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Meal Assembly
September 6, 2006 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Meal Assembly... a new trend in figuring out what's for dinner. You go to a professional kitchen and assemble any number of meals, then bring them home and freeze them. Like a salad bar, but more diverse. They provide all the ingredients and the basic recipes, and cut out the shopping, the leftover ingredients ... (and maybe the creativity?). The upside is low cost (as low as $3 a portion), and better portion control. Coming soon to a suburb near you.
posted by crunchland (128 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dinner Done | Dinner My Way | Dishing Up Dinner | Dream Dinners | Let's Dish | Let's Eat | Super Suppers | Thyme Out ... this list is weighted towards the greater DC area, but there are surely outlets in your neck of the woods.
posted by crunchland at 9:02 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


A couple of these shops opened in my area a few months ago. I was wondering what they were all about. I thought they were cooking classes, but now I know better. Pretty neat idea.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2006


I know quite a few families who do this--mostly families where both parents work, or where there's a new enough baby that cooking every night is difficult, or where older kids' activities make it hard to carve out enough time to cook every night. It's a pretty big trend in the Bay Area, although maybe not in San Francisco proper.
posted by padraigin at 9:12 AM on September 6, 2006


I laughed when Dream Dinners moved in my retail/business park. Who would pay for this? If the endless stream of soccer moms and SUV's are any indication, there is a big market for this.
posted by vaportrail at 9:13 AM on September 6, 2006


MSNBC: When ‘Homemade’ Doesn’t Mean Made at Home -- "New trend in takeout caters to Americans too busy to cook."

New York Times: Meals That Moms Can Almost Call Their Own.
posted by ericb at 9:13 AM on September 6, 2006


I could see maybe doing this. What to have for dinner is a constant (seriously, daily) question between me & the missus. We usually don't plan it out until it's too late, and then we end up picking up something quick & unhealthy.
posted by jonson at 9:15 AM on September 6, 2006


there is a big market for this.

Early revenues indicate there is indeed a market for these type of retail outlets.

"...Dream Dinners is one of 255 different companies projected to make $270 million this year." [MSNBC]

"The centers are opening at a rate of about 40 a month, mostly in strip malls and office parks in the nation's suburbs and smaller cities, and are projected to earn $270 million this year, according to the Easy Meal Prep Association, the industry's trade group." [New York Times]
posted by ericb at 9:16 AM on September 6, 2006


Easy Meal Prep Association website.
posted by ericb at 9:17 AM on September 6, 2006


I get that the ingredients are there for you, so it saves a trip to the grocery - yet it seems you could do the same thing at home and freeze those too...convenience is really shaping our society, hmmm?
posted by agregoli at 9:17 AM on September 6, 2006


My daughter in Baltimore has been going to Let's Dish for a while. It's convenient, and the price is good considering the quality of the ingredients. Plus you can tailor the dishes to your family's taste (more garlic? less garlic?) and divide a dinner for six into two dinners for three. The first time was a big social event, but now it's come, make the dinners, and leave: quick and easy.
posted by LeisureGuy at 9:18 AM on September 6, 2006


What to have for dinner is a constant (seriously, daily) question between me & the missus. We usually don't plan it out until it's too late, and then we end up picking up something quick & unhealthy.

Yes, yes, yes.
posted by everichon at 9:19 AM on September 6, 2006


I think one of these places is opening on my street. I thought it was cooking classes, but this sounds more like it.
posted by GuyZero at 9:20 AM on September 6, 2006


As someone who loves to cook, I think this is a great idea. One of the hardest parts of cooking, IMO, is assembling all of the ingredients, especially if they are hard to find. A place where all of that stuff is already there, and you are free to use all of it, is an awesome idea.

Just like your own kitchen stadium.
posted by triolus at 9:30 AM on September 6, 2006


I've done this a few times. It's surprisingly enjoyable to do the assembly, and then I have some easy-to-prepare food in the freezer. Some of the food is delish, some is just eh.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:38 AM on September 6, 2006


My gut instinct is that the industrialization of the home meal is yet another dehumanizing trend of the modern age. But dang, cooking a good meal every night, let alone every 6 hours if you remember breakfast and lunch, is a major health obstacle. Honest to goodness, there are some kids in poverty who don't know how to eat with silverware because their parents are too busy to cook. If, indeed, these meals get down to $3 per serving, then we're approaching fast food affordability.

Of course, I fully expect the whole idea to be ruined by yuppies and megabreeders, seeing as the trend has already switched from socialization to glorified take-out. Who wants to socialize with those folks anyway?

Maybe the natural foods stores will pick up on the trend. That might solve the suburban vs. urban parking problem. New Seasons' Hot Woks are pretty great.
posted by Skwirl at 9:52 AM on September 6, 2006


What a coincidence. I was going to check out Dinnerworks in Vancouver next week.

Agregoli, if you come up with a method to freeze cilantro, celery, or any number of other perishable ingredients that I'm always throwing away, make sure you patent it.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:52 AM on September 6, 2006


There are a ton of these opening all around Greater Boston.

Kinda puts a dent in trying to start a personal chef business, as I've been working on for the last year or so.
posted by briank at 9:53 AM on September 6, 2006


Sysco???

*hurls*

I had enough of Sysco in college thank you very much.
posted by narcolepticdoc at 9:55 AM on September 6, 2006


As a single guy, one possible advantage of this type of thing is that it could save me money on ingredients.

I'm always using *part* of something, and then the rest goes bad so I have to throw it away or else I have to buy a tiny amount at a vast markup. $1 for 1lb, or $2 for a few ounces! Yay!

...and my freezer space is microscopic, which rules out a lot of thrifty possibilities. Plus the last time I froze roasted red peppers (because I only ate half a pepper) I can't say I was pleased with the outcome. Ick.
posted by aramaic at 9:57 AM on September 6, 2006


I totally don't get this. Even cooking for one person, I manage to shop, cook and freeze a weeks worth of meals in a few hours a week. I don't have wastage. Nor am I *that* organized. And I do it for a lot less than $2 a dinner, unless I'm seriously splurging.

Are people just unwilling to learn to plan, shop and cook?
posted by QIbHom at 10:01 AM on September 6, 2006


Are people just unwilling to learn to plan, shop and cook?

Yes. Why do it yourself when someone else will do it for you?
posted by geeky at 10:05 AM on September 6, 2006


Agregoli, if you come up with a method to freeze cilantro

You can freeze cilantro, no problem. Just chop it up and freeze it. In fact, you can buy cilantro frozen.
posted by dobbs at 10:11 AM on September 6, 2006


Find a Stouffers factory outlet. You can get pre-made meals for a buck fourty. ($1.40). Mmmmm, microliscious!
posted by blue_beetle at 10:12 AM on September 6, 2006


Link shoulda been here
posted by dobbs at 10:12 AM on September 6, 2006


Dobbs, that frozen cilantro idoesn't work for when leaf (as opposed to chopped) cilantro is desired, which, for me, is always.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:17 AM on September 6, 2006


Dobbs beat me to it.

