Meal assembly franchises
- Robert Lauriston Jun 22, 2006 04:23 PM
Are the frozen casseroles that customers assemble at these places better than what they could buy cheaper at Costco?
If not, what exactly are the customers getting for their money?
I saw a show on one of these franchises that opened in Texas somewhere. The company dictates everything you do right down to the items/brand you use in their recipes (none of your own allowed). They're aiming for a McD's level consistency.
For some people the _perceived_ quality is better than Costco and that's what is all about.
While you may have to use the items/brand they provide you with while you're there, you're still taking home knowledge you can use generically.
I have a friend who isn't much of a cook, but now that she has a family, she doesn't want them to live on fast food and pre-made items. She did a session at a meal assembly place near her (Austin TX), and now she makes almost all of those recipies herself at home. Sure, she used their ingredients there, but now she's been able to tailor the recipes to her taste and products she prefers.
Nothing negative about that.
I have a friend in Fremont who uses one of these and she really likes it. She served us a meal that she made from there when we visited a while back and it was quite tasty.
Let me first say that I don't shop at Costco and have never tried these dinner assembly services, but...
I have been fascinated by their concept and recent boom. I think I've read/heard about 5 of them in the last month...Designer Dinners, Chef Dane, Super Suppers, and more.
Santa Cruz actually has one called Fresh Prep Kitchens that I checked out just for foodie knowledge, not really to try it for myself. Started about 3 yrs. ago. While it likely costs more than Costco prepackaged foods, I think the advantanges are:
1. Control over ingredients. If you don't like mushrooms in your lasagna (even if it's listed in the recipe), you can omit them. You also know that no weird chemicals or preservatives are added.
2. The food is "fresher." You see the fresh ingredients that go into the dishes and you cook it fresh before eating. Whether this results in improved quality/taste, I'm not sure.
3. Fresh Prep Kitchens uses all organic produce from local farms! I think that's pretty cool and not standard.
4. Allows parents (mostly moms use this) who don't really have the time or desire to meal plan and cook to feel better about what they're feeding their families and to do light cooking.
I personally would never use this service since I love to cook and come up w/ my own recipes, but I can understand their popularity and niche. I just can't imagine storing all those ingredients in my freezer! I hope that someone who tries this concept will report back.
I've never gone to one of these places, but there is a local one advertised here in the Boston area that somewhat focuses their pitch on a fun thing for busy moms to do with their little kids. They also pitch the social aspect of it...showing a bunch of women chatting and laughing as they prepare their dishes. They say to contact them about planning a Girls Night Out and a Mom & Daughter day.
I'll confess to being totally hooked on the meal prep concept. I started with Dream Dinners last January and recently switched over to Let's Dish this month. My husband and I are young professionals in the DC area. We both work long hours and found ourselves eating out all the time because after a long day of work we'd get home and look at each other and say "what's for dinner?" What these meal prep places have done for us is taken the guess work out of the way by helping us keep our freezer stocked with healthy meals. The other advantages are that there is great portion control (it is so hard to cook for just two people and I hate leftovers). Also, we find we're eating better food than we normally did - instead of the "old stand-by's" of spaghetti or tacos, we're having things like chili lime marinated chicken with black bean salsa or asian pork roast.
As far as price, again, I think you can't beat it. The concept works once you get through the first month. I haven't bought meat at the grocery store in months. I only go to the store for fresh veggies to compliment our meals, bread, dairy and lunch meat. I never spend more than $50 per week on groceries (if that) and then I spend $160 every month to do a month's worth of meals at the meal prep session.
I like Let's Dish better than Dream Dinners. The meat portions are larger, they use fresh herbs where possible and the menus are more in line with what my husband and I like to eat.
Really though - I can't say enough about how great this concept is. If you're busy and don't have the time or energy to plan your meals out, do the shopping and prep work and then cook and clean on a daily basis - this is the deal for you.
re: Robert Lauriston
When my SIL had a baby, I gave her 8 meals for $135 but she has a small family (2 adults, one toddler and newborn) and they divided the 8 meals into smaller 16 ones at the store and each smaller meal lasted two nights for them. So, it was a month of dinners for $135 for them, though they did add their own salad/veggies on some of the meals. I don't know how good the meals are but they enjoyed them, especially the ease. I think the price has gone up in the past year, though. I don't know how the cost compares to the meals at Costco.
re: DC Gal
This is where my bf and I are at too. We both get home fairly late, are too tired to cook, and a lot of times end up eating out at mediocre places. I haven't tried any of the meal prep places "yet," but it definitely intrigues me. Also, I am T-H-E S-L-O-W-E-S-T cook on the face of the planet, so anything that can help speed me along is great... it doesn't matter how often I cook or what I cook... my mom said I came into this world slow and I'm going out slow!! And I have a terrible time with cooking for two... I'm starting to perfect that a little bit, but when we first moved in together, we were so sick of leftovers! I think I would actually enjoy cooking a lot more because on the nights I really felt like cooking, I could, but on the nights where I was just dead-tired, the pre-made meals could be back-ups. I have reservations about the quality of the meals, but I guess you don't know until you try. I know there's at least one meal-prep place in my area that isn't a chain, and their prices seem comparable to the chains in the area.
My husband and I just did Let's Dish for the first time last Friday. $160 is for 8 meals, which you can split if you have a small family. Some of the entrees don't lend themselves to splitting. Each meal has 6 generous sized portions, so if there are only two adults, it would be reasonable to split. I love to cook, but work a lot of evenings, so this way we can have a good meal even if I am not able to cook.
Just to confirm, most meals at Let's Dish can be split into two. For example, a meal that uses chicken breasts is going to include six good sized chicken breasts, so you split that into two meals with three breasts each. Same for a meal with pork chops or steaks. A meal of a flank steak or a beef roast can't be split, so that will only net you one meal, but with ample leftovers.
I typically leave a session of Let's Dish with about 14 meals for $160. I just don't think I could shop, do the prep work, planning, clean up, etc. for that amount of money.
Tonight we had a Let's Dish pizza that was incredible. It was their margherita pizza of fresh tomatoes, pesto and cheese. I then doctored it up a little by adding a leftover chicken breast we had from our lemon basil grilled chicken form earlier this week (I sliced it paper thin), a little more pesto from my own batch, and some bacon. My husband was drooling over how delicious this pizza was.
My point in relaying that is to show you that Let's Dish doesn't replace cooking entirely if you don't want it to. It doesn't take away your creativity in the kitchen. It just helps you focus. If you're like me and you're busy, it really makes a difference in your life. It helps me to not have to run to the store every day for ingredients. I'm not a good planner when it comes to stuff like that - the meal prep has really made a difference for me.