Finances aside, who wants to hire a personal chef to feed their families every day for the rest of their lives?! Me too! But right now, that ain’t in the cards… or the bank account.
Many aspects of life as a working mom feel stressful and chaotic. But I’m beginning to believe that the “dinner dance” might be one of the most annoying. #FirstWorldProblems
Time-Consuming Process of Preparing Family Dinners
The whole process from start to finish feels like a giant time suck! From setting a menu (just thinking of ideas wares me out sometimes) to grocery shopping followed by meal preparation and clean up. M and I share these responsibilities relatively evenly, so that makes it far easier to swallow. But still, if I examine the amount of family time I dedicate to meal preparation activities, it kind of drives me crazy.
I’ve been working on a few strategies to settle the score with being head chef in our house. I know my very helpful sous chefs would love if we all spent a little less time in the kitchen too.
First, I started being more intentional about planning menus. I’ve been compiling recipes from magazines and on Pinterest for years. While I refer back to them often, I’ve been more intentional lately to create (and save!) full-fledged weekly meal plans including ingredients (effectively my grocery list after I cross of what we already have), the steps I can prepare in advance, and those most effectively completed just prior to eating the meal. While it’s been a bit more of a hassle now, I know it will save me boatloads of time going forward.
Hint, hint: I made one available to email subscribers. So if you want a peek at our week-long dinner menu to set the table for your family, sign up for the emails and the menu plan is yours. You can sign up in the sidebar or at the end of the post.
Meal-Prep Assistance Services
I also have researched some of the rapidly-growing meal preparation assistance companies such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated and Dream Dinners. Many offer online subscriptions services through which ingredients are received in the mail for fresh daily preparation. I’m sure you’re in the loop about those.
Dream Dinners varies a bit in that it runs physical locations that customers visit to compile recipes themselves instead of via mail. Also, all recipes are designed with the ability to be frozen and then prepared later, not just as meals intended for real-time consumption.
After doing a bit of research on my options, I chose Dream Dinners because I thought it better suited my family’s needs. (Note: This is not a sponsored post, and I have no relationship with any of these companies other than being a normal, everyday customer.)
Why I Chose Dream Dinners
Many of the mail delivery options require recurring subscriptions. They can be passed each week, but I didn’t want to have to remember to do that if we didn’t want the food. Also, despite our best intentions, our plans often change last minute at least one or two nights per week. I feared these subscription plans would result in too much wasted food. With dinners in the freezer up until 24 hours or so before we eat them, I anticipated fewer issues with actually eating what we planned.
If you’d like some more details on Blue Apron, Janssen wrote a great post about her experience with the subscription service that confirmed some of my expectations about why I didn’t see it suiting our family.
I reviewed the menus and noted many included lots of gourmet or higher end options that didn’t really fit our family’s tastes and preferences. The menu items at Dream Dinners are flavorful but seemed a bit more kid-friendly, even though my kids have slightly more adventurous palettes than macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets.
Further, Dream Dinners allows me to choose each and every meal I want to purchase. The mail order options I researched didn’t offer options to pick and choose exactly which menu I wanted on my table. While I think the mail order options seem geared toward adults or families with older children, Dream Dinners feels much more targeted toward families, especially those with smaller children.
With respect to cost, Dream Dinners appears to cost slightly less per serving. In my experience, I’ve paid about $4.50 – $6.00 per serving of food. The mail options I researched priced out closer to $8.00 – $10.00 per serving (though Dream Dinners doesn’t include any sides – those can be purchased for an extra charge). I anticipate the cost of physical locations offsets the cost of shipping between the two options and guess the cost difference probably results from the more gourmet nature of the mail order menu items.
I really liked Dream Dinners and have signed up to do it again. Some of the meals were excellent and others were good but not our favorites. At the very least, we did enjoy the variety of the items as a means to mix up the standard fare in our family menus. And all the meals were good enough to trust that we wanted to return.
Sidenote: Scroll through the photos below. I have some additional commentary and details on the process and how to make it better to suit your needs.
What I Didn’t Like
I found two things I didn’t love about the experience. First, I generally shop for produce and meat at Whole Foods. I buy organic and grass-fed (and the like) products whenever possible. It’s not entirely clear which of the produce items are organic or meat items grass-fed and free of hormones and antibiotics. I just didn’t know how “clean” the meat and produce components of meals were. Second, the preparation process requires loads of plastic ziptop bags. I didn’t totally love this but figure it probably offsets some of the packaging on products I’d normally buy at the grocery store.
Visiting a Location / Hiring Task Rabbit
Unlike the subscription delivery services, one must visit a store and compile the components of each meal themselves. Many items are pre-chopped and diced and ready to serve. But it still requires being near a physical store and spending an hour or two investing in family dinners for the next several weeks. The two hour commitment results in about 6-8 meals for your family and meals can be prepared in either 3 or 6 servings.
I have a very flexible job and have typically stopped in early on a Friday morning to do this. They do have many evening and weekend sessions as well for those not able to squeeze it in between work responsibilities during business hours.
For those not interested in compiling the components of each meal, they do offer a service to prepare the bags for you so you only have to pick them up. If you wanted, you could use Task Rabbit or a similar delivery or messenger service to pick up the bags from Dream Dinners. Given the lower cost of Dream Dinners compared to a subscription service, I suspect the Task Rabbit and preparation fees might still result in a lower total cost depending on where you live. Something to think about…
In the end, nothing is perfect yet the pros of Dream Dinners outweighed the cons. It’s not a one-stop shop for perfectly perfect family dinners seven days a week, but it’s generally a big and valuable step in that direction.
Have you tried Dream Dinners? Have you tried the subscription services? What did you think?
Free Week-Long Meal Plan
Whether or not Dream Dinners or another subscription service is on your agenda, be sure to check out the CMO MEMOS newsletter. New subscribers receive a FREE week-long meal plan which includes a grocery list, weekend advance preparation steps, and meal time preparation steps. I’ve made every meal for my family at least once, so consider them Mom-tested, Kid-Approved. Sign up below!
As you prepare the meals, each bag is placed in a fridge with a shelf specified for your bags. An employee checks each bag after you prepare it (while you’re working on the next one) to ensure the bag is complete and ready for cooking. They also gave each of us a little bottle of water, a simple but nice touch.
The meals are prepared in bags, like those above. I brought these home and put them all in my freezer. The white sheet includes cooking instructions and time required to prepare the food. Most meals can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.
As usual, T helped me prepare a couple of the meals. Most menu items don’t include side dishes. The meal below is a barbeque chicken dish. I added peppers and sauteed some asparagus to add to the meal. It’s simple but effective.
They offer prepared side dishes and make recommendations that accompany each main dish well. They can be purchased for an extra cost. I have opted not to try them to date.
We really liked this lightly breaded chicken with a pasta and cream sauce. We don’t eat a lot of pasta, so this was a bit out of our typical wheelhouse. But everyone liked it, and we’ll order it again when it’s back on their monthly menu.