And I would suggest buying less, if you're always throwing the excess away. Or simply being more realistic about what you're going to make.
posted by agregoli at 10:17 AM on September 6, 2006


I'm always using *part* of something, and then the rest goes bad so I have to throw it away or else I have to buy a tiny amount at a vast markup. $1 for 1lb, or $2 for a few ounces! Yay!

i totally agree with this. however, i think if i actually went to one of the "convenience dinner" places i'd feel obscurely like a traitor.

i think they're best for busy families of all sorts (with no food allergies, i'd guess) who want to cook but just don't have time to do all of the prepwork.
posted by sdn at 10:20 AM on September 6, 2006


Well? I mean, the answer obviously isn't a method to freeze your fresh stuff it's to actually USE your fresh stuff. And no one can change your habits but you.

I think this business venture is a good one for select families but is probably a bad deal for society overall, especially in light of the "do it for me and I'll pick it up" option. I'm afraid that people are losing their connection to the very food that sustains them, and this is another marker of that. I'm not claiming to be a bastion of fresh and well-prepared food every single day, but my health has definitely improved since my husband and I have made a concerted effort to cook using fresh, base ingredients every day (now the trick is the every day part!).
posted by agregoli at 10:20 AM on September 6, 2006


(That might or might not have made sense. I apologize, I have a head cold blocking my brain up at the moment.)
posted by agregoli at 10:20 AM on September 6, 2006


We have quite a few of these places in the suburbs near me. Apparently they're pretty popular.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:21 AM on September 6, 2006


This is the most ingenius thing I've seen in years. I'm not unwilling to plan, shop, cook, etc., but since about May I have either been working long hours or planning a wedding, most days both - any time I have an hour to spare these days, the last thing I want to do is either grocery shop or plan/cook a menu.
posted by pdb at 10:21 AM on September 6, 2006


"The concept arose in Seattle in 2002" - ah, just as we can blame Seattle for Starbucks, we can now blame it for these meal places.

Cooking doesn't take us too long. What does take too long is finding the motivation to get away from the damned computer.

I think that the pre-packaged meal idea would be fantastic for the single guy (or DINK household) that wants to bring the meals into work for lunch. I'd be all over that. I'm sick of going out to eat for lunch. I was bringing my lunch (sandwich, chips, drink, apple) and I'd find that after eating it, I was still hungry and wound up going out for Lunch #2. (Yes, I'm a gluttenous pig.) Leftovers aren't really an option because if there are any, it's just enough for 1 person and the girlfriend swipes them and eats them at work.
I'd think that something like this for a lunch place would catch on like wildfire in the Silicon Valley. If there are such places down here already, I remain unaware of them. padraigin states that it's a pretty big trend in the Bay Area, but.. uh.. we've never heard of it. :)
posted by drstein at 10:28 AM on September 6, 2006


Hmm. None in my area yet. But since we just got a Whole Foods a couple years ago and the Trader Joes is still under construction, I assume we'll probably get one of these around 2015.
posted by octothorpe at 10:36 AM on September 6, 2006


Sysco???
*hurls*
I had enough of Sysco in college thank you very much.


But the Gitmo detainees can't get enough!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:37 AM on September 6, 2006


Are people just unwilling to learn to plan, shop and cook?

Um... no. I'm perfectly good at planning, shopping, and cooking. And one way I put dinner on the table is to occasionally use one of these places. It's not a matter of incompetence.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:39 AM on September 6, 2006


drstein, there's a franchise of Deelish! in Menlo Park that's always hopping, a Dream Dinners in San Jose that some friends of ours swear by, and a few other places in the south bay and up the peninsula.

(Also, I am heavily wired into the soccer mom/playground/preschool underground, so what's trendy to me may be esoteric to you)
posted by padraigin at 10:40 AM on September 6, 2006


MSNBC: When ‘Homemade’ Doesn’t Mean Made at Home -- "New trend in takeout caters to Americans too busy to cook."


If you knew what I looked like, you could see me in the background of that video on MSNBC. I happened to be there when they were filming, I refused to be a part of the segment though so you basically see me from a distance.

I like Super Suppers, they take quite a bit of drudgery out of cooking and meal planning, and they also spur my creativity when I do plan my monthly menus. The recipes have always tasted good and it's nice to have them in the freezer to reach for when I haven't felt like cooking.

Octothorpe-we have 3 of these here in town but NO Whole Foods or Trader Joes, I feel cheated.
posted by hollygoheavy at 10:42 AM on September 6, 2006


Consume! Consume! Consume!
posted by ninjew at 10:48 AM on September 6, 2006


I'm not surprised at this. Given that the current US economy insists on having two incomes in a household, there's only so many hours a day to do other things -- and with commuting distances what they are, you get home at 6PM and have to get everything ready for another early day tommorow.

So, they're making a classic money-time tradeoff. You can save money by do all the prep work yourself, but it'll take you a few hours. How much is your time worth to you? They are betting that it's worth more than they are charging.

I can see why this succeeds, where grocery delivery really hasn't. Cost/time tradeoff isn't enough. You don't save that much time not shopping (you have to put the order together) and you pay more, and you lose certain choices -- and you still have all the cooking work to do. IOW, the deal isn't very sweet.

Here, they might be saving you six hours a week. How much is that worth to you? To lots of people I know, six extra hours a week is a gift beyond price.
posted by eriko at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2006


Well? I mean, the answer obviously isn't a method to freeze your fresh stuff it's to actually USE your fresh stuff.

The answer then is obviously to never use ingredients that cannot reasonably be used completely.

Or, wait. No. That isn't a solution.

I think very highly of you, agregoli, but between this and the cracks about Steve Irwin I have to wonder if you're having a bad week or are off your meds or something.

I am a single guy who likes to cook and likes a wide variety of ingredients. I throw a lot of food away because I cannot use it all before it goes off and it cannot be readily stored long-term while maintaining the qualities I desire from fresh food.

The answer, obviously, is to not be so judgmental about how other people buy food.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2006


I have to say, even though there are many many days when I get home and think, "augh, I don't want to cook anything, blah", this whole meal assembly thing -- even just the phrase -- is pretty bizarre to me.

I guess I'm old.
posted by blacklite at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2006


Total fucking sham.

The target audience for these places, it seems, is where people who can already afford decent quality equipment and ingredients live. If these companies were providing their services to poorer neighborhoods in urban areas, where access to good kitchen equipment and ingredients is low, that would be one thing. But when you get down to it, all they're really doing is the prep/mis-en-place and cleanup. You know, the dirty stuff, which from a labor standpoint really isn't that high. They're playing on people's fear of touching food.

And it's Sysco. Ugh. "Fresh" is a relative term, when you don't know how far your ingredients have traveled, or how much GMO crap is in it.

Meanwhile, Fresh Direct (an NYC-based online grocery service) has introduced recipe-driven shopping, based on really good cookbooks. THAT seems like a great idea to me.
posted by mkultra at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2006


I'm afraid that people are losing their connection to the very food that sustains them, and this is another marker of that.

Amen, sister.

Slow Food
posted by mkultra at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2006


The answer then is obviously to never use ingredients that cannot reasonably be used completely.

Huh? I find it very easy to buy the right amount of fresh veggies, etc. every week - we rarely throw anything out. It takes practice and planning but it's quite attainable.

I think very highly of you, agregoli, but between this and the cracks about Steve Irwin I have to wonder if you're having a bad week or are off your meds or something.

I guess you missed the post I just posted where I have a head cold? Regardless, my ire about the common sentiments about Steve Irwin has nothing to do with how lousy I feel.

I am a single guy who likes to cook and likes a wide variety of ingredients. I throw a lot of food away because I cannot use it all before it goes off and it cannot be readily stored long-term while maintaining the qualities I desire from fresh food.

