Making Dinner Easier

The meal assembly industry aims to take the heat off for busy cooks.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The investment: About two hours of your time and $195. The idea: You assemble a batch of meals at a store that provides recipes, pre-prepared ingredients, and cooking facilities. The result: 12 entrees, ready to take home, freeze, and bake at your leisure.

Those are the basics behind the self-service, meal-assembly stores that are popping up all over the United States, both as franchises and as single-store businesses.

Industry representatives say they offer an alternative to takeout, allowing customers to enjoy home-cooked-style meals and convenience, too. And you don't have to be a chef to prepare these "make, take, and bake" entrees.

"Most of our customers don't know how to cook or don't like to cook," says Sam Lee, owner of the Full Plate meal assembly store in Walnut Creek, Calif.

At most of these businesses, you select your preferred entrees and sign up for a time slot over the Internet. When you get to the store, there are stations set up to assemble each entree. Instructions are spelled out step by step. Pre-cooked and pre-chopped ingredients, measuring cups and spoons, and freezer-friendly takeout containers are on hand.