Assembling meals outside your kitchen

Making a mess in the kitchen is a fact of life if you eat at home. If cooking isn’t your favorite thing to do, then cleaning up afterward may serve as an even bigger punishment. Kitchen counters cluttered with pots and pans can create stress and make fast food tempting.

I’ve noticed a number of stores popping up in the strip malls in my area that hope to make eating at home easier and faster. These stores have all of the ingredients for a variety of dinners and customers make meals to take home and freeze. Their assembly line concept keeps your kitchen mess free and may save you time.

Dream Dinners is one of these types of stores where you prepare 12 meals in two hours. Let’s Dish is like Dream Dinners but it has an option where you can pay extra for the store to make your dinners and you just pick them up and take them home. Many of these meal assembly stores are locally owned, so check your regional retail listings to learn about them in your area.

While researching the assembly line stores, I also learned about services that will mail you dinners frozen in dry ice. Dine Wise is a meal delivery service that offers weight loss, diabetic, low carb, low sodium, and gluten free mailed meals. And, Chefs Diet is one that promises its clients that they will lose weight eating their food. A Google search for “prepared meals by mail” will yield pages of results of companies offering home delivery.

All of these options require thawing and heating your dinner in the microwave, but this can be done on serving plates. Fewer dishes and less stress about what’s for dinner can make cleaning up afterward a more enjoyable experience. And, if you clean up the kitchen, it’s likely to be uncluttered. I like to cook and don’t mind cleaning up afterward, so these types of dinners aren’t for me. However, I can see how they would be very tempting for a busy family and for people who don’t like to cook.

26 Comments for “Assembling meals outside your kitchen”

  1. posted by   Assembling meals outside your kitchen by on

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  2. posted by Andamom on

    I wrote about ideas for dinner in an April posting on my site (… My goal for that posting was to suggest places that people could go to find interesting options and recipes that offer variety so that people don’t feel restricted in terms of options. I also cover these places where one can go to prepare meals…

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Andamom–Great post! I didn’t know about some of the links you provided!

  4. posted by JSM on

    I love to cook and am an aspiring chef. I find the best way to deal with dinner clean-up is to consistently clean as you go. Once I’m finished prepping, and I put the dish in the oven, that’s when I wash the knives, cutting board and bowls I used to prep. Another great way to avoid massive amounts of dirty dishes is to prep some food ahead of time and store it in ziplock bags (either frozen or in the fridge depending on intended time of use). This way when you cook, you’ll just have to measure out your cut veggies (or take out your trimmed meat) and the only clean up will be the pots and/or pans. Plates and utensils never even touch the bottom of my sink–those go directly in the dishwasher.

  5. posted by Low Carb Diet » Assembling meals outside your kitchen on

    […] Erin Doland wrote an interesting post today on Assembling meals outside your kitchenHere’s a quick excerptDine Wise is a meal delivery service that offers weight loss, diabetic, low carb, low sodium, and gluten free mailed meals. And, Chefs Diet is one that promises its clients that they will lose weight eating their food. … […]

  6. posted by allen on

    I’m all for having a cleaner lifestyle, but “services” like this _scream_ elitism to me. I won’t go into a class-struggle diatribe here, but… Jeeze.

    Outside of the disabled, I would be hard pressed to think of this as anything useful.

  7. posted by Erin Doland on

    @allen — These services appear to cost about the same or less as eating out at a fast food restaurant. According to Dream Dinners’ website, you can get 72 meals (12 dinners with six servings per dinner) for $240, or around $3.33 per meal. I may be mistaken, but I think $3.33 per meal is less than the price of a Happy Meal, and I’m assuming more nutritious. I don’t believe that $3.33 per meal is an elitist price.

  8. posted by Kristine on

    I’ve actually considered this option as well. In the Dallas area, we have something called Super Suppers ( Very similar in that you pay roughly $3-3.50 per serving (MUCH cheaper than eating out and healthier than store-bought frozen dinners). You can go to one of their locations and do the assembly yourself, or you can have them do it for you and just pick it up on your way home. Either way, they’re both the same price I think.

  9. posted by Dale on

    @allen – seriously? Please go into your class-struggle diatribe and make yourself look even more foolish. Your attitude and assumptions are distasteful.

    Places like this can be useful for people who can’t cook (or cook well and want some variety) or even working parents who don’t have or rather spend the time doing other things.

  10. posted by Kelsey on

    I’ve looked into these services only a little bit. Because of my dietary choices/restrictions (I have type 1 diabetes and am pregnant) I prefer to prepare my meals at home.

    Our system is simple: I cook, my husband does the dishes. Typically, I’ll clean up a bit with him and dry the pots and pans. After we eat, clean-up takes 10 minutes, tops. Once you’re in the habit of cleaning up right away, it isn’t such a terrible chore. Then we get to relax and know that our kitchen is clean!

  11. posted by Sarah on

    I go to Dream Dinners here in Massachusetts and it’s great! And I consider myself a decent cook. However, I do live alone and it’s hard to come up with new things that don’t bury me in leftovers. Just had a Dream Dinners last night actually (Morroccan Chicken with Pumpkin).

  12. posted by Nicole on

    One of my favorite parts about eating a meal that I have just cooked at home is the scents and the warmth that fills my kitchen. Not to mention, home-cooking is more than just feeding the stomach, it feeds the soul. So I think this option is not for me. However, I have several friends and family members who would love this.

  13. posted by Tim on

    These dinner to go places are handy but are VERY expensive. Is it really that hard to put pots and pans in the dishwasher as you cook? Plus think of all the food packaging you are throwing away.