I can't possibly know without an in-depth look at what you cook and what you buy to know why you throw so much away - I'm guessing that for some reason, buying less and more frequently isn't an option.

The answer, obviously, is to not be so judgmental about how other people buy food.

I think I'm well within my rights to feel judgmental about people who throw away a lot of food needlessly - I dislike waste. Whether you throw things away needlessly is not for me to tell, but when I see I'm wasting something every week, I make changes to eliminate that waste.
posted by agregoli at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2006


My wife and I tried the Dream Dinners a few months ago and felt it was definitely medicore. The ingredients were all pre-made, highly processed, often frozen, and the "cooking" consisted of taking one cup of this, one cup of that, a teaspoon of this other stuff, put in a bag and freeze, then reheat in an oven after allowing to thaw in the fridge for 24 hours. The food was better than a traditional frozen dinner by far, but also fell far short of what a reasonably able cook could accomplish at home. Fairly convenient except for the fact that you have to thaw the meals ahead of time and still have to have side dishes ready as the meals really only consist of an entree and possibly some rice. Where this concept really shines is when you know ahead of time that you will be too busy to really cook, as when my wife's grandmother has a house full of visitors for a week during the holidays. We don't see doing it again for routine meals, however.
posted by TedW at 11:04 AM on September 6, 2006


all they're really doing is the prep/mis-en-place and cleanup. You know, the dirty stuff, which from a labor standpoint really isn't that high

If you eat frozen burritos from paper plates, maybe. Prepping my mise and doing the dishes, for me, sometimes takes longer than cooking and eating.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2006


mkultra, thanks for the link, it looks great! I'm off to explore.
posted by agregoli at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2006


Of course, I fully expect the whole idea to be ruined by yuppies and megabreeders, seeing as the trend has already switched from socialization to glorified take-out. Who wants to socialize with those folks anyway?
posted by Skwirl at 9:52 AM PST


You are, like, SO not invited to our next soiree.
"Megabreeders"? WTF?
posted by hal9k at 11:07 AM on September 6, 2006


While visiting friends in Chicago last weekend I was impressed with the Eatzi's franchise which offers an amazing array of prepared foods. Here in Boston I grab a few flash-frozen prepared meals from Well, Well, Well to have for those days when I have no interest in cooking, heading out for a meal or ordering in. The meals are far more healthy than many supermarket frozen meals.

This brings to mind the French grocery chain Picard, which sells high-quality prepared frozen foods (and enjoyed by David Sedaris).

"Paris Journal; Foie Gras in the Freezer? Just Don't Tell Anyone"
[requires New York Times Select subscription]

posted by ericb at 11:09 AM on September 6, 2006


And it's Sysco. Ugh. "Fresh" is a relative term, when you don't know how far your ingredients have traveled, or how much GMO crap is in it.

Yeah, that article lost me when it started talking about the Sysco chicken breast. That's when I realized that these places embody everything I hate about American attitudes toward food. I mean, sure, you save time by not thinking about where the ingredients come from or how they were produced, but what are you saving all that time for? Time spent cooking good food is time spent taking care of yourself (and whoever else you're cooking for). Are people really happier when they rush through their lives, just trying to save a little more time?
posted by 912 Greens at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2006


I buy groceries three or four times a week, agregoli. Doesn't change the fact that I can't buy fresh green beans anywhere near me that don't come pre-bagged, meaning that I can either eat them every day for a week or throw some away or freeze them -- which obviates the whole point of buying them fresh. Impossible to use cilantro before it goes off. It's actually cheaper to buy a whole head of celery and toss half of it than to buy individual sticks. I can buy large, sweet onions singly but have to buy smeller, sharper onions five pounds at a time. And so on. And so on.

You are being unreasonably judgmental, I think.

when I see I'm wasting something every week, I make changes to eliminate that waste.

Well, now I can't tell whether you support the idea of assembly meal companies or not. Or is it that you want people to make changes to eliminate waste only on your terms?

Look, I am a card-carrying Slow Foodie. But I am also a single guy who doesn't drive. There are fuckin' limits.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:13 AM on September 6, 2006


Right on, 912 Greens. And the added benefit of cooking with the basics is possibly adding more time to your very life - we all know processed = bad compared to fresh.

I don't see eating as a chore to be completed but rather the perfect time to slow down and enjoy the flavors, textures, etc. of life.
posted by agregoli at 11:14 AM on September 6, 2006


This is really funny. We have a class of people in this country who do nothing that makes you feel human-- they don't mow their own lawns, clean their own houses or even prep their own foods. I guess they provide synergy and sell each other crap.

It'll be fun to watch the blood running from the guillotines when the people who are actually working realize this.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:14 AM on September 6, 2006



You are being unreasonably judgmental, I think.

Great!

I'm sorry you can't seem to avoid wasting food - perhaps your menu choices could be adjusted to accomadate that extra, perhaps not. It's not my place to adjust your diet, etc. I'm not telling you what to do in any of my posts. But I do think that regularly wasting food is a shame, and I try to avoid it in my own meal prep and cringe at it when I see it. I'm sure you have your own bugaboos you're judgmental about. I don't see anything wrong with disliking waste - except that there is a lot of it in our society to dislike.

Well, now I can't tell whether you support the idea of assembly meal companies or not. Or is it that you want people to make changes to eliminate waste only on your terms?

I would like people to make changes to eliminate waste. If their changes to eliminate waste include using pre-made, processed, not-so-great for you foods, that's their choice. I never told anyone what they should or shouldn't do in this thread. But I do think it's a shame and a step in the wrong direction when people turn to what's easy instead of making healthier choices for their bodies. So, as I already stated, I do not like this idea. I'm sure it "works" for some people, but I don't think it's a good trend.

There's also a great argument to be made that the food waste is far greater in a processed meal than in one you prepare yourself, but I'm not even going to go into that here.

Look, I am a card-carrying Slow Foodie. But I am also a single guy who doesn't drive. There are fuckin' limits.

Why are you so upset about me saying I dislike food waste?
posted by agregoli at 11:21 AM on September 6, 2006


There's also a great argument to be made that the food waste is far greater in a processed meal than in one you prepare yourself, but I'm not even going to go into that here.

Because of economies of scale, I don't think that a great srgument can be made. I don't think even a weak argument can be made.

Why are you so upset about me saying I dislike food waste?

I am neither upset nor do I support food wastage. Two more Sinutab and a nap might be a good idea.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:32 AM on September 6, 2006


I can't believe you are incapable of carrying on a discussion without discrediting me because I don't feel well.

Sorry, but that's it for me. If you can't give me even basic respect for discussion, you're not worth it.

Have a great day.
posted by agregoli at 11:35 AM on September 6, 2006


My ironymeter just hit the red and exploded.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2006


Wow, this is fascinating (aside from the s-o-l and agregoli trainwreck). What an odd trend.

Without the presence of Sysco I'd agree that it seemed like a fine idea-- but if the ingredients are all uber-processed it seems like you might as well buy a bunch of hungry man dinners and call it good.

Certainly food prep can be a pain in the ass, especially after you've worked a full day and just want to sit down. But spending an hour to an hour and a half getting everything ready at some suburban strip mall is time that you could just as easily spend at home with your kids on a weekend, using local & fresh ingredients.

Not to toot my own horn, but my husband and I almost always prepare extras of whatever we make & freeze them. I recently used the last of a marinara I made last August in a lasagna. It was delicious, and easy.

