Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My New Healthy Meal Plan: Dream Dinners

I love to cook. How about you? How many nights a week do you cook a real, home-cooked meal? Sadly, I don't get to cook as much as I used to, but I found something that really helps. And I love it so much that I feel compelled to tell you about it!

As some of you may remember, this used to be a cooking blog way back in the day when I first started blogging. I eventually got over the whole food blogging thing, but I didn't stop cooking. On the contrary - my cooking was so delicious that we didn't want to wait to have to take a photo before we ate the meal. And then afterward I was in such a delightful food coma that I didn't feel like writing about it.

But back to the subject. I really do love to cook. I always cooked dinner at home 5-7 nights a week every week all the way up until my water broke. (I even cooked dinner that night, but some of the meal got burnt on the stove since I waddled away so suddenly and left it to burn. Oops.) Now that I am a mom, I still love to cook but I find it quite difficult to find the time. When Sam was a newborn I hardly cooked at all. I occasionally reheated meals that I had prepared and frozen before her birth but most of the time Mike would grill or we'd get food from somewhere else. I just found it hard to put her down or to time her feedings so that I could cook AND eat. When I did cook, I always ended up having to nurse Sam as soon as my dinner was ready. Oh, the many nights I nursed and ate at the same time! (She ended up with food on her little head more than once, I have to admit...)

Now that Sam is a little older, dinner time has become the so-called "witching hour." Sam wants attention while I'm cooking and she gets underfoot and whines and cries the whole time. I started resorting to what I think of as "cheating" for meals. I bought frozen pizzas, frozen skillet meals, threw together grilled chicken and Rice a Roni, and other unhealthy short cuts. Mike and I are NOT accustomed to eating like this, and I want Sam to grow up eating fresh, healthy, clean meals. Something needed to change.

About two years ago I heard about a company called Dream Dinners. I knew it was a place where you could prepare multiple meals at once for future consumption, but I didn't really know anything else about the company. At the time I just wasn't at a place where I needed it - I cooked elaborate meals at home almost every night, and I was loving it! However, as I neared the end of my pregnancy, I started thinking about it again and realized that I would really like to have some meals prepared in advance to have for dinner once we had a newborn in the house. I briefly looked into Dream Dinners but I was a little overwhelmed by the minimum order. (You have to order 36 servings (12 meals) and I just wasn't quite that committed to it.) I ended up doing Once A Month Cooking and cooked for two days straight to prepare meals. (I blogged about it, if you'd like to see my notes.)

Since that time, I was still curious about Dream Dinners, but again, I was always deterred by the minimum order. When I saw them come up on a Buy With Me daily deal a couple of months ago I jumped on it! The deal was $25 for $50 worth of food, and there was no minimum. Coincidentally, right after I bought the deal my friend Meagan set a bunch of us girls up with a free cooking session at Dream Dinners. Lucky me - within a week I was able to attend TWO Dream Dinners cooking sessions, and I brought home 5 meals for my freezer. And I only spent $25! I knew that I was very interested in going back on a regular basis, but I wanted to taste the food first and see how it worked for my family.

We LOVED it. We all enjoyed all 5 of the meals, and I loved how easy it was to prepare them. I simply pull a meal out of the freezer the night before or the morning of, and I put it together at dinner time. I love that it's quick and easy because everything is already chopped and measured and combined into a couple simple steps. All I have to do is throw a couple of mixed ingredients together and bake or saute them. I also love that I still feel like I cooked dinner. Unlike a frozen prepared meal from the store, I actually put all the ingredients together at my cooking session so not only do I know exactly what is in my food, I also have control over how much seasoning, spice, etc. I put into it.  And I don't just dump a bag into a pan, I still get to mix a couple of things together so I feel like I am still an active participant in preparing my meal. I now have more time to hang out with Sammy, and we all get a delicious, healthy dinner.

I've been going to Dream Dinners for 2 months now, and we have yet to come across a meal that we don't like. Each month they have a new menu so I get to look it over and select the meals that sound like something my family would like. They also have the calorie information on the menu so I am able to choose healthy options for us. Their meals come in two options: either 3 servings or 6 servings. (I found this a little odd, but it actually works well - Sam eats as much of one serving as she wants, and then Mike and I end up with a little over 1 serving each. And if she doesn't eat much, we have an extra serving for lunch leftovers the next day.) I started out getting the minimum 12 meals (36 servings), but I think I'm going to increase it next time. We've been eating Dream Dinners about 4 nights a week now so I think I'm going to go for 16 meals this time.

Dream Dinners is really quite affordable, too. It ends up being about $4-$6 a meal. If you are used to eating on a cheap ramen budget then yes, it's a little pricey. But if you are accustomed to eating a fancy home-cooked meal every night anyway like Mike and I were, it ends up costing just about the same with a lot less preparation and effort. Now I go to Dream Dinners once a month for most of our main dishes (and a few sides) and I go to the grocery store just for produce, breakfast/lunch dishes, and non-food items. Unlike my marathon 2-day Once a Month Cooking experience, my Dream Dinners session lasts about 30-45 minutes, depending on what and how many dinners I've chosen. Everything is chopped, sliced, and laid out for me, so I just measure it and put it all together! They also have a sample prepared meal on hand for tasting so I never go hungry while putting together my dinners.

I really feel like I've found a good thing. If you've ever considered Dream Dinners at all, I highly recommend checking them out! If you prefer the taste of a home-cooked meal but only have time for minimal effort and preparation time, then this is definitely for you. If you are interested and feel like sharing the love, let me know and I'll send you a referral email. If you sign up, then I'll get a $10 referral credit, which I would greatly appreciate. (And then you can sign up too and earn referral money of your own!) Also, if you're new, they are running a promotion where you get your first meal free! Otherwise, just visit, browse the current month's menu, then go to the calendar to select your session date. It's so easy and fun. I can hardly wait til my next session in a couple of weeks!

Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Dream Dinners in any way. The opinions in this post are entirely my own.


Natalie | The Bobby Pin said...

I adore Dream Dinners too! We have tons in our freezer right now! If you join Dream Dinners Rewards you get a regular discount. They don't tell you this, but you can actually go every 45 days and still get the discount, so that's what we do to space it out a bit.

Stuff Parents Need said...

I have been so curious about this! I'm definitely feeling tempted now!!!

Free Range Chick said...

When is your next session? I want to go with you! Seriously. I won't even tell the hubby and he'll think I suddenly learned how to cook.

Also, what do you do with Sam? Can Claire and her tag team?

Michelle Grigsby said...

I've always been hesitant about doing freezer dinners. You are making it sound very tempting...I may have to give it a try! :)