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'Easy Meal Preparation' Concept


jamiemaw
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This concept—cold prep a week’s worth (or more) of meals in a couple of hours at relatively low cost—is sweeping North America.

The The Easy Meal Preparation Association reports 178 companies with 410 stores in the US. At less than 2,000 square feet and with few (if any) ovens or stoves, the start-up cost is relatively low, the cash flow relatively high. There's a social element thrown in for free.

It works like this:

1. Select a prep session from the local store’s calendar;

2. Choose on-line 12 entrée selections that serve 4 to 6 people (≈$199) from a pre-determined monthly rotation of 14 to 20 choices;

3. Pre-pay on-line;

4. Attend session and assemble meals from provided recipes (no cooking required);

5. Take home the finished dishes in zip-loc bags or containers for freezing; and

6. Serve by following provided cooking instructions.

If you don’t have time to attend a session, they’ll assemble it for you (≈$25) and deliver (≈$20).

A sample recipe from one store:

Mandarin Barbecue Pork

Boneless pork loin is smothered in a rich, dark sauce made with Hoisin sauce, white wine, soy sauce, and other flavors and then baked until the pork is tender and the sauce is thick. Serve with steamed rice and baby sugar peas. [freezer bag] Yield: 4 - 6 servings

Approximate per serving (excluding unknown items)

Calories 437 Protein 32gm Carbohydrates 47gm

Total Fat 11gm Cholesterol 90mg Fiber 0gm Sodium 2236mg

Net Carbohydrates 47gm Weight Watcher Points ™ 10

Some early research suggests that most outlets are suburban or in smaller cities. Most entrée menus are chicken and pork-centric, with a bit of fish thrown in.

Here’s a link to a store (chosen at random) called The Full Plate in Walnut Creek, California.

At about $2.50 to $4 per entrée, this seemingly makes economic sense for the harried two-income family.

Anyone tried it?

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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This is fascinating, Jamie. It seems in line with the prepared foods phenomenon that takes over increasing amounts of square feet and staff labor at the grocery stores I frequent. (There's a name for this that I'm flaking on....) You wrote, that it's "sweeping North America." Can you say more about what that means?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Yes, I have tried it. I tried it mainly to steal information and ideas about do-ahead prep at home, and I did receive several good ones.

Our local business of this type seems to be going strong. We found we really liked only about 1/3 of the things we brought home, and those items were things like chicken, salmon, and beef that were seasoned and frozen, ready to thaw and pop in the oven for dinner. Other entrees, such as stacked enchiladas, meat loaf, and manicotti, we either didn't care for, or prefer our own recipe.

We're unlikely to return, but I continue to subscribe to the e-mail newsletter to keep an eye on what's going on. Since I love to cook, there's really no reason for us to take advantage of this service, unless our lives somehow change drastically. But the experience did start me thinking about how I could prep ahead of time, to save cooking and cleanup time after work, and that has been a definite plus.

Although it may seem that it's not a big deal to plunk a few pieces of chicken into a pan, season it, and put it in the oven, it actually can speed up meal prep quite a bit to have it ready to go, right out of the fridge, and I do it often. The thing to remember is that not only is the prep done, the cleanup is already done. It really can make a big difference, especially when I come home hungry, tired, and frazzled. I can do the side dishes, etc., while the meat is cooking. The meal is on the table faster and easier, and the cleanup is minimal.

I referred a client to this service, and he's grateful and excited about it. He's a single dad, raising two teenage kids, and it's a godsend for him. The kids like the entrees, and he doesn't have to learn to cook. The kids can pop dinner in the oven, and it's ready to eat when he gets home, even if he's worked an extra-long day. I believe he told me that he does have the service actually put the dinners together, but I've encouraged him to take the kids and spend a couple of hours together getting their dinners ready.

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This is fascinating, Jamie. It seems in line with the prepared foods phenomenon that takes over increasing amounts of square feet and staff labor at the grocery stores I frequent. (There's a name for this that I'm flaking on....) You wrote, that it's "sweeping North America." Can you say more about what that means?