And given that there are always some veggies left over from preparations, why not investigate some neato ways to use the excess? Cilantro pesto? Pickled onions? Celery...well OK I've lost it there. But really, why not just eat it raw? It lasts forever. Point being, with the internets these days, and the incredible proliferation of foodie websites, I find it hard to believe that waste is really what drives people to use these services.
posted by miss tea at 11:48 AM on September 6, 2006


One of these popped up in my town a few months ago, along with a big article in the paper.
Shortly after that, I watched a FoodTV show on a pair of ladies that started their own franchise.

And you know, I still don't get it.
If I'm doing all the assembly and cooking, how exactly is this saving me time or money?
Are there people out there really too busy to stop by the grocery store and shop? Too busy to load a dishwasher?

Once they're familiar and comfortable with the food, more customers are routinely paying from $15 to $25 extra to have assembly kitchen employees make their meals to order (hold the green bell pepper, substitute chicken for pork) and pack them up

This, at least, makes some sort of sense, since you are paying someone to do the work for you, rather than paying for the privilege of doing the work yourself.
posted by madajb at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2006


http://www.once-a-month-cookingworld.com/

For those who would rather do this for themselves. Google gives plenty of other links for the concept.


Also at the Flylady.com site there is a link to something called Saving Dinner whereby for a reasonable charge you are sent menus plus an exact grocery list to shop for the ingredients. There are sample recipes to try on the site, and they have several plans to choose from.

This concept of going somewhere else to assemble meals just strikes me as wrong and wasteful. I'd rather shop and cook at home, where I can have the tv going, check my email, and have my shoes off if I like.
posted by konolia at 11:58 AM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]


As an aside, the local place does get its ingredients mostly from Sysco, but provides the option of organic local chicken. So there, at least, there's no issue about GMO-laden, high-hormone factory bird getting fed to your kids.

Are there people out there really too busy to stop by the grocery store and shop? Too busy to load a dishwasher?

I work with a number of engineers who put in 100 or more hours a week, including weekends, who do not have time to say the word "dishwasher", much less load one.

This is certainly more frugal and healthy than take-out. I'm frankly boggled that anyone is pooh-poohing this kind of service. For many people, this is absolutely ideal: cheaper, fresher, faster and healthier than the alternatives available to them. That such a service would not benefit any given MeFite is, well, not a good argument.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:59 AM on September 6, 2006


Once-a-month cooking world-- very cool.

Solid, I don't think anyone is saying "nobody should ever use this it is eeevillll." But, you have to admit, the 100+ hours per week of work of the people you're talking about is the exception rather than the rule. I'd guess that most of the people using this type of service could cook-- they just choose not to. Which is their prerogative, just as it is our prerogative to snark on them.
posted by miss tea at 12:08 PM on September 6, 2006


Certainly food prep can be a pain in the ass, especially after you've worked a full day and just want to sit down.

Food Network recognizes the time squeeze for many ... hence their programs 30 Minute Meals and Semi-Homemade Cooking.
posted by ericb at 12:22 PM on September 6, 2006


Prepping my mise and doing the dishes, for me, sometimes takes longer than cooking and eating.

I have three responses to this:

- First, cooking is a skill like any other. It takes practice. If you train yourself to clean as you go, you'll have less left at the end, when you really don't want to do it.

- Second, you may be using too much equipment. As a corollary to my earlier point about people wanting to touch food, companies like Oxo have made a fortune selling people single-purpose products they don't need (mind you, some of their stuff is great). Most of your prep work can be done on a single cutting board with one, maybe two, knives.

- Third, we've been trained/spoiled to think that every dinner needs to be an elaborately-composed thing. Most people in the world eat very simply, with few ingredients and select spices. Not everything needs sauce and/or some "complimentary" ingredient, especially when it tastes perfectly good on its own.
posted by mkultra at 12:26 PM on September 6, 2006


I work with a number of engineers who put in 100 or more hours a week, including weekends [...] this is absolutely ideal: cheaper, fresher, faster and healthier than the alternatives available to them - solid-one-love

Really, a healthier alternative would be not working 100 hour work weeks. Having time to LIVE outside of the office - go for walks, eat a good meal, plant a garden, read a book, talk with your kids or your parents about something that matters, dream...

I know to a lot of people this seems like crazy talk. But I have different priorities than some.
posted by raedyn at 12:31 PM on September 6, 2006


Anyone working 100+ hours a week doesn't give a very high priority to lifestyle choices.

I first heard about these places on NPR quite awhile ago. One of the first companies that was doing this marketed themselves as a kind of cooking school. The idea was to teach people how to prepare healthy meals in advance at home. They gave them recipes and cooking instructions etc. then everyone got together and prepared the meals. Sounded like a good idea to me since I know quite a few people that never learned to cook, and I can see that trending worse as more and more kids are brought up in households where there's no time to cook. They interviewed some of the people and they were looking forward to doing it at home.

And, what mkultra said.
posted by Eekacat at 12:32 PM on September 6, 2006


I can understand the appeal of this but it's definitely not for me. I love shopping at the farmers' market and the grocery store. I only cook for myself (and occasionally for my pets) so I end up with a lot of potential waste but I have a lot of fun making up recipes with whatever I have on hand. Sometimes they work out wonderfully, sometimes not so much, but either way I don't lose anything. And my dog is always happy to eat what I don't like.

A lot of my most cherished memories are centered around the kitchen or some other cooking/eating centered activities. For me, anything that devalues food preparation and cooking is a bad trend for family and society.

Also, I get home at 6 PM and I need to get to sleep by 9:30 so I can wake up at 4 AM, so it's not like I have tons of available time. But I don't feel like food prep takes up too much of that time, either.
posted by effwerd at 12:35 PM on September 6, 2006


The way our Super Suppers is set up is more like a party type environment (if you wish). A group of people get together and make their meals together while eating and sipping wine. It's a night out for moms while you're doing something other than buying makeup or sex toys. You can also just drop in and make your own meals and go if you like, but it really has taken off here as the whole party deal.
posted by hollygoheavy at 12:35 PM on September 6, 2006


As a 31-year-old single guy living in a smallish one bedroom apartment I think there's some good ideas at the core of this. It's hard to buy & cook well for one person. (Maybe it's hard out there for couples and families (and pimps of course) also.) Anyway, it seems like this could be fun. It would have to been decent and healthy food as has already been pointed out, because otherwise what's the point. But the social aspect could be quite nice.

At one point some friends & I had a cooking club partly to mitigate the cooking-for-one problems. It was hard to keep up, but pretty fun. Getting out of my tiny kitchen would also be a treat though & I'm not against meeting new people either. It could just supplement all the other techniques we use to survive. I eat a lot of very simple meals often a grilled or broiled fish with veggies. Tastes great & it's healthy but variety is the spice or something.
posted by Wood at 12:42 PM on September 6, 2006


(I have to admit, I'm shocked at the way this thread evolved.)

And I bet that our European friends scratch their heads and wonder why anyone would bother to do this, when the market and the bakery and the frommagery are just down the stairs and around the corner, and you buy whatever you need for the next meal you're making when you're ready to make the next meal... I wish we could all experience what it's like not to have to shop at a megamart and buy days' worth of food, lug all the bags in, and store it in our refrigerators that have more cubic feet than some Paris apartments.
posted by crunchland at 12:50 PM on September 6, 2006


Mayor Curley writes:
This is really funny. We have a class of people in this country who do nothing that makes you feel human-- they don't mow their own lawns, clean their own houses or even prep their own foods.

