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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Product Review: Dream Dinners

Ever have those nights when you just don't know what to cook? When you're tired of the same ol' same old and would rather not put that on your table again? How about the long days when you're in no mood to chop, blend, simmer and stir for an hour before you have something edible?
I first heard about Dream Dinners more than two years ago and really wanted to try it. What they do is solve the dinner dilemma for you; the meal is ready and waiting in your freezer! The Man finally gave in to my begging and agreed to try it for one month, a total of 12 dinners (3 servings each).

Here's how it works:
  1. Browse their monthly menu. You'll probably have a hard time narrowing down your list. Minimum order is 36 servings and you can package them in either 3 or 6 serving sizes.
  2. Schedule your visit and place your order.
  3. Show up for your appointment.
  4. Put on an apron.
  5. Have some fun!
Since it was my first visit, one of the owners walked me through the basics.

Pretty cool set-up, don't you think?

You get an assigned space in their huge freezer to keep your dinners cool while you work. I was Shelf #7. They gave me my order confirmation as a guide, reminding me which dinners I had ordered and how much of each (got two sets of the same thing for those evenings when we have company). Then, I was shown the stations.

Each one has a recipe and ingredients for a specific meal. This one was for a chicken stir fry.

Following the instructions is pretty easy, even if you don't do a lot of cooking (or aren't especially good at it, like me). And all the ingredients and chopped, minced, mixed and ready for you! I loved that part. No cutting onions or attempting to not chop off a fingertip while dicing carrots.

And it looks pretty cool as you're getting things together.

Don't forget all the components! Some meals have separate bags for the marinade, veggies and the meat.

Once you're done putting it together, bag it up at the counter. They have labels for all the dinners you've ordered with cooking instructions printed on them. No searching for the directions when you're trying to feed your family.

Put the bag in your shelf space and move on to the next dinner! I was working by myself but some people worked in pairs. One customer even had two kids helping her out.

Since you make the dinners yourself, you can customize it to your family's preferences. Love garlic? Add as much as you want! Can't stand green peppers but crave the red ones? No problem. Have never tasted a caper and frankly, never want to? Leave them out. (But really, they're not that bad...taste kinda like olives.) Several of the dinners come with sides, like rice or pasta. Or Dream Dinners has some prepared sides ready to take home with you. I picked up mashed potatoes with gorgonzola. Mmmmm....cheesy...

Here are a couple of tips:
  • If you're not sure what you will like, stick to the recipe. Unless you really hate artichoke hearts, trust that their choices are going to work. Next time around, you can change it.
  • Pay attention to the serving size! The 3 serving recipe is on one side of the paper and the 6 serving is on the other. Don't get those mixed up or you'll end up with waaaaay too much chili powder for the amount of chicken you're using.
  • Look at the measuring utensils before using them. Your recipe might say 1 tbsp but it's a half tbsp measure. OR you might be measuring 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice but accidentally read it on the ounces side, thereby doubling the amount unintentionally. And I gotta tell ya...too much lemon juice really changes the flavor and your husband might not be that excited about it. Not that I know, or anything...okay, so maybe I did that but just once!
  • If you make a mess (like dropping a measuring cup in the dijon mustard or splattering the soy sauce) or you make a mistake, flag down one of the ladies in the black aprons. They can bring you a new measuring cup, give advice on fixing a mistake, or help you start over.
  • Bring a large cooler with you to bring all your dinners home. I brought one that was not that big, thinking it would be fine. However, I couldn't fit all my meals inside so I had to bring the rest home in bags.
The twelve dinners took me just about two hours. But I talk a lot and was one of the last ones to finish in my session. And they had freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and some other samples in case you got the munchies. What pregnant woman is going to turn down cookies?

Not quite ready to devote that much of your grocery budget? Ask about an open house. I went to one before scheduling my session. Not only do you get practice by putting together a free dinner but they offer lots of different samples of their other dishes so you get a better idea of what they taste like. Also, you can split the 36 servings with a friend, divide the order between you and still meet the minimum.

Also? If you don't have the time to go in and put together your dinners (or you have a big, pregnant belly that keeps getting in the way whenever you reach for the oregano), they offer a completion service. They'll put together your dinners for you for $25; all you have to do is stop in and pick them up.

Danielle and Jean at the Orem location were super sweet and very helpful. They make you feel more like your cooking with friends than in a business. And for someone as culinary inept as myself, that really helped.

Don't have a Dream Dinners close by? Other similar businesses are My Girlfriend's Kitchen and Dinner Date.


Jan said...

I have always wondered about these. Thanks so much for the information. I am going to go and do this for a friend that recently had brain surgery.

♥miss-mattie♥ said...

Just like my mom said we were wondering about those. So glad you shared it.
Bye bye.♥ ;)

Jo said...

That sounds like fun! I think I am probably too big of a cheapskate, but maybe I will break down one of these days...

Nat said...

Wow! Too bad there isn't anything like that out here in the sticks! There isn't even a fast food joint in the whole county. We have to cook or starve. I might make a trip up there just for this! Is it very expensive?

wcmaper said...

Thanks for reviewing your local meal assembly store. I own a store in another area...another brand.

For those of you who think you can't afford it, you might reconsider the financial facts.

You can find a tip sheet including a cost comparison between grocery stores (ingredient shopping) and eating out (a more realistic comparison given the quality and diversity of the food):

At about $3.50 per serving you get the same quality you would have if you ate out for a fraction of the cost. When you factor in the time savings and minimized trips and random/ unnecessary grocery store purchases it really is a great value.

You can find a directory of stores across the country:

Debi said...

My goodness...what will they think of next??? :)

Amanda said...

been there........didn't love all my dinners...some were really good though.

Jessica G. said...

wcmaper - thanks for the information!

And it might seem expensive when you're adding up on order but really, your are not going to be buying as many groceries and you won't be stopping at a drive-thru because you don't know what to have for dinner.

Kenney Crew said...

Who knew? People are so creative these days. What a cool idea! Thanks for all of the information.

Tausha said...

I get to go on thurday and now I am even more excited. The place I am going used to be a My girlfriends Kitchen, but they went under and was replaced by another one. Can' think of the name, but the food choices all sounded great. I had a great time deciding which ones I wanted to get.
The best part, I don't have to pay for it. Ye-no money from me!
My husbands work does incentives every quarter and this one included us wives. So on thursday I get to go to breakfast, go and make dinners for two weeks and then end with a visit to the day spa.
Thanks for all the info!

Janell said...

I did the "My Girlfriends Kitchen" thing for awhile - and I loved it! I never had to wonder what was for dinner. I'd come home from work, move one from the freezer to the fridge, and move another from the fridge to the freezer. Et voila! Dinner in 30 minutes with no mess and no fuss!

I'll even note that - yup - I'm single. I'd make "6" meals and divide them each into two trays (of three to four servings each). It'd pretty much feed me for a month for the same cost it would otherwise.

The only downside was it meant that I didn't have the budget to actually cook anything for myself at all. I do enjoy cooking when I have time for it.

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