I think the buzzword for the prepared food phenomena is Home Meal Replacement or HMR. And certainly EMP is a riff on that. By 'sweeping North America' I meant that most of the 410 stores have opened within the past 24 months. If you look at the EMP Association website, you may be able to find one near you.

It's a phenomenon that is clearly calibrated to the needs of the harrased soccer mom (life as chauffeur), two-income or single parent demographics . . .

  jgm I referred a client to this service, and he's grateful and excited about it. He's a single dad, raising two teenage kids, and it's a godsend for him. The kids like the entrees, and he doesn't have to learn to cook. The kids can pop dinner in the oven, and it's ready to eat when he gets home, even if he's worked an extra-long day. I believe he told me that he does have the service actually put the dinners together, but I've encouraged him to take the kids and spend a couple of hours together getting their dinners ready. 

There's no 'consolidator' in the market yet and franchises might be redundant. And, as the start-up costs are fairly modest (+/- $100,000) it's too early to see if the penetration curve will parallel the mom-and-pop video store phenomenon of the 80s. Note that it's suburban and small town thus far. Urban centres may require more sophisticated recipes, cross-branding with celebrity chefs and ancillary (non-perishable) sales, etc.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I just noticed that on the website for my hometown paper, a second business of this type will be starting up soon, apparently part of a franchise or chain. A local advertising agency will be handling the account for this company.

The company's website is here. I hadn't realized a national chain of this type existed.

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I just noticed that on the website for my hometown paper, a second business of this type will be starting up soon, apparently part of a franchise or chain.  A local advertising agency will be handling the account for this company

The company's website is here.  I hadn't realized a national chain of this type existed.

Thanks for that, jgm. Although I'd heard about the concept a few months ago, I just started looking into it over the weekend. Seems there is a franchisor in the marketplace already! The individual stores publish menus on-line. Let us know if you visit the new store--apparently opening next month.

Jamie

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I was a bit curious about "is sweeping North America" too, since I had never heard of it. This is so far removed from something I would do for meals in my home, I guess I am ignorant of such things. However, I'm sure several moms where I work, etc. would appreciate such a service, and I imagine it has good potential to be a successful business.

JGM, I can see trying it out for the reasons you did.

Interesting, thanks.

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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Here's the link to the business already up and running in Wichita. I think they've been in business for about 18 months. I believe the chef's name is Michelle, and I'm sure she would answer any questions if you wanted to write or call her.
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I saw a television commercial for this type of service in Boise Idaho. I didn't catch the name of the company, but I do remember the commercial.

Edited to add a link: Click. You might need to register free to view this article.

Edited by EllenC (log)
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Mandarin Barbecue Pork

Boneless pork loin is smothered in a rich, dark sauce made with Hoisin sauce, white wine, soy sauce, and other flavors and then baked until the pork is tender and the sauce is thick. Serve with steamed rice and baby sugar peas. [freezer bag] Yield: 4 - 6 servings

Approximate per serving (excluding unknown items)

Calories 437 Protein 32gm Carbohydrates 47gm

Total Fat 11gm Cholesterol 90mg Fiber 0gm Sodium 2236mg

Net Carbohydrates 47gm Weight Watcher Points ™ 10

If that is not a typo, that's an excessive amount of sodium, at least for anyone with heart disease &/or high blood pressure.

I realize that this may be an atypical dish, due to the soy & Hoisin sauces here, but that sodium content is the kind of thing that makes me steer clear of foods that I don't prepare myself as often as I can. It also raises the question of just how healthy these EMPs are, tasty & convenient though they may be. I guess that depends on the preparer.

THere was a brief discussion of this topic (EMP not sodium) a couple of months ago here in the Food Media & News forum, also a link to an earlier brief discussion of the concept.

Edited by ghostrider (log)

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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  • 4 months later...

OK, since it's already been mentioned by Danielwiley, I'll open this with the followng: I LOVE Dream Dinners...............here, in Augusta, GA. I have my Kevlar on, ready for the slings and arrows of indignation over the concept, but folks, our experience has been totally positive. It's all about the sourcing of local products as well as the buying power of the franchisee and yes, I have seen the Sysco truck lurking on Saturday morning.

