In the Practical Issues series, we are now looking at cooking. I acknowledge that cooking is not as much of a gender-specific function today--many men I know are much better cooks than their wives or girlfriends--but in the day-to-day aspect of feeding a family, women are usually the ones to think through the meals and stock the groceries. So if the stove made 19th-century cooking easier, and processed and frozen foods made 20th-century cooking easier (easier, not necessarily better!), what can we say of 21st-century food? I have no idea what lies ahead, but I can tell you that one innovation I truly enjoy is the prep-kitchen concept of a place like Let's Dish.
One of the challenges I now have is limited time. Though I'm home a lot working on this book, I need as much free time as possible to write. While it's tempting to putter around in the kitchen (which I love to do), I had to figure out a way to eat healthfully and quickly. Frozen meals can only take you so far, especially if you try to avoid preservatives (as I do). There's also a limited palate in the microwavable-foods section. So when a friend of mine invited me to try Let's Dish, I wanted to try it.
If you've never been to a meal-assembly store before, the best way I can explain it is that it's like hiring out a sous chef. You select the meals you want to make online, register for a day and time that's good to go, and then you go assemble meals. The recipes (and nutrition data) are already figured out. The items are already assembled, diced, minced, chopped, etc., and you assemble according to your portions and preferences. Like garlic? Add a pinch more. Dislike cilantro? Skip it. In about 90 minutes, I had 24 meals assembled and ready for my freezer. No preservatives--all fresh! I selected Garlic Herbed Salmon (yummy!), Fusion Pork Tenderloin, Curried Vegetable Stew, and Citrus Almond Tilapia. Each dish serves six, so I divided my portions into thirds for easier access. Let's Dish even provides labels with the cooking instructions. So now, I simply take out a frozen dish in the morning and leave it in the refrigerator to thaw. I come home, heat up the oven, toss in the dish -- and by the time I've done all the little chores that must be handled when you come home (start the laundry, check your email, toss the junk mail, etc.), dinner is ready.
Even better: I had two meals ready to go in my freezer when a neighbor told me his twins were born. So not only am I prepared for healthy meals for myself, I am also stocked up to bless others. (A pre-paid visit to a meal-assembly store is also a great bridal or baby shower group gift.) The only downside is the unattractive bandanas you have to wear in a commercial kitchen--but I'd rather have hat-head and not find hair in my food later on!
If you want to try it, there are lots of similar concepts out there, so here's a link to a site that lists them by state. In the D.C. area, many of the Let's Dish franchises have a newcomers discount, which I expect would be offered by other companies, too. For me, it worked out to less than $6 per dinner -- a little more than a microwave meal, but better tasting and with less sodium on average. (And, hey, if you sign up for Let's Dish, give them my name as a referral. I might get a discount for my next trip there!)
(Photos: The Let's Dish kitchen in Gaithersburg MD; Dawn Weaver and Barb Jones assembling their meals; the three of us ready to go with our meals. Note to Barb and Dawn: I included the unflattering bandana shot of me, too!)
UPDATE: I opened the comments function on this post because a single woman sent in a great idea for how to adapt this concept to serve the married women in her church. Check it out!