Next time, please scratch your kids-these-days rant out on parchment using a quill and India ink, lit only by the rendered tallow candle you slaved all day to make; it reduces the irony, you see.
posted by felix at 12:52 PM on September 6, 2006


I have three responses to this:

Doesn't really apply. As I said: "sometimes". And I kinda know what I'm doing. [selflink, ontopic]

Really, a healthier alternative would be not working 100 hour work weeks.

Not our call, nor realistic. If you're a senior engineer doing project management and senior review in consulting, that's what's expected. As it is expected for many other jobs.

I don't live that kind of life -- I like my 40-hour workweek -- but I wouldn't dream of judging those who do.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2006


I too don't understand the judgmentalism here. We're already buying food that is harvested and packaged for us. My theory (and the fact that agregoli doesn't agree with me kind of weakens it, I guess) is that cooking and cleaning is supposed to be women's work. No one expects men to be out in the fields picking fruit to get some kind of "connection" to their food, but the idea that you can somehow get out of the messy or boring parts of cooking and menu planning is just scary. There has to be something wrong with it, some fundamental part of humanity that we're losing by taking this convenient route.

And I'm not saying that anyone here thinks that cooking should be women's work. But there's kind of an unexamined assumption that hiring out certain kinds of work is dehumanizing or a symptom of everything that's wrong with our society. And it always tends to be things like cleaning or cooking or childcare.
posted by transona5 at 1:01 PM on September 6, 2006


Isn't metafilter all about judging?
posted by ozomatli at 1:06 PM on September 6, 2006


felix:Next time, please scratch your kids-these-days rant out on parchment using a quill and India ink, lit only by the rendered tallow candle you slaved all day to make; it reduces the irony, you see.

I was more alluding to a Marxist "alienation from labor" angle. But by all means. Give me convenience or give me death. I just wish I had slaves or robots to open the refrigerator door for me. Because after my 600 hour weeks of being proactive and building synergy and pretending to parent by merely showing up, I don't have time to actually open soda bottles.

Actually, this is just a fad. People will buy this shit for a few months, not use it, and go back to eating totally prepared food instead of partially prepared food because that's what they want. Then they will blame society or Nestle or Osama Bin Laden for making them fat.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:19 PM on September 6, 2006


And it always tends to be things like cleaning or cooking or childcare.

Interesting point. One seldom sees people being judgmental about hiring someone to mow the lawn (well, except for Mayor Curley) or taking the car through the car wash.

Isn't metafilter all about judging?

Oh, sure, but isn't reasoned judgment better? I mean, virtually every argument bashing this concept boils down to "I don't like this because I don't like this."
posted by solid-one-love at 1:20 PM on September 6, 2006


I too find the whole OMG people don't cook!!! they are inhuman!!! thing weird. I don't cook. I don't like it; I have a finite amount of time; I don't live with someone else; and I hate the grocery store. Plus with work & hobby & freelance, I like to spend my free time reading and thinking and relaxing. And for some of us, cooking is not relaxing. At the same time I like eating too much to eat Sysco.
posted by dame at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2006


and go back to eating totally prepared food instead of partially prepared food because that's what they want. Then they will blame society or Nestle or Osama Bin Laden for making them fat.

So you think all people who eat prepared foods are fat?
posted by dame at 1:25 PM on September 6, 2006


I yearn for the days when drinking milk could kill you. This indoor plumbing is making people lazy too. I mean sheesh, fetch your own water!
posted by ozomatli at 1:42 PM on September 6, 2006


So you think all people who eat prepared foods are fat?

Yes. That's exactly what I said. Verbatim.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:03 PM on September 6, 2006


Seems like there's an argument about whether this is lazy or not. It is, but hey, no one's at home cooking me dinner while both me & my fiance work late.

Let's Dish opened up across from my office, and since my fiance & I are fairly busy and often eat out, I thought this might be a nice, quick alternative to takeout & convenience foods & pasta/sauce dinners.

Honestly, the idea is great, but the execution sucks. I guess I expected to be able to stock my freezer with complete meals ready to pop in the oven, to make weeknight dinners easier. Not so much. Some of the dinners are stupid college-food shit like tortilla pizzas. Others are just marinated steak. Not only is cooking meals like these just as time consuming as making something from scratch, but you also have to thaw them and they really aren't even that tasty.

I've decided that, at least for me, it's a waste of time and money and I invested in a crock pot and a variety of cookbooks. And I've come up with truly fast dinners that are tasty & heathy, like having a crudite plate with lots of pre-cut veggies, fat free dip, a bit of cheese, and whole wheat crackers. There's nothing wrong with convenience if you do it right.
posted by tastybrains at 2:09 PM on September 6, 2006


This is certainly more frugal and healthy than take-out. I'm frankly boggled that anyone is pooh-poohing this kind of service. For many people, this is absolutely ideal: cheaper, fresher, faster and healthier than the alternatives available to them. That such a service would not benefit any given MeFite is, well, not a good argument.

Oh, sure, but isn't reasoned judgment better? I mean, virtually every argument bashing this concept boils down to "I don't like this because I don't like this."

Are you an investor in one of these things or something?
You seem to be defending them with a vigor out of proportion to the responses in the thread.

Skipping the "food waste" derail, I count 14 or so "This is interesting"/"I do this regularly"/"My friends do this and like it" responses.
Several "I just don't undertand this"/"I do this already without the store" responses and a couple of "What the hell is this world coming to" responses.

No one (so far) has sugested getting out the torches and burning them to the ground.
posted by madajb at 2:16 PM on September 6, 2006


Mayor Curley:
I was more alluding to a Marxist "alienation from labor" angle.

Then I think you picked the wrong thread. This isn't about the endless struggle between the proletariat and the oppressive overclass, it's about a novel means of prepping dinner. You know, like can openers, and microwaves.

But by all means. Give me convenience or give me death.

Yes, you're exactly like a modern day Patrick Henry. Just be careful when you leap up on that counter brandishing your flag that you don't slip on the chicken breasts and fall on your ass. Because that would be comical!

I just wish I had slaves or robots to open the refrigerator door for me. Because after my 600 hour weeks of being proactive and building synergy and pretending to parent by merely showing up, I don't have time to actually open soda bottles.

Yes: having dinner half-prepped for you is tantamount to owning slaves, possessing a time machine, doing absolutely nothing productive with your life, and being a soullessly bad parent incapable of twisting a cap. Mr. Modern Day Patrick Henry, I salute you for your noble sacrifice of posting on the internet to alert us to this sure harbinger of civilization's ruin.
posted by felix at 2:18 PM on September 6, 2006


And I bet that our European friends scratch their heads and wonder why anyone would bother to do this, when the market and the bakery and the frommagery are just down the stairs and around the corner, and you buy whatever you need for the next meal you're making when you're ready to make the next meal... I wish we could all experience what it's like not to have to shop at a megamart and buy days' worth of food, lug all the bags in, and store it in our refrigerators that have more cubic feet than some Paris apartments.
posted by crunchland


I know the pain. I love to cook. And I live in a bustling crowded city (Chicago), where everything I need is within walking distance. Except a market where I can buy fresh produce and meats. I have to drive. And I hate that. Theoretically, I could walk to a supermarket, but in order to make the long walk worth it I would want to buy more than just what I needed for that day (so I wouldn't have to do the walk again right away). So I'd end up lugging too many groceries a long distance home.
posted by ninjew at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2006


Are you an investor in one of these things or something?

