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Feb 14, 2007 08:37 AM

How do we feel about Meal Assembly stores?? [moved from Home Cooking]

Has anyone been to one?

They are just coming to my area and i'm curious what people's experiences have been.

Are some franchises better than others? Is it worth it? Is the concept fun? Are the recipes interesting? is the food good and fresh? Are the entree's well priced???

Should this question be in general chowhounding, home cooking or chains???

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  1. I think that for some people who like to eat well but not cook its a great concept. My sister has done it and she says she'll definely go back. She doesn't have to shop for any ingredients or keep a stocked pantry and she doesn't have any mess to clean up. Plus theres never any good intentions in the fridge that rot b/c she doesn't use them If she did'nt do this she would spend a lot more money eating out so it's also a money saver for her and her hubby. Plus it's probably healthier.

    1. If it gets people who would normally just order take-out or pick up KFC for their families into the kitchen to cook "homemade" meals, then I think it's a great idea. Those of us comfortable in the kitchen and who enjoy the act of cooking probably won't ever find a need for such a franchise, but the idea isn't targeted towards us.

      I think if you look at the per person cost for the meals (obviously cheaper the more meals you buy at once) it's not cheaper than shopping for groceries yourself and cooking at home. But, again, it's aimed at people who don't want to go grocery shopping or spend time after work slicing and dicing. They want a dish they can just slip into the oven and have ready by the time a salad is made or something.

      As for freshness, I think one of the highlights is that you make a bunch of multi-serving dishes to store in the freezer throughout the month, so while the ingredients might be fresh when you create the box, it's not as fresh as if you had bought produce and meat at the store for dinner.

      1. I went to one of these with friends who are a working couple with two kids who live in the suburbs - she thought it was cool because all the prep was done.

        It wasn't for me, because I
        1/ like to think up what I am going to eat on the day
        2/ looove the hunt of getting the ingredients
        3/ didn't like how 'normal' the food was
        4/ was surprised at how expensive it was, per meal
        5/ would prefer any number of the great ethnic meals within a 5 minute walk of my house

        What I would love, is the use of an industrial kitchen once in a while, complete with a meat slicer, biiiig stock pots, etc.

        8 Replies
        1. re: orangewasabi

          I'll never end up going to one of these places but I'm interested in point 4. What is the breakdown in terms of cost per meal?

          1. re: orangewasabi

            Now, there's an idea I would support! Much like the rent-a-tractor places where you can rent the big garden and home power tools for a weekend, you could go to a place and spend a couple of hours making big batches of stock, pre-slicing meats, or using industrial-size ovens to make large batches of baked goods!

            I, for one, would love to be able to go in with a hunk of prime rib, thinly slice it, package them for freezing, and then have it all available for shabu shabu nights or fondues. The home food slicers aren't capable of slicing the frozen meat how I want and there's just no way I can afford a professional one!

            1. re: leanneabe

              That would be a great idea. My friends and I are always getting together to make things but no one has a big enough kitchen to accomodate so many people cooking. I've done this idea at my house where we prep everything and cook together but it's such a tight squeeze. We'd do it more often if we could rent a space.

              1. re: leanneabe

                Check with the butcher you buy meat from. A lot of times they will cut it for you at no extra charge - even some grocery stores do this as well.

                1. re: leanneabe

                  I agree with JIR, my butcher would do for me no questions asked. I once asked him to de-bone 20 cornish hens, and he did it.

                2. re: orangewasabi

                  orangewasabi - you took the words right out of my mouth. I don't know if I'd even have mentioned price, but certainly the other four points don't work for me.

                  To your last point, in my county it's difficult to do what you're suggesting regarding sharing a commercial kitchen because doing so has the potential of breaking several rules about food handling (licensing, etc.)

                  However, I'm of the belief that nobody really needs a living room anymore and that the ground floor of any two story home should just be a ginormous kitchen totally decked out with everything a CH needs, along with a great room with a table for eating, and a powder room. What more is really needed? Heck, a true CH wouldn't even need the great room ;-)

                  1. re: Panini Guy

                    Because nothing is cooked and is either frozen or refrigerated, many food handling laws are not applicable.

                    I do see this sort of franchise having a place and unfortunately it is helpful for many younger (i.e. in their 20's and early 30's) people I know. New, young parents who are fascinated with the whole conept of casseroles and cooking at home. Most grew up in a single parent home or with both parents working and their cooking knowlege consists of reading instructions on microwaving times.

                    If it gets families and young people to sit down at a table and converse while having a meal, then let it be. I see several different franchises in the newly built areas of town.

                    I also know of at least one franchise near me that will prepack and sell already assembled from their freezer, either in half portions or single portions. That actually works out well for someone in a temporary position to not be able to cook- living alone and with a small illness or just home from the hospital- and was less expensive than Meals on Wheels.

                3. I've done it. The assembly was fun, fast and efficient. The ingredients seemed to be of reasonable quality. The food tastes a little more bland than I'd like. I'm a competent cook, but am a person with limited time to shop, cook an elaborate meal, and clean-up on weeknights after work, after squeezing in everything else I need/want to do. I like the idea of having a pre-assembled meal for nights I'm too tired to cook. The problem is, you have to plan two days ahead to allow for most of the pre-assembled meals to defrost, which doesn't really solve the problem of, "Oh, I just got home from work and am too tired to cook TONIGHT, let me see what I have that's easy." It's just not flexible enough for me. For the evenings that I discover that I don't "have time" and want something more elaborate than my normal easy standby's like pasta, my preferred method of cheating in the kitchen is to swing by my local upscale grocer on my way home from work and pick up something from the fridge section where they've some a little more of the prep/seasoning, say, pre-marinated chicken or pre-seasoned fish, or even pick-up one of their roasted chickens... Otherwise, you might as well just cook.


                  1. Wish I had thought of it. Or - wish I had the balls to take out a loan & open one in a spot that isnt served yet.