Having said that, we are 2 old farts working full time to avoid poverty and clueless in the kitchen. I drool over my keyboard daily when I read the Cooking! forum, envious of the time and talents here,but knowing I can't ever accomplish the same results.

Lettuce goes liquid, tomatoes turn black and let's not get into the bottom of the veggie bin in the fridge. So many good intentions for meals unfulfilled, so much stuff bought and stored in the kitchen morgue.

I love the "shop and chop". Bringing the big cooler, I start at one station, following the recipe, I throw together an entree-next stop-another entree-next stop, you get the idea. After 2 hours on a rainy Saturday morning, I drive home with the cooler stuffed to the top with the visions of meals-yummy food "prepared" by me and served to my hungry spouse. It was wonderful-portioned perfectly to our needs and tastes, I was hooked from the first meal.

What I propose, if you like, is a discussion (with photos please!) of our successes and failures, and maybe what we did or can do, to enhance the entree, or better yet, help others chose the best of the lot.

On a personal note, the Lemon chicken dish from February included artichokes and my version was kicked up a notch with capers and a little heavy cream-I'm a foodie at heart and couldn't resist just a little tweaking.

I'm scheduled for 3/4/06 for 12 meals with 3 splits (meal for 2) for a total of $227.06. I promise to take pictures! :biggrin: Take a look at their menu for this month at Dream Dinners

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First, I think there is another thread about this somewhere if a moderator could maybe merge?

Second, I have had quite the opposite experience. I loved the concept, especially given the fact that I am a single working mom with VERY limited time. However, I have been really disappointed with the quality of the food (could be a reflection of the fact that this is a brand new franchise?) and the time involved in preparing. Yesterday my meal took an hour and a half. I could have made something a hundred times better on my own (in less time).

Here's a little summary of what I've prepped so far. Sorry for linking out, but didn't want to retype everything!

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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I think they are a great alternative to take out! I know a lot of families who would benefit from this type of organization where the adults really don't like to cook (or are too busy ) and the littles ones suffer as a result.

I personally think it'd be fun to OWN one of these franchises. I'd love to hear from anyone out there who is familiar with the logistics of running one!

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I know that there are other topics on these kinds of places, and I will do a search.

I have friends who swear by this kind of thing, but I want to note that it is possible to do this at home.

When I find a great deal on a particular food item, or have a lot of a particular ingredient, it is easy to do this at home.

For example, I knew last night that my family had a hankering for spaghetti with meat/tomato salce. It's just as easy for me to prep 6 quarts as it is to prep one quart. I've got the cutting board out, and a big pot at hand. Sure, I spend more time chopping than I would have had I only been cutting up one onion, but I don't think I spend the amount of time as I would have had I cut up six onions on six different occasions. Same thing when I last made chili!

Plus, cooking in bulk is a great activity for a dreary Saturday afternoon with the kids. Gets them involved in math (quantities) and knife and searing/browning skills!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Here's the link to the prior thread.

Dinnerworks has just opened in Vancouver, with the interesting bonus that it will have recipes from leading chefs available on a rotating basis. In turn, a royalty will be paid to the Chefs' Table scolarship fund.

And what's not to like? It's inexpensive, fresh, tasty and much healthier than most default options for families on the go. Very attractive (and social) prep environment too.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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There are two places like this really close to my apartment, and neither one is a franchise... I believe they are both locally owned and independent. The local culinary center also has dinners that you can purchase frozen, but I've found them unbelievably expensive. The culinary center also has a class where you can create 12 dishes and take them home, but again, expensive.

I think it's a great concept, but have not tried anything like it. I've thought about buying a gift certificate for my best friend who is a busy, busy real estate agent, has a nine-month old, and has a husband who thinks hamburger helper is cooking!

"Many people believe the names of In 'n Out and Steak 'n Shake perfectly describe the contrast in bedroom techniques between the coast and the heartland." ~Roger Ebert

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With 24 meals comprised of 8 selections, I chose the new March dish of Bombay Chicken for our first March meal.

