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Dream Dinners: Meal Planning Made Easy

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I’ve mentioned Dream Dinners before in passing, but for the past year making our meals ahead of time has fallen by the wayside. But no more! We decided to commit to meal prep and bought a stand-up freezer for our garage (more expensive than a chest freezer, but knowing us we’d only ever eat from the top layer). And last month, I made my triumphant return to Dream Dinners to stock our freezer with yummy food.

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Some people are great about buying things in bulk and spending a few hours on the weekend prepping their meals for the week. I am not one of those people. So when it comes to dinner most nights of the week, if there’s not something easy to make in the fridge or freezer, we’ll order takeout or default to our favorite “quick” meals (Ramen for me – I know, it’s awful – and cereal for Jason).

Dream Dinners makes it easy for us to grab something and quickly throw together a “fancy” meal in very short period of time – 30 minutes or less, usually, including prep and cooking. Every couple of days I grab our assembled meals out of the freezer and stick them in the fridge to thaw, so we have a constant supply of something that’s ready to cook. And we even have a few “cook from frozen” meals in our arsenal we can bring out if we’re feeling lazier than normal. Regardless of the reason – the less time we’re spending on making dinner, the more time we have to hang out as a family before Evan’s bedtime, and then as a couple afterward.

To fill our freezer, I spend one hour one weekend a month at our local Dream Dinners location. That’s literally all it takes (and an hour is long for me – I can be in and out in 45 minutes sometimes). Here’s a little walkthrough of what my meal assembly is like.

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When I arrive at Dream Dinners, my apron and recipe cards for the month are waiting for me in a little cubby. The recipe cards tell me what I’m making that day (I selected the meals at the end of the previous month’s session), and as I complete a meal’s prep work, I insert the recipe card into the bag. Then when I pull it out of the freezer later, the cooking instructions are right at my fingertips. To the left of the cubbies are the freezers where everyone stores their finished meals. Sometimes there will already be meals in there when I arrive – “fast lane” meals that required a little extra prep so the staff made them in advance, or things that would take up too much space in the prep area. There’s also a bottle of water in there to keep me hydrated while I go to work (and little piece of chocolate as well – a nice treat!).

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The center of the store is divided into prep stations, much like what you’d see behind the counter at Subway. Each station has inset tubs for different recipe ingredients, and things like hamburger buns or chicken breasts are usually separated into three- or six-serving bags so you can quickly grab them. Along the top of the station are things like spices as well as the instructions for assembling the meal – one side of the instructions is for six-serving meals, and one is for three-serving meals (I typically make three-serving meals, which gets us dinner one night and lunch the next day since my portions are smaller than Jason’s).

The prep station counter also has stable quart and gallon containers as well as measuring cups and tools. Using quart and gallon plastic bags placed in the stable container, you begin to mix the ingredients in the prep station according to the instructions. One handy way the process is streamlined is by color-coding all the ingredient measurements on the instructions. So you never have to remember you need a half a cup of panko crumbs; you just need two blue scoops. And the scoop in each bin the prep station has colored tape on the handle to match the instructions, so it’s hard to mess up.

As you work, you’ll fill quart and gallon bags with sauces or marinades or sides or whatever else a meal requires. Then all the parts of pieces go into a gallon bag with your instructions, and then straight to the freezer. Easy peasy.

Here’s a great video with an overview of how you’ll assemble meals on site:

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There are usually 7 or 8 other people making meals at the same time as you, so you just bounce from station to station making the meals you need. I typically order two of each meal I make, since we definitely have favorites and want to have them more than once, and it makes the assembly process go faster when I have fewer stations to hit (sometimes you have to wait when the stations you need are occupied). The staff hovers throughout the session helping when needed, taking away dirty measuring cups and containers to replace them with new ones, restocking ingredients when they get low, and generally keeping an eye on things.

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After assembly is finished, there’s usually something from the next month’s menu prepared and set out to sample. I take a little time to pick out my meals for the next month and schedule my session so I don’t have to worry about it (and planning ahead gets you bonus points in Plate Points, the Dream Dinners reward program).

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I also take time to peruse the selection in the Finishing Touch freezer. Sometimes prepared meals come with sides (or are something like a casserole where no side is necessary), but I’ll often stock up on sides from the freezer. Jason loves their roasted potato medley (a mix of several kinds of potato, cut into chunks and seasoned) and we both enjoy their baby bakers (seasoned fingerling potatoes ready for the oven). We’ve also snagged deserts (everything from pies to cookies to scones) and pre-made meals that were extras from the previous month.

The cost per serving of each meal varies, but we usually end up under $5 per serving, which rivals what we’d pay making it ourselves and is certainly cheaper than eating out. And these are restaurant quality meals; one of our favorites this month is a sicilian turkey burger stuffed with goat cheese on a pretzel bun. I mean, they’re FANCY meals we’re talking about, not spaghetti or plain ol’ burgers. And the more you visit Dream Dinners, the cheaper the meals get thanks to their reward program. You’re required to order a minimum of 36 servings at once, which lasts us about a month between leftovers, eating out, and eating other things in our fridge. If we were more diligent about eating in every weeknight, we could probably go through more.

We also love Dream Dinners because we can customize each meal to our preferences. I like things spicy, so I might add extra red pepper flakes. I often throw in more garlic than is called for (much to Jason’s chagrin sometimes). Mushrooms always get left off during assembly – neither of us like them. You can’t do something like double the number of chicken breasts in your meal (meat is most of what you’re paying for), but most other modifications are fair game.

But cost and convenience are the biggest reason why keep coming back to Dream Dinners. To buy all the different ingredients we’d need to make the same meals ourselves, we’d go broke and only use a fraction of the container for certain spices and things. Add to that the fact that we just would never do it ourselves – have I mentioned we’re lazy – and that hour spent one Saturday morning a month really saves us time and money, in the long run.

I’ve already picked out our meals from next month’s menu, and it has a few favorites and some new things to try. How do these strike you?

Dream Dinners has locations all over the country. If you’re like me and looking for a way to have family meals on hand without a lot of work, I recommend you try them out!

I didn’t receive any compensation from Dream Dinners for this post. I just love them, completely.

One Comment

  • showmeashley says:

    This sounds like right out of our house hold. . Minus I do not think a place like this exists in middle of no where Missouri. My husband throws out my Ramen, and I cry. Not really, but I get really sad lol.

    Ps. If you wanted to join in, I nominated you to answer some questions :-)http://www.showmeashley.com/liebster-award/

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