Ad hominem much?
posted by solid-one-love at 2:49 PM on September 6, 2006


Actually, this is just a fad. People will buy this shit for a few months, not use it, and go back to eating totally prepared food instead of partially prepared food because that's what they want. Then they will blame society or Nestle or Osama Bin Laden for making them fat.

Couldn't agree more. This is just fucking stupid if you are trying to recreate or foster the idea of a coherent dinnertime for parents with kids. Fuck, whip up some scrambled eggs and toast if it's such a goddamn chore before schlepping everyone to a strip mall and mixing up a bunch of shit to haul it all home for the illusion of having concocted a healthy dinner.
posted by docpops at 2:56 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


This isn't about the endless struggle between the proletariat and the oppressive overclass, it's about a novel means of prepping dinner.

No, it's about further structuring the division of labor. Which is dehumanizing whether it infringes on your petite bourgeoisie aspirations or not. You realize that the end result of this is paying someone to wipe your ass because you're "too busy" being a Big Hitter and doing Big Sky Thinking to do it yourself. That's not good to the person wiping your ass and it's not good for you, either. Even if it makes you feel important.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:59 PM on September 6, 2006


Y'know I really just thought it was a fun night out without the kids, making some different recipes that normally I wouldn't try and having something in the freezer for nights when I didn't want to/couldn't find the time to cook from scratch.

I had no idea I was being wasteful or lazy or contributing to the decline of society. Then again, I'm one of those megabreeders that is bringing the world to it's knees. Thanks for enlightening me.
posted by hollygoheavy at 3:09 PM on September 6, 2006


You're right. Directly own the road of convenience lies a matted, shabby Mexican laborer chained to my toilet. A toilet I don't even allow him to use!

So shall we start burning the cars, or the internet, or what? You've got it all figured out, what's the plan, man? No wait! You telling me would be convenient...clearly I need to work it out for myself in order to be human. Whew, almost fell into a terrible dialectic trap.
posted by felix at 3:10 PM on September 6, 2006


What a load of tripe. I have more money than I need. The person wiping my ass has less money than he needs. Now, neither one of us particularly wants to wipe my ass, but it's steady work and pays well. I'm sure if you asked the person wiping my ass, he'd tell you he was happy to have the work.

It's dirty work, but it's honest work, and it allows him and his family a few luxuries like not having to do prep work when cooking.
posted by willnot at 3:10 PM on September 6, 2006


I read about this last week, thought it over for a second, and realized that if I was willing to spend a few hours once a week to make all of the week's dinners in advance (even assuming I had the freezer space to accomodate it all, which I currently don't), I'd just do it at home on weekends.

My thought is that this concept is geared to people like me exactly: double income, (in my case) 3 kids, where we're not getting home until 6ish, the kids are in the bath at 7:30, and that hour and a half window is supposed to accommodate dinner preparation and consumption as well as feeding and walking the dog, checking over homework, and actually TALKING to the little ankle-biters. It can make for a very hectic work week, and I just started all this a year ago (fulltime stepmom to 6, 8 and 12 year old boys). I have to tell you, it's fucking hard, a lot harder than single living, I-don't-feel-like-cooking-so-I'll-just-eat-crackers. But I don't see that this idea would really make it any easier. When the hell do I have 2 or three hours on a weekend to stand around a factory kitchen prepping kinda homecooked meals? See my earlier point.

What I've done is fallen back on a range of tricks I remember my mom using. We shop at Costco, buy a lot of chicken breasts and flash frozen vegetables without preservatives, have frozen pizza on hand for quick meals, and I recently acquired a slow cooker. We eat a lot of pasta and different variations of grilled/broiled chicken breasts and rice. I'm doing my level best to cook fast and healthy, but sometimes, you just go for fast and pray for the best.

It's all very well and good to turn your nose up at this because cooking is quality time spent, and the love of good food, and yada yada yada, and I'm not saying that's wrong; I love to cook, I love using fresh ingredients and trying new recipes. If you are a foodie, this concept isn't for you. It's for the people who simply don't have the time to think like that anymore, or have 3 boys in the house that were practically raised on fast food and now think fresh vegetables are poison.

Having said all that, I'm still forcing the little wankers to eat good food (3 bites at a time) until they like it. :) So I think I'll pass on these places, but if it works for someone else, more power to them.
posted by jennaratrix at 3:14 PM on September 6, 2006


solid-one-love, I don't mean to call you out personally, just to illustrate a common argument.

I'm curious what all the supporters of this think of Wal-Mart. 'Cause, folks, there's not much difference. The more people that use this service, the more business Sysco gets, the less business your local/regional food suppliers get.

Buying your food locally is not only good from a quality standpoint, but it KEEPS MONEY IN THE COMMUNITY. For every dollar you plop down at one of these places, how much of it do you think goes into the pockets of people living in your community? Here's a clue- very little.

You can roll your eyes all you want at this, but THIS IS YOUR FOOD. It's the most fundamental thing you can buy. Everyone needs it, every day.
posted by mkultra at 3:58 PM on September 6, 2006


And can we please stop calling this "fresher"? Fresher than what? Canned stuff, yes, but are you really eating everything from a can every day? Prepared frozen dinners are just as "fresh" as this stuff.
posted by mkultra at 4:00 PM on September 6, 2006


Wow. Just...wow.

I admire the vitriol displayed in the thread.

Here's why we did it for the period of time that we did:Let the moral judgements begin!
posted by scrump at 4:18 PM on September 6, 2006


You realize that the end result of this is paying someone to wipe your ass because you're "too busy" being a Big Hitter and doing Big Sky Thinking to do it yourself.

Lewis Black: "This is my esteemed personal ball washer, scrub, scrub, rinse, rinse, because I am a very important person!" [YouTube video]
posted by ericb at 4:27 PM on September 6, 2006


I just took a look at that Picard place... Did I see right? Frozen sushi to be reheated in the microwave?

The horror...
posted by splice at 4:45 PM on September 6, 2006


I just took a look at that Picard place

Picard Surgelés ("a market leading retailer of frozen food to high and middle income bracket customers") has over 570 outlets throughout France and 45 in Italy -- countries known for their fine cuisine and discriminating eaters.

"[T]he leading French frozen food retailer" was sold to BC Partners for an enterprise value in excess of €1.3 billion two-years ago.

Picard is 'big business' and well-liked by consumers in Europe.
posted by ericb at 4:55 PM on September 6, 2006


Fuck, whip up some scrambled eggs and toast...

...using bread that you made yourself, of course. From wheat you milled yourself. Because letting anyone else do your prep work is eeevil.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:55 PM on September 6, 2006


And I bet that our European friends scratch their heads and wonder why anyone would bother to do this, when the market and the bakery and the frommagery are just down the stairs and around the corner

French and Italians by buying hih-quality frozen food at Picard are contributing to "yet another dehumanizing trend" of "people just unwilling to learn to plan, shop and cook," who are "losing their connection to the very food that sustains them."
posted by ericb at 5:01 PM on September 6, 2006


*, by buying high-quality*
posted by ericb at 5:02 PM on September 6, 2006


What's the difference between buying Sysco goods from these places versus a normal grocery chain?

