (though few offer the “assembly” part of the meal offers).
It's an idea that makes complete sense.