While researching for my recent post about meal kit delivery services, I was invited to try a service called “Dream Dinners”. If you’re interested in home-cooked meals simplified, keep reading!
Dream Dinners is in some ways similar to meal kits, in that they offer a solution to people who want home cooked meals with less planning and prep. But they’re not the same, because you actually go into the store to assemble your meals (from the monthly recipe menu that you select ahead of time online). You then take the meals home to freeze and use over the course of about a month.
A Little History
Let’s back up to 2007, when Dream Dinners became the dream-come-true of Seattle-based owner Stephanie Allen who later enlisted partner Tina Kuna to help create and execute their vision for growth. Before all of the now-popular meal kit delivery services, Allen recognized that busy families often either skip home cooked meals in order to spend time with the family or conversely, they skip time with the family in order to get a home cooked meal on the table. A business was born. The first store led to a few more, and then they re-vamped the business model to expand to markets all over the US. A franchise-based business, they’ve secured a niche market made of people who want a way to get delicious, flexible home-cooked meals that can be prepared quickly.
Sharing the Goal of Sharing the Kitchen
So here we are a few weeks ago when I was approached by local franchise owner Stacy Adams, who learned about my blog on nextdoor.com when I was asking my neighbors to weigh in on my survey about Meal Kit Delivery Services. She invited me to try out Dream Dinners and experience the in-store prep, and then cook and try the food. It was a no-brainer to support a local business that shares my passion for the tradition of sharing home-cooked meals with our families. My husband joined me in order to take photos of the experience for this article.
How it Works
Similar to meal kit delivery services, you get started on the website by selecting the details of your plan, your recipes, and then secure it all by checking out. However, with this service, the details of the plan include selecting a store location near you, and a session date and time. When you head into your store session, take a cooler with you to bring all of your food home. The store provides everything else including aprons, recipes, easy-to-follow instructions for prepping your meals, a freezer case with a shelf just for you, and even already prepped extra side dishes and desserts for meals that might benefit from them. There are suggestions on your instruction cards that go with each meal for which sides and sweets go with each meal.
For each meal on the monthly menu, you’ll visit the station for that meal, and follow the instructions to assemble. Every ingredient is presented with the proper measuring tool and zip bags for each part of the meal. Simply put, you assemble the meal, pop the take-home instructions in the bag, place it in the freezer case and move to the next station on your menu, repeating until you’re done. If you wish to tweak a recipe to your liking, you’re welcome to do so (within reason, of course). You can omit ingredients that you don’t like, and add a bit more of this or that if you wish. Be sure to ask the staff about what is allowed if you’re not sure. They clean up behind you so you don’t need to slow down for that.
When you’re done, grab a sample of something they’ve prepared from next month’s menu, remove your apron, pack your cooler and go! You may also have a look at and/or place your order and select your session slot for the following month. Your first time in they will guide you through all of this and assist you at any time. The staff is passionate and helpful. More on how it all works here.
Take your meals home, freeze them, and when you’re ready to make them, take them out a couple days before and thaw them in the fridge. Some meals can go right from the freezer to the oven (clearly marked), and all of them come with instructions to get them from the freezer or fridge to the table.
How Was The Food?
Short answer: Delicious! But of course, I took lots of photos of the assembly and results of the meal kits I prepped at Dream Dinners. If you like a visual taste, here are all six of my dinners plated. Note that some side dishes were prepared not provided by Dream Dinners, and we provided and prepped those.
What did I make?
- Sizzling Sirloin Beef Fried Rice
- Canadian Bacon Stuffed French Bread
- Honey Chipotle Pork Tenderloin
- Moroccan Meatball Skewers On Jasmine Rice
- Chicken And Cheddar Empanadas With Key Lime Corn
- Orange Asian Chicken With Almond Green Beans
What else was available on the menu?
- Chicken Avignon
- Piggyback Burger With Salt & Pepper Fries
- Creamy Chicken Florentine Tortelinni
- Dill Marinated Shrimp With Pasta
- Rio Grande Chicken Fajitas
- Buffalo Ranch Chicken
Here are the instruction cards that came with my meals.
About the Menus
Each month they offer a new menu from which you select your preferred dishes. Check the website for current menus.
Questions & Answers
Before my in-store session, I compiled a list of questions I, and others might have about Dream Dinners.
How long does it take in the store?
Because it was my first time in, it took a little longer than it would if I was a seasoned pro, and yet I was done assembling everything and packing my cooler up in less than an hour. I could see that the other customers were faster and didn’t waste any time figuring things out. So for a newbie, I’d plan for the full hour, which will allow for asking the staff questions, working a bit slower, and learning the ropes in general. After the first session, I would bet one could be done in forty to fifty minutes.
Is it kid-friendly?
I would describe the menu selections as being kid-friendly, and the process of assembling the food in-store would be very doable for kids about nine or older. There was a mother-daughter team in the store when I was there, and the daughter was definitely a teen and seemed very focused and capable. My opinion would be to try it with kids because it would engage them in the process in a fun and fast way. This could carry over to completing the cooking at home since they were involved in selecting the food, prepping it at the store, and the home cooking would be the icing on the cake. If I’d had this service as a kid, I would have loved it.
