Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dinner...Done.

I work with a funny group of people and when I say funny I mean funny ha ha not funny weird. So when they invited me to join their funny bunch at Dinner Done, I jumped at the chance.

Dinner Done, in case you're not familiar with the company or the concept, is one of a number of franchises that allows you to prepare a number of meals at once, on site, that you then take home and freeze for later use.

I began the process by logging on to Dinner Done's website and selecting eight meals I was interested in preparing at our group's upcoming session. The selection of entrees usually changes by month and you pay a fixed fee for either eight or twelve selections. In my case, my eight entrees were going to cost me about $154.00. Each prepared entree, they claim, feeds 4 to 6 people.

I arrived at Dinner Done at about 7:30 and met my six co-workers who would be joining me that evening. I think the limit was 15 participants, so the other attendees appeared to be another group of friend or co-workers. You are handed an apron, your list of selected entrees, told to wash your hands, and the food prep. begins immediately. But wait...what do I mean by food prep? This is the beauty of Dinner Done and other joints like them. Everything is already prepped for you. In a rather industrial but cozy setting, if that makes any sense, are about 12 stations that provide everything you possibly need to make a particular entree (okay, if I type entree one more time I'm going to have to hurt myself...synonyms anyone?). So, for example, I started off by making Bourbon chicken. As soon as you approach the station, a helpful Dinner Done staffer hands you a bag containing all the chicken you need, already conveniently cut to size. Then, following the posted directions, you prepare the marinade and the chicken itself. Every ingredient is pre-chopped, sliced or diced AND the measuring utensils of the correct size already been placed each ingredient. No matter how untalented you are at the culinary arts, this method is absolutely fool-proof - you consult the steps posted above your work station and just keep on keeping on, omitting, decreasing or increasing the amount of ingredients depending on your particular tastes. When you're finished, you place the uncooked, prepared food in containers, depending on the serving sizes you want to cook at some future date, take them over to the wrapping station, bundle them up, slap a label on the e-word which lists cooking times, place them in the industrial freezer until you're ready to go, and one hour and half later...voila. Dinner done. For many, many days (at least in our house). We had the Bourbon chicken for dinner tonight and it was yummy.

So why am I posting about this on my Gift of Green blog? As I left there, I couldn't help but wonder if this process was very green at all. Here are some of my conclusions.

The Anti-Green:
-Right off the bat, the number of containers used was absolutely obscene. Granted you are packaging things up for the freezer which I guess, if you were an organized person like me (not), you would be doing this at home too. But I don't think most of us would use disposables to freeze portions? I don't know; I'm not a cook-one/freeze-one type of person.
-Who knows where this stuff is coming from. I was worried that the quality of the meats would not be up-to-snuff and that we'd be using questionable ingredients, but the place we went to was extremely transparent in that when an ingredient needed to be replenished they just popped open some huge container of a name brand item sitting in their immense pantry and that was that. However, I'm guessing none of this stuff was organic or even local.
-I love hygiene. I'm all about food-safety. I was very pleased to see how clean and spotless this venue was and how responsible all the attendees were as well. Responsibility came at a cost, however, and that cost was single use plastic gloves for food-handling. Maybe you use these at home when you cook - I don't.

The Green
-Although I cannot vouch for local or organic, it appears to me that the menus change monthly based on what is in season. Perhaps they use this strategy to keep pricing down. Not sure.
-Can't something green be said about what was basically a communal kitchen? Huge cans of beans, gigantic vats of soy sauce, gob-stoppers of spices (okay, I'm reaching on that last one). This method has to cut down on the number of tin cans floating around, would you say?
-Maybe I'm reaching here, but the hour and a half I spent preparing at least two weeks of meals for my family will definitely allow me more time to spend with my family. Now, when I get home, I basically just heat (cook) and serve, and I do know that everything was made with fresh, all natural ingredients (although, as I mentioned, I cannot really vouch for the meat products themselves, or the salmon fillets for that matter).

Bottom Line: In my experience Dinner Done saved me time (and cooking angst) and has provided my family with a variety of tasty meals. On the green side, Dinner Done and other places of its ilk probably won't be making the top ten list of ways to go green.

4 comments:

SusieJ said...

Please tell us if you use them. My girlfriend never ate her meals.

Mary Beth said...

Yeah, I'd be interested in that too. I'm guessing you'll eat them since you have a family to feed. But will you like them? On the green side, I think anything that promotes family dinner is green in the larger sense of the word anyway.

Jen@BigBinder said...

There is one place in my town that uses local products and makes all of their sauces etc. from scratch. As far as the packaging; I am a 'freeze ahead' kind of person and it's the same I'd use at home. I tell myself it is better because for example; I am only turning the stove on once to brown ground beef for two meals where if I weren't freezing ahead; I would have to do it twice. Also, only washing pans & stuff once and using that water where I would otherwise use it twice. But maybe I am just telling myself that so I don't feel bad about making things more convenient for me :)

Jody said...

Thank you so much for sharing this experience! I've heard of these types of places but never thought to try it, now at least I know what I'm missing. My husband is only home one or two nights a week and he won't eat anything vaguely related to leftovers so this program probably wouldn't work for us, but it sounds pretty cool.