ZOMG RALPH'S IS KILLING AMERICA!!!
posted by basicchannel at 5:19 PM on September 6, 2006


The first link should go here.
posted by basicchannel at 5:22 PM on September 6, 2006


Ad hominem much?

It's an honest question.
You seem rather perturbed that some people don't like the business of "Meal Assembly".
posted by madajb at 5:30 PM on September 6, 2006


For many people, this is absolutely ideal: cheaper, fresher, faster and healthier than the alternatives available to them.

Except that it's not cheaper (I'd be in a world of hurt if every meal I served my family was $3 a portion) certainly isn't fresher if it isn't based on just bought local ingredients, is only arguably faster and healthier if compared to restaurant food, and it's not the alternatives available to them, period, it's the alternatives available to them because their lifestyle values convenience, ease and sustenance over practicality, effort-for-time and food.

If you're a single person on your own, that's fine for you. If you have a family, it's a damned pitiful shame -- not only because you're still feeding them crap (just a higher cost version of it) but you're also denying them the pleasure, the education and the privilege of your time, energies, concern, attention and awareness that there's more to food than just shoving basically tasty calories into your piehole.

Every moment spent buying and preparing food for the people you love is a moment spent in an act of nurturing. No house in the suburbs or SUV or 100 hour a week job could (or should) ever be worth abandoning that.

But there's kind of an unexamined assumption that hiring out certain kinds of work is dehumanizing

Of course there is, because there are tasks that connect us to our humanity because they connect us to our homes and our loved ones. There's a reason why the "family dinner table" is shorthand for something more than a piece of furniture. There's a reason why, as a society, when you talk to people about their happiest family memories, many are centered around a celebration that included a meal. Heck, there's a reason why so many of our celebrations are centered around meals. Food on its own, regardless of the place and means of preparation, will keep us alive. The shared experiences of meals and memories help to make being alive more meaningful.

I don't think that using Dreamy Dinners or whateverthehell is lazy, I think it's sad. I think it's representative of the larger, deeper problems of our society where our personal lives are concerned: we have relegated that which occurs within the heart of the home to the lowest of priorities. We have bought into a concept that cheering our kids from the sidelines of their soccer matches constitutes "quality time" and that it's more important that they have iPods and their own computers and a suburban home (and education) than to have expressions of our love that don't involve opening our wallets. This goes right along with that ideal, and that ideal makes me significantly concerned about what's to come for the future, especially when so few people have any objections whatsoever, because it's not their choice so it doesn't matter. It does.
posted by Dreama at 5:44 PM on September 6, 2006 [6 favorites]


I think that Dreama's comment is absolutely awesome. Well said, ma'am!
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:10 PM on September 6, 2006


...using bread that you made yourself, of course. From wheat you milled yourself. Because letting anyone else do your prep work is eeevil.

Bread is extremely time-consuming relative to its cost, and most home kitchens are not suited to making good bread.

Or did you have some other point?
posted by mkultra at 6:35 PM on September 6, 2006


I think it's great.

My wife and I are foodies. She is an expert cook and our meals are undoubtedly exceptional. And it does take time.

If these guys are offering quality food at a reasonable price, and the meals are nutritionally complete and right-portioned, I can easily imagine making use of them. When one's a contractor earning $30-300/hr (depending on contract) and putting in overtime to boot, of course it would be great to be able to buy a fresh supper on the way home.

All of a sudden I'm experiencing deja vu. Have we run this thread theme previously? I think it'd have been before the era of tagging...
posted by five fresh fish at 7:06 PM on September 6, 2006


Bread is extremely time-consuming relative to its cost, and most home kitchens are not suited to making good bread.

Most home kitchens _are_ suited to making good bread. A big bowl, an oven, ingredients, that's all you need.

I dunno, I'm starting to feel like I'm being taken for a ride. I can't believe that people actually think that, by doing some of the prep work in a location other than my own kitchen, I'm depriving my children of important bonding moments.

I suspect that the people speaking against these places have never been to one. When I go to them, it means that I can do messy, time-consuming stuff like breading chicken breasts or assembing meatloaves or gathering the ingredients for stir-fry ahead of time, with no clean up. It's fast and efficient. That means I have more time to spend with my kids.

Time spent watching Mama sqeeze raw chicken breasts in Ziplocs of marinade while attempting to not get salmonella bacteria on the baby is _not_ quality time. Time spent on the sofa with Mama reading a book _is_ quality time. At least that's the way it is in my house.

We cook plenty of meals from scratch at home; my kids know what cooking is. We also sometimes eat meals I've made ahead of time and frozen. Sometimes we even have pizza delivered.

There are many, many meals in a childhood, and it's okay if some of them come from the freezer.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:08 PM on September 6, 2006


I went to Dish It Up earlier this year. I am domestically challenged and thought it would save me. It didn't.

Pros:
- It was really fun to prepare the meals
- I didn't have to clean up
- I didn't shop for ingredients that I knew would go to waste
- The food was pretty good

Cons
- Many of the dishes had to be thawed before they could be cooked, so I had to actually plan ahead and pick a dish for the next day to take out of the freezer. If I forgot... back to the same ol' routine of bad eating...
- The place I went to didn't do side dishes so I still had to go to the grocery store for salads and veggies.

I find I do better when I sit down with a simple recipe book, pick 5 or 6 recipes, make a list of what I need, go to the store, put everything in the fridge and then pick a recipe to cook each night. That way the meal plan stays flexible and I don't have to plan ahead to thaw anything. Really, I don't think it takes much more time than going to a make-ahead franchise. It's all about the planning!
posted by icanbreathe at 9:46 PM on September 6, 2006


One of those types of places opened out here. I got their grand opening flier in the mail, and since it was in the same strip center as my grocery store, I wandered in.

Keeping in mind that my perspective is that of someone raised by a master chef, and who has cooked from about the time I was old enough to hold a spoon, I was astounded by the low quality of this particular business unit's food.

The meats were insanely low grade...top round vs sirloin, etc., the chicken breasts were those horrid chemical saturated things, and I don't remember seeing pork....so I could just be blocking it from memory. The vegetables were pathetic limp perversions of freshness. The "herbs" were powdered dust inna jar. It was an institutional kitchen. With ingredients you would find in places like a hospital, or large school cafeteria. It certainly wasn't restaurant grade, nor could it compare to the Farmer's Market about 3 blocks away.

I was glad to see it go because a groovy locally owned Mexican place opened...and they make a roasted bell pepper to die for.

I'm with Dreama where it concerns family and food. I was much less careful of how/what I ate when I was single, than I am as a mother. (I don't think I qualify as a megabreeder since I only have one.) My son has been "helping" in the kitchen since he could walk. Now at three, he can whisk eggs, he can tell me which herbs we should pick in the back yard to go with what we're making for dinner, he can judge produce at the market, and he'd be angry if I tried to make dinner without letting him stand on the stool next to the prep island and help. Would I give him a 11" chef's knife? Well...no, that would be stupid. Will I hand him a ziplock bag full of bread crumbs and let him add herbs and ingredients and shake everything together to bread something? Absolutely.

Cooking dinner is a bonding time with us. We cook dinner, The Man gets home right about the time we get finished, we have dinner at a dining table with silverware and napkins and enforced table manners...it's all very 1950's, but it's fabulous. I wouldn't trade that for all the prepackaged food in the world.
posted by dejah420 at 9:52 PM on September 6, 2006


I find it ironic that I was reading this article earlier this morning on my PowerBook... while I was in the kitchen, making myself some homemade pancakes for breakfast.