  14. posted by Jasi on

    Very cool. I’ve never heard of Dream Dinners before. And though I love to cook, I could see the value of not having to. Dig!

  15. posted by Rosemary on

    I’ve used these services and I love them. I don’t use them all the time, but I find that they are wonderful for getting me over stressful, busy periods in life where it is still important to eat properly.

    I’ve done the maths very carefully, and they work out much cheaper than fast food and frozen dinners and the best thing is that you can customise them to your own requirements. For example, cut the chilli down to your preference or put extra cheese. I’ve taken kids with me when we do it, and they get to handle ingredients and learn new techniques etc.

    The other thing I love is that the menu’s expand my horizons but in a safe way. I was never taught to cook, but I enjoy it and I find that after I’ve tried a meal through Dream Dinners, I can often recreate it myself.

    I’ve used the dinners in the months after having a baby while I focussed on learning to breastfeed, when we were doing an international move and all my kitchen gear had not yet arrived, when we had a particulary intense period where work was stressful and I wanted to make sure that the time I was spending at home was focussed on the kids, not on keeping house.

    So, all in all, these dinners have their place as an option alongside all the other alternatives. Yes, I know cooking might be a bit cheaper and maybe better for me and would teach my kids good lessons….but this is real life. If I can’t cook all the time, I am glad that my family can eat real food that we’ve still had a hand in preparing. More importantly, I’m glad that I have a CHOICE!

  16. posted by D Cootey on

    Great idea. I don’t know if any of these are in Utah, but I’m looking into it tonight. Tuesdays and Thursdays are our most hectic nights and we could use a quick, healthy, meal that doesn’t have a lot of clean-up. Thanks for posting this.

    The Splintered Mind – Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

  17. posted by Tim on

    You can do the same thing in your own kitchen on weekends. My roommates and I did this in college. Cook up a load of food on Saturday and eat on it all week!

  18. posted by Meal Assembly Watch - A community resource for meal assembly store owners on

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  19. posted by endeavor on

    @Tim ~ Sure you can but the point is that it’s a great alternative for some people who don’t have the time for whatever reason to cook a nutritious meal. I love the idea myself. I’ve heard of these places but now I think I will have to give them a try! I like to cook but sometimes if I have to work late or run an errand after work I really do not feel like taking the time to cook so this can be quite helpful.

  20. posted by Ethel on

    These services have their place, but until they get under $2.00 a serving we can’t afford them except in unusual circumstances. We eat for $3.00 per meal or less at our house – and that is for a family of four (two being toddlers). If we are careful, we can even do about 1/2 organic.

    Sessions to these places are a great (uncluttered) gift alternative to coupons to restaurants, though. A coupon to one of these sessions is an ideal gift for new parents, especially if do the prep for the new parents and just bring them the prepared meals.

    We’ve also come up with ideas from our few visits to these kinds of places on how to be more creative with our own meals. Dinner’s Ready! is where I learned that cinnamon and almonds can add a nice twist to chili, for example – and I now have a dry-ingredient only version that can be made ahead and stored in a Ziploc bag, then thrown in a crock-pot with water (and maybe meat) in the morning and forgotten until dinner. These services can also be a great training ground for learning the fine art of cooking ahead and freezing homemade pre-prepped meals.

  21. posted by allen on

    comparing them to fast-food or other restaurants, i agree these are a MUCH better option. However, I can not imagine that for the VAST majority of people this can be a good idea. Cooking is actually pretty darn easy, and cheap, once you get going. It’s like anything in life, all it takes is practice. If you’re concerned about time, use a slow cooker, or cook ahead as someone else suggested. There is nothing wrong with having left overs for a day or two. Last night’s supper is tomorrow’s pick-me-up lunch! Many specialists now believe that a big reason why our children (let alone adults) have the growing obesity problem that they do [here in the USA], is at least partially because they don’t cook/know how/or see anyone around them cooking. They don’t learn how easy/cheap it is to make meal X, so they buy it from the restaurant (which besides being more expensive, is almost always in larger servings, and less nutritious), &c.

    I’ll agree that i had not considered the idea of people using this as a way to spice up an otherwise plain weekly menu. I’m big-enough to admit when there was a point I hadn’t considered: I had been thinking under the assumption of people who would use these services every night.

  22. posted by Andy Potter on

    There are about 1500 of these ‘meal assembly kitchens’ around the country. Here’s a place where you can search by zip code or city and found the ones in your neighborhood:

  23. posted by Colin on

    My wife was asked by a friend to help make up the numbers for a group excursion to one of these places in DC. Don’t know if this is typical, but it just wasn’t that good: far far too salty even when she was cutting the recommended amounts down, and only average food quality.

    I can see where it would be useful if you’re not a confident cook, or you know that you’re pressed for time, but we’ve not bothered with it again.

  24. posted by JB on

    Can anyone speak to the amount of packaging that comes with these assembly dinner services? One concern I have about traditional take-out are the multitudes of plastic containers and silverware that end up going in the trash (our city curb-side recycling won’t accept most them). I try to reuse what I can, but you can only collect so many before some just have to go.

  25. posted by Low Carb Food » Blog Archive » Assembling meals outside your kitchen on

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  26. posted by Leslie on

    I’m up in Canada, and there are several of these places up here as well. One I’ve been to offers you a discount if you bring your own packaging (ie a glass 9×13 pan, etc), and I’ve quite enjoyed the 3 meals I’ve had from there over the past year or so. It’s not something I’d do on a regular (ie daily) basis, but I find it is a nice alternative to more expensive restaurant visits, and it allows you to have several friends over, and someone brings wine, someone brings dessert, and all of us recent university grads can enjoy a nice meal that has limited effort and cleanup involved without breaking the bank!

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