Why Dream Dinners is Awesome

This is Dream Dinners interior

To my family and friends, it’s probably no surprise that Graham and I are not into cooking. There’s a lot of reasons for that:

  • The time and mess involved is just annoying. Spending 30-90 minutes in the kitchen cooking something is time that could be better spent, in my opinion. Given the choice, I’d rather pop a Lean Cuisine in the microwave, or have fast food. And prep work – ugh! Having to chop things and then do all the clean up afterwards is the pits.
  • So much waste. I can’t tell you how many times a recipe has called for some weird ingredient that we only used a tiny portion of, and then ended up throwing the rest away. Even just normal ingredients like eggs and milk are not something we eat a lot of; if I buy a half dozen eggs, chances are extremely high that only a couple will be used. And don’t get me started on spices – so expensive, and it seems like most of the time, you just need a small tsp or something and you never use it again.
  • We’ve tried so many disappointing recipes. Things that sounded good and were rated well on allrecipes.com and then once made, just were not that good – bland or unappetizing, despite following the recipe carefully. We’ve thrown away so many leftovers that it just turned me off of cooking altogether for awhile.

Our solution in recent years has been to eat a lot of fast food, frozen dinners, or go out to eat. There’s obvious downsides to all of those options – we’ve been putting on some pudge from eating so much unhealthy stuff. Frozen dinners are quick and easy, but not that great tasting. And going out to eat all the time is expensive!

Other solutions we’ve tried have been things like Blue Apron and other services like that where you receive the ingredients and then cook the meal. I’m not a huge fan, because the few times we’ve tried those, the quality of the food was iffy, and half of it was melted or gone bad by the time it arrived in the mail (downside to living in such a warm place, I guess). But then I heard about Dream Dinners, and it’s turned out to be perfect for us! (yes, I sound like an ad, but it’s true)

What It Is

It’s a meal service where they do all the basic prep-work; you pre-order what meals you plan to make on their website and sign up for a specific time slot. Once you arrive at your session, you compile your ingredients in plastic bags following their very clear instructions. Then you freeze that meal and pull it out to defrost a day or two before planning to cook it (there are also at least a couple of meals every month that can be cooked straight from the freezer as well).

When you walk into the store, there's several different recipe stations set up.
When you walk into the store, there’s several different recipe stations set up.
At each station is detailed assembly instructions. Everything is color coded and clearly labeled.
At each station is detailed assembly instructions. Everything is color coded and clearly labeled.
Close up of a station. Note the color coding on the handles.
Close up of a station. Note the color coding on the handles.
As you complete each recipe, it goes on your shelf in the freezer.
As you complete each recipe, it goes on your shelf in the freezer. It generally takes about 90 minutes to compile all your recipes.
Where you can buy sides for dinners, or sweets. Their scones are AMAZING!
Where you can buy sides for dinners, or sweets. Their scones are AMAZING!
My freezer at home stuffed full of meals for the month
My freezer at home stuffed full of meals for the month.
An example of a frozen meal with recipe card.
An example of a frozen meal with recipe card.

Pros and Cons

This obviously isn’t the perfect fit for everyone; I’m just posting about it because it’s awesome and I love it – it works well for us. Some pros and cons I can think of for people to consider:

Pros

  • Reduces food waste, especially when it comes to ingredients.
  • The food so far has been really great; everything we’ve had so far has been at least a solid B, and I would rank most of them as As.
  • Big time saver; initial prep is 90 minutes for all meals combined. Preparation once out of the freezer can range from popping into the oven up to 45 minutes + multiple steps. It all just depends on the individual recipes you pick.
  • Greatly simplifies meal planning and prep.
  • Reduced shopping time, now that I don’t have to buy dinner ingredients. I buy their scones for breakfast, so dinner and breakfast are covered. All I need to shop for nowadays is lunch and snacks, which is a huge reduction in shopping time.
  • Decent range of recipes, with a mix of comfort foods, kid friendly, and heart healthy. Menus change every month.
  • The ingredients so far have all been been of good or high quality.
  • Recipes are customizable to some extent as you build them in store – like garlic? You can add extra. Allergic to nuts, like me? Leave it out, and so on.
  • Most recipes have been generous with their portions; it just depends on the recipe. A 3-serving meal of chicken breasts is going to be exactly that; things like pasta and soup dishes stretch quite a bit further, I’ve found.
  • If you’re unable to come into the store to compile your recipes, they provide a service where they do it for you (for a fee).
  • They have a rewards program where you earn points that you can put towards purchases of sides or sweets, or just as a discount off your next order.

Cons

  • The thing you’re probably all wondering about is the price. They require a minimum of 36 servings per order, which is generally going to run you $200 – $230, depending on what you order. Compared to what we were spending eating out and on fast food, it makes economical sense for us; if you’re a frugal couponer type, then this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. One of the main reasons services like Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, etc. exist – despite quite high costs per serving – is because a lot of people do want to cook; they just don’t want to have to deal with all the other work/time that is involved. Dream Dinners is one solution that exists as a happy medium; not as cheap as doing all the planning, shopping, and prep yourself, and not as expensive as outsourcing it 100%. It works out to about $6 per serving for us, which is cheaper than Blue Apron or other services we’ve looked at.
  • Recipes can vary as far as healthiness and calories. They always have a few chicken dinners that are on the low calorie side, as well as fish, etc. I just wouldn’t recommend this service as a weight loss sort of thing; it’s not Nutrisystem.
  • Not all meals come with a side, so you may have to account for that as a cost. They have sides available, but they can be pricey. I usually buy a couple with my reward points,  and also keep a couple bags of frozen veggies as well to make a quick side if needed.
  • Requires a decent amount of freezer space.
  • We love the recipes so far, but we’re not exactly haute cuisine types or anything 🙂 Don’t expect anything wild as far as ethnic cuisine. This is not gourmet food; just a lot of good solid, easy recipes.
  • Their website kind of sucks. Simply has to be said, and not just because it’s my industry – it’s a bit clunky and confusing in places.