Can two people work together?
Yes. While my husband was there to take photos, we agreed it would be a fun and productive thing to do together. Couples, friends, parents and kids could all be great teams. This would even be a great date for newlyweds, or even a gift of meals you prepare for them ready to freeze.
How do the side dishes work, and are all meals complete meals?
They are not all complete meals, which came as a surprise to me. I expected that 6 meals with 3 servings each would have meant full meals. Some of them are full meals, some of them are the main course with a side, and some are just the main course. When you select your menu, be sure to read all of the details about what you’ll get.
When and if you do need additional courses/side dishes, they provide suggestions on your instruction cards for sides that you can grab from their freezer and add to your order. These are an added cost, but the convenience factor is desirable. I did not add any sides to my order, as I wanted to see how the basic order worked at home. The variety of sides looked great, and they have desserts too.
How much does it cost?
The introductory offer is 18-Servings for only $84.95. Note that Dream Dinners allowed me to try the introductory offer at no cost in order to evaluate the product and service so that I could share my experience with my readers. For more information about cost, please visit their website.
Where are the stores located, and is there one near me?
Dream Dinners continues to add locations, but at the moment, they’ve got locations in twenty-two states including Alabama (2), Arizona (4), California (24), Colorado (4), Connecticut (2), Florida (2), Georgia (2), Indiana (2), Kansas (1), Maryland (2), Massachusetts (3), Michigan (2), New Jersey (1), North Carolina (2), Ohio (6), Oregon (3), Pennsylvania (3), South Carolina (1), Texas (6), Utah (2), Virginia (1), Washington (4). Click here to find your preferred location.
Do I have to know how to cook?
No. In fact, I believe this would be a great way to learn about cooking, and without needing to own lots of spices and cooking tools. Basic measuring and following instructions are all that you need to be able to do in the store, and once you’re home you’ll just need a few pots and pans, basic kitchen tools (cutting board, utensils, knives), a freezer, a fridge, a stove, and an oven.
Is Dream Dinners good for special diets?
While they do have a fairly flexible menu, they do not at this time offer plans for special diets. Be sure to have a look at their menu to see if your needs would be met.
Who uses Dream Dinners?
Busy families, shift workers, bachelors, couples, and other people who want to save time getting dinner on the table, while retaining the ability to eat home-cooked food. While in the store, I met one of their earliest customers. A single man who loves the convenience of pulling prepped food out of the freezer a couple of times per week to have easy but good food. I also met a nurse who said it helps with the crazy schedule she has. She and her husband can still cook and eat together without all of the prep and clean-up. Families with kids going in every direction during the week can rely on Dream Dinners to free up time and relieve the stress of getting home cooked food on the table for everyone.
Do they do the same recipes on a regular basis in case I want to make the same thing again later?
You’ll likely see your favorite dishes popping up over the months. They do not have a fixed way of doing that, aside from certain special menus comprised of the most popular and highly rated dishes. Be sure to participate in rating your dishes on the website to keep track of your likes and dislikes, and help get your favorites back on the menu.
How long does each meal take to prep from freezer to ready to eat?
This varies by the dish. The longest it took for anything I selected was one hour. That was for the Stuffed French Bread which goes straight from the freezer to the oven if you like. If I’d allowed it to thaw, it would have been a quicker meal. When selecting your meals from the menu, consider your preferences around thawing times, freezer to oven, and so on. Each meal card lists the prep time, for your planning convenience.
The Dream Dinners facility was clean, bright, and cheerful. I found the process easy to understand, and with the staff’s help, I was able to easily understand what to do and how to do it fairly quickly. The session I attended was bustling with lots of other customers, but I was able to get to my stations with little to no waiting (no surprise here in Texas, the Empanadas station was a little backed up because it seemed that every customer had selected it for their menu). The staff buzzed around to answer questions, to clean up behind us, and even to help organize my freezer space and cooler. I had lots of questions for them, and my “hostess” Jen was incredibly patient and helpful. They clearly love what they do, and what the business stands for.
I was curious if I would leave with the recipes to make the dishes on my own later, and the answer is no. The recipes are proprietary and that makes perfect sense to me.
Some of the meals had five or more bags for prepped ingredients, so I’d love to see a bit less waste on those, which I mention here for those concerned about sustainability.
My Personal Favorite Dish
While I loved the Morrocan Meatballs and the Empanadas, I think my favorite would have to be the Stuffed French Bread. Basically, it is a whole loaf sandwich filled with a cream cheese mixture, Canadian bacon, sausage, cheese, all on a loaf of French bread. Not only was it delicious, but I could pull it out of the freezer and put it straight into the oven with no thawing. While it was baking, I prepared side dishes. Easy, convenient, and how can you go wrong with those ingredients?
Have you tried Dream Dinners? What did you think? If you haven’t tried Dream Dinners, I hope you’ve learned about them, and if they might be the right service for your family.
Special thanks to Dream Dinners, to local franchise owner Stacy Adams, to my in-store hostess Jen Scanlon. I appreciate the opportunity to experience your service and products in order to provide my thoughts for my readers.Thanks to Mike Machowski for taking photos of my in-store experience, and for providing feedback about the food we shared from Dream Dinners.