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The Best Services for Making Dinnertime a Piece of Cake

For time starved, exhausted moms, thinking about le dîner is not a romantic undertaking. After all, a candlelit, wine-soaked leisurely dinner at home is out of the question these days. Who’s got the luxury of thinking about gourmet grocery shopping and meal prep when the house is crazy messy and the kids are acting like little devils?

Have no fear—in our entrepreneurial city, there are plenty of options to help make dinnertime breezier. Some companies provide places where you assemble numerous dinners in advance (and freeze them until you need them). Other businesses simply drop off healthy, pre-made meals. Still others boast chefs that will grocery shop and cook for you. Basically, there’s something for everyone, no matter how hands-on or hands-off you want to be.

  • Designed Dinners
    Nearest locations:
    Madison Park, Redmond, Renton, Covington, Federal Way, Bonney Lake, Shoreline and pick-up only store in Belltown.
    Select gourmet entrees from a monthly menu of 18, created by chef/dad Bruce Pinkerton. Then, choose a session date, cart along a casserole dish (if the menu indicates) and an apron, too. Wine is available to help make your work more enjoyable—careful, though, it might make your measurements sloppy. You can plan conversation-filled private sessions if you have a group of friends that wants to go together.
    Entrée examples: Adobo-rubbed sirloin steak; crab quiche; build-your-own calzones . All for about $4.50 per person.
    Bonus: For $25 extra, you can have the DD folks ready your entrees for you; all you need to do is pick them up.
  • Dream Dinners
    Nearest locations: Issaquah, Kirkland, Seattle, Shoreline, Woodinville, Everett.
    Dream Dinners, based in Snohomish and started by two moms, is credited with taking the organized dinner assembly trend to a national level. The moms opened their first Dream Dinners in 2002 and now have locations across the country. Using convenient prep stations, where everything is pre-chopped, you put meals together. The whole process takes three hours at most and costs about $3 per serving. The best value is choosing to make 12 family-sized dinners per month. Store the entrees in your freezer (where they can last three to five months) and then thaw, pop them in the oven and garnish before serving.
    Entrée examples: Dill-marinated shrimp; camp side beef chili; mango-glazed Indian salmon.
    Bonus: First-timers can watch a video on the web site to learn the ropes before going in to a facility.
  • Dinners Ready
    Nearest locations: Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah, Redmond, Lynnwood, Shoreline, Seattle, Woodinville.
    Instead of slaving away at home, many moms (and dads) opt to spend a quick hour or two building family-sized meals at one of the Dinners Ready facilities. The assistants here shop, prep and arrange ingredients so that everything is efficiently at your fingertips and set for measuring. The monthly menu allows you to choose from 16 different dinners. At your appointed time, you’ll ready the food, then take it home, freeze it and cook it at a later date. Note: As with most of these types of places, you’ll need a cooler for transporting your meals home.
    Entrée examples: Pesto balsamic chicken and herbed bowtie pasta; Tikka pork chops with chutney and curried couscous. Entrees average $3 per serving.
    Bonus: Dinners Ready supplies freezer bags, labels, disposable baking tins, detailed instructions and people (hopefully eager) to assist you.
  • Lucky Palate
    Serving: Seattle, Edmonds, Redmond, Bellevue.
    Lucky Palate carefully crafts vegetarian meals and brings them to your doorstep. The nine-year-old company’s tagline is “Slow food for the body and soul.” They prepare all meals on Mondays and deliver them on Tuesdays, and will leave the goodies in a cooler—which you provide—outside of your door (or in your apartment building’s foyer). You can also stop by their Queen Anne storefront (307 W. McGraw St.; 206.352.2583) on a Monday morning to get last week’s entrees for $1 each.
    Entrée options: Miso-tamarind dal; vegan goulash; lentil spanokopita. Entrees are $6 – 6.50 per person.
    Bonus: Sign up for a “What’s for Dinner?” meal plan and continuously receive two to six meals per week.
  • Edible Life
    Serving: Seattle (Eastside soon available upon request).
    A brand new Wallingford-based meal delivery business founded by natural-foods chef Carolyn Fein. Nutrition and environmental values are of the utmost importance here; the meals’ unprocessed ingredients include: whole grain flours, organic/non-GMO tofu, organic/free-range eggs and unrefined oils. The dairy products used are free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Fein only employs meat from animals that were naturally raised. Entrees, soups and salads come in two sharable pan sizes: 8x8 or 9x13. To Fein, sharing food is an important part of the meal
    Entrée options: Fresh cod with barley risotto; polenta lasagna. Entrées come in an 8x8 inch pan (serves 3-5) for $30, or a 9x13  inch pan (serves 4-6) for $40.
    Bonus: The menu changes weekly, so boredom with choices should not be an issue. Also, there’s an area where you can leave notes to the chef (about diet restrictions, etc.).
  • Delicious Planet
    Serving: Seattle and the Eastside (see site for specific zip codes).
    Founder Randi Carter studied nutrition at Bastyr University, so she knows healthy food. DP’s menu items are organic, trans-fat free, seasonally influenced and, thankfully, good tasting. Rare for a delivery service, healthy kids’ meals (chicken tenders with roasted potato “fries” and veggies, to name one) are always on the menu. DP delivers food on Mondays and Fridays and meals are made to order, meaning nothing’s been frozen. A gel-ice packed Styrofoam cooler is provided by DP.
    Entrée options: Grilled mahi-mahi tacos; Kung Pao tofu and Chinese broccoli over brown rice. Entrée prices range from $10.95 – $19.95; $9.95 for kids’ entrée.
    Bonus: They’ve added a personal shopper option where someone calls you to get your preferences and then places an order for you.

Other foodie services to try:

  • Sprouts Baby Food
    Coming this summer, Sprouts’ 100% hand-made, unprocessed baby food can be delivered to your home. Check out the long list of nutrition attributes on the web site, including: no salt, no sugar, no hormones, etc. $24 a week for 12 menu items (either the chef’s recommendations or ala carte).
  • Canape
    Chef Jay DeLong will come to new parents’ houses and make restaurant-worthy dinners (and will clean up, too). He might start with a fresh soup or salad, then serve a luscious lamb shank and, later, a maple crème brûlée.
  • The Savory Gourmet
    Go all out and get the personal chef services offered through this company. Chef Marcia also caters kids' parties; work with her on developing a kid-approved menu (that adults will relish, too).  Five entrees (with four servings each) typically run $350-450 and include menu planning, shopping, food prep and clean-up.

Molly Lori