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/11415467...2632_687711.jpg

Simple enough, the instructions call for ALL ingredients to be placed in the pot, add water, boil, then simmer for 15-20 min. (The breasts are supposed to be grilled)

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/11415467...2632_250444.jpg

I was questioning the wisdom of the rice/coconut bag being mixed with the liquid bag, but dumped them in anyway. When I smelled the remainder of the liquid, I decided to dump the breasts in for about an hours' marinade.

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/11415467...2632_391892.jpg

It never did "fluff up" like I expected the rice would, but the taste was well balanced and a nice compliment to the chicken, which, was very moist and juicy and benefited from the marinade.

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/11415467...2632_433601.jpg

One of the biggest benefits to this meal deal is portion control, DH eats more, so the split works well with the meat portion and occasionally, a left over carb item to fill in somewhere else. In this case, there were no leftovers.

I like this dish well enough to order again. With the second half the entree, I will not combine the rice and condiments bags, but simply marinate the chicken in 1/2 and use the other half as a sauce (would heat and reduce slightly for more intense flavor) I would leave the rice/coconut side as is and serve with a chutney maybe.

Edited by Joann (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

The NY Times had an article yesterday about the rapid growth of the meal preparation center business.

(If somebody more adept than I can provide the link I'd be most grateful)

It's easy to be immediately dismissive or distainful about a concept like this, but upon reflection I think it's a great idea. Most people lack even the basic kitchen skills, mental and physical. They are also chronically short of time.

They don't demand or expect gourmet fare every night, but only a step up from fast food, take-out and delivery dinners.

You can argue with their life-style choices if you want, but it's a fact. You can't argue with the idea that anything that gets people to eat healthier meals, and eat them together as a family is a good thing. I would suspect many people "graduate" from this form of cooking to doing more things for themself as they become comfortable in their own kitchens.

I followed links in the article to the site of a three location operation in the Twin Cities: www.mixitupmeals.com

I'm impressed by the business plan, especially where it emphasizes social interactions like family participation, group fundraisers, and the camaraderie of preparing meals with friends.

I've contacted Mix It Up Meals already this morning about a possible location in a lease-hold I have in a very attractive area of the Twin Cities.

SB (better to light one burner rather than curse the cold dark ovens of $100k yuppie kitchens) :rolleyes:

PS: While I'll admit to being a notoriously poor speller, I can't believe I'm the only eGullet poster who ever tried to edit a message title! :blink:

Edited by zilla369 (log)
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Here's the link:

Meals that Moms can almost call their own

(Free registration may be required)

zilla,

THANX! :wink:

There's a link in the article to the industry's trade group, the Easy Meal Prep Association, which lists member's locations by name and by state. I find it interesting that while there are a few franchise outfits, most of them look more like mom & pop operations.

SB :smile:

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You can argue with their life-style choices if you want, but it's a fact.  You can't argue with the idea that anything that gets people to eat healthier meals, and eat them together as a family is a good thing.  I would suspect many people "graduate" from this form of cooking to doing more things for themself as they become comfortable in their own kitchens.

I've been pondering this article since I read it over the weekend. The aspect of that was upsetting to me is that I wonder if the food is any healthier when the products is supplied by Sysco and the likes. My question is, just how processed are the ingredients? If the kitchens are offering processed foods, how much of an advantage is this over take out?

In your background research, is there any evidence that people graduate to doing it themselves? Doesn't that harm the business to encourage people to cook on their own?

And I totally agree that anything that has people eating dinner together is a good thing. But does food in baggy portions necessarily encourage that?

And one last question: when did people start getting intimidated by their kitchens?

Please understand, I'm not knocking the concept at all. I'm just turning it over in my brain, and pondering away.

Edited by hathor (log)
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There is a thread HERE about this and I think there might even be an earlier one.

Maybe we can get them merged?

I know that not everyone likes to cook the way we eGulleteers do, or has the time. As an alternative to Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and pizza, I think they are a good idea.

I wish I had one nearby to check out...........

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Moderator's note:

As suggested by several alert readers [/Dave Barry], we've merged the three threads about Meal Preparation Centers. Consequently, some of the links to the various threads posted upthread are no longer valid, because, well - those threads are now within this thread.

Clear as mud? :biggrin:

We now return you to your merged thread.

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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