What’s for Dinner?

Dream Dinners versus Once-A-Month-Cooking

Family

My biggest challenge these days is balancing a full-time job (that can push me to 60 hours a week during peak periods), being a good wife, and keeping up with my toddler.  So, I am searching for a way to have good, healthy home-cooked meals for my family, while trying not to overspend and develop wasteful habits with my grocery shopping.  I’m hoping to be able to create more family time and less time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning for hours during the week after a long day.

Our financial advisor recommended a program called Dream Dinners (DD) that would help reduce our monthly grocery bill. DD is a program where you go online (www.dreamdinners.com) to view their menu, choose your meals, and set up a session time to visit the center and arrange your meals.  When you get to the DD center, you get an apron, meal cards for all of the meals you choose online, and several ziplock freezer bags.  The meal cards have the instructions on how you will prepare the meal when you are ready to cook it and the bags are used to store your meals.

In the DD center are stations with the meals that you and the other patrons (there are usually 8-12 of you in one session at a time) have chosen to buy.  At each station there is a recipe card for you to follow how to arrange your meals in the ziplock bags (or aluminum pans if applicable).  Once you have arranged your meal, you tape the meal card for that meal on the front of the bag and put it on your shelf in the refrigerator until you are ready to leave.  Once you are done arranging all you meals, the staff packs it in the cooler bags that you brought with you (I took insulated Jenny Craig bags) and you go home and put it all in the freezer.

The nice thing about DD is that all of the prep and clean up is done by the center, so you don’t have to chop any onions, peel any garlic, grate any cheese; you simply just dump ingredients in bags/pans and label and freeze.  When you get home you load up the freezer and thaw meals in the refrigerator for a day or so before you plan to cook.  Easy Peesy!

The quality of the food for us was average in the taste category.  There were 3-4 meals that were super yummy, and there were a few that just didn’t fit our (really my) taste palate.

The downfall of this program is that it can be pricey, but it all depends on what you spend currently on groceries.  The average price for a DD meal is about $22 per meal.  Each meal usually yields either 3- or 6-servings and each meal is only the main course; you would still need to shop in the produce and pasta/rice aisle for your complimentary side dishes.  The servings are generous, so my husband and I were able to stretch a 3-serving meal into 4 servings, but if you have greedy people in your family (lol) you may not be able to stretch the meals.  You have to purchase at least 36-servings at a time.  So that can cost you an average of $200 each session for 36-servings.  If you can make the 36 servings (36-servings = 6 6-serving meals or 12 3-serving meals) last the entire month, then this is a good deal.  But more than likely, this will only get you through 18 days worth of meals.

So to test the affordability, I thought I would try the concept of Once A Month Cooking (OAMC), created by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg.  This concept gives you a menu of meals for everyday of the month, which you will prep and cook all in one day.  After you cook, you freeze the meals, and thaw, warm, and serve throughout the month.  I purchased the book off Amazon, and tried this idea a few weeks ago.

Since I have such a small freezer, I decided to only cook 15 meals.  Even though I only cooked 15 meals, I still will have enough food for the entire month because every meal is 4-8 servings, which allows my husband and I to have leftovers.  The book is suppose to give you a complete shopping list for your meals, but be careful and double check your recipes because I found missing items on the lists they provided.  I also found many editorial mistakes in this book, like missing recipes, so if you choose to buy this book, double check EVERYTHING!

One of the tips they give you is to shop the day before, and then dedicate the next day to cooking.  Before you go shopping, they also suggest checking your cupboard to see if you have some of the essentials (such as salt, pepper, curry powder, chicken bouillon), so you don’t buy something you already have.  I budgeted $200, and only spent $175 on all the food I needed and storage containers.  Most of the storage containers are ziplock bags (which I already had), but some of the recipes called for things like 9-quart containers and baking pans.  To save time with my chicken dishes, I cooked all the chicken the day before and chopped it up for the various dishes on my list.  Another good tip I received was to buy frozen chopped onions (and other veggies) at Smart & Final.  This helped tremendously!

The following day I began cooking at 11am, took one break around 2pm and was finished with all 15 dishes by 5pm.  My legs hurt so bad from standing all day (you can tell I’m use to a desk job), but it was totally worth it.  We’ve eaten 3 of the meals so far, and there has only been 1 (Turkey Goulash, YUCK!) that I didn’t like (my husband ate it, but he will eat anything!).  Everything else has been yummy!

Of the two programs, I think I like the OAMC best.  There is more flexibility in the flavors and meals overall.  One thing I didn’t like about DD is that there were not any alternatives that I could choose for beef and pork dishes.  Being that we are a strictly no pork, occasional beef eating household, we eat a lot of ground turkey and other poultry.  So, the DD burgers were beef, and when OAMC called for beef burgers, all I had to do was buy turkey as a substitute.  When I do OAMC for August, I plan to get recipes from the Food Network and my own back pocket to create my own menu.

Try both and tell me what you think!

Live. Eat. Love.

Be Prosperous!

One Comment on "What’s for Dinner?"

  1. Stephanie Allen Jul 16, 2010 · 11:39 am

    I am glad you tried Dream Dinners and had a good Dream Dinners experience. I know Mimi and Mary Beth and they inspited me to start the company. It is the ultimate buy in bulk and save way to have a home cooked dinner and does cost less than buying the same ingredients at a grocery store. It is also very eco friendly, so much less packaging when you buy in bulk. We actually have children on our tasting panels; it is amazing to see what kids will really eat. We put kids in a box when we only feed them “white foods”. Don’t miss the August menu, our guests voted for their favorites to be on the August Menu. You can get even more ideas on my blog Take care.

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