(If you can tell what song that is loosely based on, you win...)
Last night, the Girls Night In crew and I tried something new (no, not a pillow fight in our Victoria Secret jammies). We went to Entrée Vous, one of those meal preparation places. What on earth is a "meal preparation place," you ask. (Before I looked it up (see helpful links below), I was going to call it "cooking-assist," a term I just made up myself.) Meal preparation businesses seem to date back to around 2003. I'm not sure who originated it, but it seems on various sites to be a mother who was also a Cordon Bleu trained chef. I'll buy that.
The process is fairly simple:
- find a store near you
- go to their website and select an appointment time and several meals from their list of available meals (they generally vary seasonally)
- at your appointment, they will have ingredients prepared for you, with recipes, containers and measuring devices ready. All you have to do is put the prescribed amount of each ingredient in a bag or baking tin (provided), add a sticker with the baking/cooking instructions, and set aside. At the end of your appointment, your meals are bagged up and you leave with pre-assembled meals, ready to cook immediately or put in the freezer for later in the week/month.
The meals are generally simple (put these ingredients together and cook) and sized for families (4-6 servings). As a single person, I chose to divide each of the three dinners I chose into two (2-3 servings). You can also pickup pre-made dinners, if you don't have the time or interest in assembling them.
It was a fun experience, particularly since I was with 5 friends, only one of whom had done it before. We bordered on disastrous: I dropped a heavy spice bowl (didn't break anything and didn't make too much of a mess because most of the spice was gone, the reason I was picking it up) and two other gals used the wrong chicken (pre-cooked, rather than raw), but I think we'll be allowed to come back again.
The funniest part of the story is that the fastest prep award went to the only currently active mother (there is also one empty-nester mother) in the group. She prepped six meals in the time it took me to do three. She, being exceedingly modest, thought she'd be the slowest. I pointed out that she didn't have two teenaged sons and a husband to attend to at the same time, which made her laugh.
One thing I particularly liked about this place is that I was allowed to get only three dinners (which divided in two gave me 6 dinners). Also, it was a low investment way of trying out the service and their food. If I were to do this regularly, I'd use it to supplement, not substitute my own cooking efforts.
If you're looking into it yourself, before deciding on a place you'll want to look for a few things:
- Do they have a minimum number of dinners you can buy? If yes, does this work for you? This also translates into how flexible or service oriented they are. Do they allow splitting meals?
- Look at their recipes. Do they sound good to you ? (They don't always to me. For example, I'm not particularly interested in Stuffed Shells or chicken stuffed with cream cheese.) Do they provide nutritional information? Do they provide a good variety, with "heart healthy" or vegetarian options?
Entrée Vous, so far, has been good on all those fronts. The service was excellent, the staff helpful and ready to answer questions. The menu could have included a few more vegetarian options (I'm thinking of my parents), but I guess that fish options generally count towards that. I'll report on the taste and quality of the food and let you know how it goes.
Here's a link to The Easy Meal Prep Company, which "provides info and resources for the meal preparation industry" and more importantly for us, a resource for finding these sorts of stores in the area.
PS - Pictures would have been fun, but I forgot my camera. :(
"Sisters Are Doin' it for Themselves," by Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics.
Rock on, Sister.
Sounds fun. How do things work out, cost-wise? Is it important to look at the social aspect of it for making it worthwhile, or does it make at least some fiscal sense?
There's nothing like that in my neck of the woods, but it's an interesting notion...
Shawn, depending on the location, it can vary from a little over $3 to a little over $4 per serving, assuming that a 4-6 serving meal serves 6. For the chicken meals, that would be one chicken breast per person, so you'd definitely have to supplement a bit with a side dish, like vegetables.
The place I went, the cheapest meal was $20 (three different chicken dishes) and the most expensive $28 (flank steak).
I'm not super knowledgable about household budgeting, but I think that's a bit above what you'd pay if you did everything yourself (makes sense when you take into account their overhead).
I was doing it for the social aspect, but I think the real value comes when you are a parent trying to provide healthy, well-rounded meals for a lively family every friggin' day of the week. My friend, the mom, made 6 meals in a little over an hour. That's six evenings she can use for something besides cooking (other than taking the meal out of the freezer and later putting it in the oven or a pot). The convenience of frozen food or packaged meals, but a lot healthier.
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