Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Preppy Meals – FB2B, part 28

In this entry, I decided to tackle something that I find mind-bogglingly fascinating and slightly strange at the same time. I know that it’s Wednesday, and that my posts are relatively consistently put up at the weekend, but an article in The Washington Post’s “Food” section today caught my eye. This article will be available for free from the paper’s website for a week, then it will go into their archives. So, as they say, “Get it while it’s hot!”

For a while now, there has been growing press about two new and different types of ways to get food on yours and your family’s tables each evening. Long-gone is the era of even middle-class families having cooks or someone to help with the household chores, well, unless you have lots of kids and make them do the work. Personal cheffing and meal prep places have been receiving lots of attention as solutions to our time-starved (forgive the term) lifestyles.
The former, for those not familiar with it, is where a trained cook comes to your home, fixes meals based upon menus you have chosen jointly and leaves them in your refrigerator with preparation instructions. Then, on a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly schedule, whatever you have chosen, he/she returns and starts all over again. Meals are prepared specifically to your tastes and dietary requirements.
There is some selection in terms of what you pull out of the fridge and heat up, but there’s no heavy cooking or prep work involved (however, depending upon the plan, you might prepare the salads and side dishes). For those who never want to fix anything and who balk at the thought of eating take-out or fast food every night of the week, although I’ve had roommates who didn’t mind doing that at all, this might be a good meal-plan option. Depending upon the prices, you might even come out ahead.
Washingtonian Magazine (www.washingtonian.com) in its October 2003 issue, did a great roundup and explanation of this service and the pricing; you can check it out online or back order it. The Food Network ran a segment on the topic a little while ago, and I think I’ve seen it re-run as well. Several schools that hold cooking courses also offer the possibility to receive personal chef certification and instruction. I’ve actually debated pursing this career path for a few years but am concerned about the start-up costs for it.
The latter meal-prep option, the one featured in the Post today, is where you go to a facility that has everything already set up, chopped, washed, and laid out, recipes are set up, and you yourself put together the meal for cooking later at your own home. There’s nothing for you to buy, everything is measured out to make a specific dish, and there’s no extra ingredients left over to wilt or mold in the back of your fridge (“Honey, what is this green fuzzy thing behind the mayonnaise jar?”). Again, there are various pricing options depending upon how much you would like to make and the kinds of ingredients you are using.
As an urban singleton, none of these plans seem to suit my lifestyle any more than ordering from my local whatever-cuisine place or stopping for a bite at the diner in my neighborhood. Besides, I like having leftovers. I usually refer to them as “next day’s lunch/dinner.” Part of it, I guess, is that I also like to cook most of the time. For me, preparing my own dinner is just a natural part of the day; sometimes it is even therapeutic and soothing to create a dish out of myriad ingredients I may have on hand. It also makes the apartment smell wonderfully homey.
I grew up in what might be termed a larger household, though, and admit that sometimes dinner was catch-as-catch-can what with our varying evening schedules (“Hamburger macaroni, hmm, must be Cub Scout meeting night.”), homework, piano practice, etc. Also, with so many family members, our taste buds weren’t always in sync. In this atmosphere, I learned how to wield a knife, wooden spoon and can opener at a much younger age than most of my contemporaries. I’ve actually been shocked to find, as my roommates have grown younger and younger over the years, how many people were never ever taught the basics about how to put together something to eat.
Perhaps that is part of the draw of these facilities: they allow people not to have the basic techniques that they were never taught and are afraid to learn but still let them manage to put food on their family’s table. I’m not trying to be harsh here. I guess I’m trying to understand why there is a draw to these places and services when I really don’t think that they save any more time than I do in fixing my own meals myself. (How hard is it to marinade a steak?) In reading through the menu choices, the possible selections seem interesting, but I’m not convinced that I’d know that far in advance what I’d like to eat on any given day.
In fact, cooking and shopping for one can actually be more expensive in the time-is-money factor per person, and I bet it is more costly than doing the same for a family. Especially, as for me to shop economically in New York City, I either have to take a subway or two buses or some combination of thereof to get to the least expensive places in town. We don’t have warehouse shopping in Manhattan and forget about loading up a car with food or anything else.
Personally, I wonder about giving up quality control (I like to choose organic where I can.) and the TLC that goes into personally selecting the ingredients for dishes for my loved ones. I learned so much about food and cooking by watching my mother prepare our dinners, feel that nothing can replace the smell of onions sautéing in melted butter, and remember the kitchen and dining room tables as the gathering places in our household. A large part of my childhood and some very fond memories would be gone without those moments. With new homes being built with dramatically increased square footage for those rooms and equipped with all sorts of special and designer features, it seems to me like a waste, then, not to use them to cook for and sustain our families ourselves.
Resource List:
The article in the Post mentions several services available in the DC metro area. Here are their websites, if you would like to check them out to see what they offer. As none of them offer services located in an urban setting, I was unable to test them out personally myself. The article also has a handy PDF comparison chart.
Many companies are located in various metropolitan areas throughout the United States and are run as franchises. They even have their own trade association (Easy Meal Prep Association) and many retail suppliers willing to serve them. 12-meal packages that you prepare on-site (with 4-6 servings each) varied in price from $199.00 (My Girlfriend’s Kitchen) to $230.00 (Dinner My Way). Menu selections also vary widely to my tastes.
Let’s Dish! (www.letsdish.com)
Thyme Out (www.thymeout.com)
Dream Dinners (www.dreamdinners.com)
Dinner My Way (www.dinnermyway.com)
My Girlfriend’s Kitchen (secure.mygirlfriendskitchen.com)
Buon appetito!

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