Everyone needs the book "A Man, A Plan, A Can" too.
posted by drstein at 10:09 PM on September 6, 2006


K, if it's the quality dejah describes, it's just shite on a plate sold to people ignorant of quality foodstuffs.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:34 PM on September 6, 2006


This thread is why Metafilter is great and horrible at the same time. Most people, they hear about some weird yuppie "Meal Assembly" place, they go "huh, weird," and roll their eyes, and move on.

But here, we get into the marxist ramifications of removing us yet another step away from the process of production, the progressive dehumanization of modern society, and intrafamily alienation.

And I agree with the people who've brought those points up, actually. Some days, I detest what society's becoming. And the progressive fracturing and splintering of common experience means that there are people who think that 100 hour work weeks are pretty much okay (and god forbid if you want to tell them it's a bad idea! no judging!) and let's all outsource grocery shopping.

Fuck America. I'm going to go live in Europe, marry a beautiful woman, live on a single income, not have more kids than I have time and money for, and we'll buy food at the shops ourselves.

(And yeah, I know, this was a little harsh. I still love you all.)
posted by blacklite at 12:28 AM on September 7, 2006


You know those easy open chef boyardee cans? Yesterday afternoon, I watched in sheer horror as my roommate proceeded to open with a "Easy Open Can Opener".
posted by Kudos at 1:03 AM on September 7, 2006


err... proceeded to open *one* with an "Easy open easy open can opener."
posted by Kudos at 2:32 AM on September 7, 2006


This thread made me hungry.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:51 AM on September 7, 2006


If this trend contributes to a better diet for people I applaud it. However, it doesn't seem to be the case. Now, if they promoted an organic low food miles version I might be swayed.

The good points about this business are economies of scale. If people could do this in a community based way then it might help with social cohesion. Sharing food like Epicurus and his followers. Y'know, hippy shit.

What Dreama and agregoli said. People are removed from their natural environment and natural way of life by the pressures to conform and attain happiness within the rules of the consumerist society in which we live. Cooking and eating together (not infront of the TV) is a very powerful social adhesive.

When you are on your own it is difficult to make amazing food for one on a daily basis. I would make something that can be eaten over a week with refrigeration and variation and eat out or do an instant meal (stir-fry, salad nicoise/caesar/cretan, pasta, meat and two veg etc.) for alternate nights. Polenta, stew, curry, risotto and chilli are some of the foods that can be made in bulk and then kept for a week in the fridge.

I also like buying food in bulk and having quality ingredients, if I over-supply then I look for ways to use up and freeze the excess. Celery soup is good, french onion soup uses a motherlode (or to use a quaint colloquialism - a metric buttload) of onions, most leftovers can be turned into a lasagne, soup, patties or something else.

However, I have had a lifetime of practice at this and have a fundamental aversion to waste of any sort. So I am pre-disposed to this type of thing despite my lack of skill and inventiveness (no chef me).

Notwithstanding that, I also fill my evenings with activities and so don't have alot of time in the kitchen every night. These things can be balanced.

In much of the world it is easy and cheap and healthy to buy food from cafes and street vendors. Sit, talk and watch the world go by. This works for both single people and families.

In Australia, it is not much more expensive to get a cheap meal than it is to make it yourself, and definately on a par with buying pre-made food (you can buy 'slow food fast' frozen meals!). There is a much more cafe based culture, at least in the inner-suburbs.

In Cuba, restaurant food is pretty average and not at all cheap, unless you can pass for a local and eat at a peso place. However, there are farmers markets in all the innercity areas which open two or three days a week and are full of amazing organic fruit and vegetables.

Nigel Slater's Thirty Minute Meals and Kitchen Diaries are great books to help with getting some ideas for quick meals using whatever is at hand. Personally, I tend to type the ingredients I want to use +recipe into a search engine. This seems to work quite well.
posted by asok at 3:18 AM on September 7, 2006


When I posted this thread, I never dreamed it would be such an emotional hot-button for some of you. That said, I kinda feel like only people who have never set foot in a McDonald's -- who has never slit open a package of ramen - never poured out a the yellowy powder onto cooked Kraft macaroni -- If you've managed to be a saint in the kitchen all these years, only you have any right to criticize the way other people choose to eat. And even then, you should probably do it quietly and politely, you foodie zen-master, you. Pity the mere mortals.
posted by crunchland at 7:17 AM on September 7, 2006


You're right. I'm really sorry I criticized your desire to eat crap and pump your hard-earned dollars out of the local economy.

Have at it.
posted by mkultra at 8:38 AM on September 7, 2006


My son has been "helping" in the kitchen since he could walk. [...] Cooking dinner is a bonding time with us. - dejah420

I love doing similar things with my 3 year old. She can just about make scrambled eggs by herself, and she's so proud to do it for company on a Sunday morning. Of course Mom does most of the frying part, but the munchkin gets to crack & whisk the eggs, add the milk, pour it into the pan, and push the eggs around while they're cooking. I find this time together so relaxing and fun, but I don't always have time for it so we don't do that every day.

But I am concious of the need to make time for it, so she has connection to where her food comes from and what goes into making it appear on the table before her. Not just food preparation, though. We took her out to a friend's farm for a weekend (and plan to return in later years) so she could see the animals and some of how they were raised. She got to go out to the hen house and collect eggs - she was just about bursting with pride to show me the carton of eggs she picked all by herself. And I plan a small vegetable garden in the yard so she gets to see the plants grow, and how they're harvested, and to associate the tomato we cook with all the process and care that goes into it.

It's all wonderful opportunities for learning. These experiences have opened up opportunites to talk about how the plants grow and what they require (sunlight, water, enriched soil) to flourish. Basic chemistry concepts when we disolve one ingredient in another, and about how cooking changes something. About estimation and measurement. All kinds of stuff. We can talk at her level, but she's getting the first tidbits of understanding.

It's awesome to talk to a little kid about any of this and to think about their questions, test your own knowledge. To ask about their ideas about how things might work. To watch as the figure something out, or gain a new understanding.

That's all great stuff, I think it's important both for the development of the kid, and for my own soul. It doesn't mean I do that all the time. I'm looking for time saving solutions as much as the next guy. But it does mean that I make room for those experiences in my life.
posted by raedyn at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2006


I didn't have a camera with me, but I went past the Needham, MA "Let's Dish" this morning and all five of the cars in front of it were SUV's. It was awesome!
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:18 AM on September 7, 2006


... I went past the Needham, MA "Let's Dish" this morning...

You were walking or on horseback, right?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:28 AM on September 7, 2006


The Straw Man gave him a lift.
posted by mkultra at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2006


You were walking or on horseback, right?

Running, fucker!
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2006


On a paved sidewalk, I'd bet, you faker.
posted by felix at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2006


In shoes.


THAT HE DID NOT MAKE!!!!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:20 PM on September 7, 2006


No, no. He was riding his high horse.
posted by crunchland at 12:54 PM on September 7, 2006


you know, it's really kids these days that make me sick, with their 'free time' allowing them to 'run'. Back in my day we would have put them down the coal chute at 3 am and only brought them back out at 2 am for a quick hosing and a slice of ham. Goddamn modern convenience.
posted by felix at 1:47 PM on September 7, 2006


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