Fast Food

I like to cook — sometimes. Other times I’m tired, interested in other things, busy or even overloaded. Those times, cooking is drudgery.

Which is why I am so enamored with meal assembly kitchens, which allow home cooks to:

… gather in a commercial kitchen and assemble prepared raw ingredients, following easy recipes, for up to 12 meals. No meals are cooked at Let’s Dish! or its competitors. Instead, customers pack up the entrees they’ve assembled in freezerproof bags and containers and take them home, to be frozen and then cooked as needed.

There are currently 10 different companies in the DC area offering meal assembly, and I’ve been to two of them. Let’s Dish! was fine. ThymeOut is very good — the ingredients are of better quality (and locally sourced when possible) and the recipes are much more interesting. ThymeOut is the one I will be going back to.

Both places used similar processes. They offer a variety of dishes on their website, and you buy a package of dishes (between 4 & 12, each company has different package sizes) and select which dishes you want. Each dish makes 6 servings, and they can be split into two dishes of 3 servings each. When you go to the kitchen, you put on an apron (and a headscarf at Let’s Dish!). They have stations set up for each recipe, with all the ingredients prepared and waiting, and you make one dish at each station. You can adjust the recipes to your liking (I doubled the seasonings in everything I made). You put each dish in a tray or bag and take it home and freeze it. Thawing and cooking instructions are provided.

There are several things I like about meal assembly kitchens. I like that the food is assembled and then frozen — not cooked and frozen — so it tastes much better than most other make ahead meals. It’s also very fast — I made 6 6-serving dishes in 90 minutes, and it only took that long because I was slow. For my family, that’s 12 meals — not bad for 90 minutes. I like that the meals are tastier than take out and healthier than fast food, and I can control the portion sizes to some extent (that is harder when eating out). It is also cheaper than eating out — although it is more expensive than cooking everything myself from scratch.

There are some drawbacks. The vegetarian options are very limited, and you pay one flat price, regardless of the cost of the dishes you make (I rarely eat beef or seafood which is more expensive than the vegetarian, chicken or pork dishes I made). The changes you can make to a recipe are limited to the ingredients offered — you can only add more or less of something, you can’t add something entirely different. There’s also a lot of packaging involved, which can’t be green.

However, overall I am very happy with the experience and the product. Dinner is a lot easier to get on the table. I still cook things from scratch, but only what and when I want to. Not night after night after night after night…..

Posted on November 8th, 2006 by Katxena

2 Comments a “Fast Food”

  1. JenB says:

    I just went to Let’s Dish - my new office is in the same building, so I had to try it out! I feel a little guilty for spending more money on these dinners than I would have if I had just bought the ingredients at the store. And hey, it’s not like they’re assembling them for me, I still have to do the work! But, all that aside, it was a fun experience and cheaper than eating out, which is what would normally happen when I’m staring into the fridge at home, feeling totally uninspired to to anything more complicated than toasting a bagel with a slice of cheese on top. You know what really bugs me about assembling meals at home? The cleaning. All those measuring cups, cutting boards, marinating dishes, spoons, the counters, etc. have to be cleaned, and at Let’s Dish, the staff are zipping around wiping up spills and taking dirty stuff away. It’s awesome. And they give you cookies and coffee. The only complaint I had was sort of along the lines of yours - the ingredients weren’t all that high-quality. I mean, Lawry’s tabasco-flavored seasoning salt? Well, whatever - the first meal was pretty tasty, so I’m happy.

  2. Katxena says:

    I’m glad that you thought it was tasty — maybe their menu is improving. I am very happy with ThymeOut, but I like the environment of Let’s Dish a little better. It’s very slightly cleaner (although ThymeOut isn’t dirty by any means) and it’s larger and brighter. I totally agree about the cleaning — that’s the best part of it.