How to Try It

They have three ways of doing it: the first is the $75 Introductory Offer. If you find a location by you, go to their individual location webpage on DreamDinners.com and look for the introductory menu. This lets you choose from a more limited menu for the month, and get 18 servings for only $75. This is how we started, and I highly recommend doing this, as it’s a great intro to the whole idea.

Some locations offer a $25 Dream Taste. My understanding of how this works is that you register for this session type on their site, and when you arrive for it, you will be assembling 3 pre-set recipes (no choice involved). This is a good cost-effective way to try their food and the entire system if you’re unsure. To see if your location offers these, you’ll have to click around on their calendar to see if any such sessions are listed, or call them.

The third way is to have a friend currently already doing Dream Dinners to hold their own private Dream Taste (still $25). The friend needs at least 4 friends signed up to hold a session like this.

I talked to some of the people that were there in my sessions, and all of them raved about it. Most of them were busy working moms, who just didn’t have time to deal with lots of meal prep and planning, and liked the ability to just have a meal or two unfrozen that could be thrown in the oven or tossed together in a few minutes. There were some couples like Graham and myself who liked the ability to have a wide mix of recipes that fit the needs of only two people without having to buy a lot of extra or weird ingredients (a commonly overheard comment at one of the recipe stations was “What the heck is Chervil?”) We personally like how it has made cooking a lot easier for us without being as expensive as Blue Apron and other similar services; if you’ve been eyeing those, I suggest you take a look at this as well, as it has a lot of similar appeals – just done a little differently.

If you’re interested in reading more or in signing up, you can go to DreamDinners.com

And hey – if you found this article helpful in making you sign up, then please consider listing me as your referral (it’s an option at the very bottom under “Where did you hear about us?”) My email is myfirstname.l.mylastname@gmail.com (replace myfirstname and mylastname with the appropriate information. Tip: my name is up at the top of the site. The bit in the middle between the dots is an L.) I’m sharing the info about Dream Dinners because I think it’s cool and I wanted to blather about it to the maybe 2 people that know this site exists – but I certainly wouldn’t turn down referral points, either 🙂

 

A Back Yard for Kara, Pt. 1

We live in a tiny little bungalow in Southern California. When we bought the house, we thought, “Hey, cool — a pool!” And then proceeded to never use it. It sat there, sucking up money and taking up our entire back yard. We probably would have just left it there until we moved out of the house, but then two things happened: 1) the edges of the concrete around it started crumbling, and it became clear that the 30-year-old pool had some major issues. And 2) we got a dog 🙂

 

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This was our back yard. The pool pretty much filled the entire thing. It was old, and badly damaged. The estimates we got to repair it started at $15k, and we said “Hell no” to that idea.

 

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The only grass in the back yard. Would you like some rosemary? We have a planter full of it.

 

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Kara says, “Yeah, this sucks.” Sidenote: she fell in the pool the evening after this picture was taken. Talk about affirmation for getting it removed!

 

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“I have a dream that someday I will have a back yard to run and play in…”

 

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The contractors came and set up a pump overnight to empty the pool. It was oddly exciting to watch the levels go down during the day…

 

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And here it is, empty. That’s one big cement pit.

 

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They started by punching several holes in the bottom of the pool.

 

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They then filled the bottom with dirt until it was high enough for the Bobcat to start jackhammering the cement shell of the pool. They take off the top couple feet of the pool.

 

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Pile o’ dirt. There was a really huge pile in our driveway in the front, and the Bobcats would come back and forth down our little side alleyway carrying a heap at a time.

 

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They keep filling the pool with dirt, and compacting it, so there won’t be any sinking. Also — note the nice clean sawcut they did on the edge of the patio near the house. It didn’t make much sense to us to remove it all and then repour the exact same concrete; would have killed our budget!

 

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Making serious progress here — pool is mostly full of dirt. Just have to finish getting rid of the unwanted patio. You may have noticed that we also got rid of the pergola — not much choice in that, since the section of the patio that it was affixed to got removed. It was also rotted and ready to fall down. We may replace it eventually, but not right now.

 

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Very nearly finished — it’s starting to look like a real back yard!
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Finished! Now we just have to get some landscaping in place…

 

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From the other end of the yard.

 

We have a landscaper scheduled to come in next week to get the sod, trees, and flowers in place, so stay tuned for Part 2!

 

 

 

WP-eFiction is Cancelled

For those of you coming here to check on the status, I regret to inform you that I have decided to not continue the project. The reality is, I simply don’t have the time to devote to it — I run my own business which keeps me crazy busy. This is a project that is near and dear to my heart, and I truly wish I did have time to devote to it, but after letting it lag for the past year or so, it’s just become clear to me that I will likely never finish it.

If someone does decide to work on it, and would like some assistance, please ping me, and I’ll happily help out. I just can’t spearhead or take on the lion’s share of development. So sorry!