Meal Prep Archives - A Crafty Spoonful

Dream Dinners Makes Mom’s Life Easier

When I find things that make my life easier, I want to climb onto the roof and shout it out to everyone. So when I was invited to try out Dream Dinners in Encinitas and see what it was all about, I couldn’t say no. And not only did I find an awesome place to enjoy some me time, I was able to check a few things off my list in a short amount of time.

Dream Dinners - Making Moms Lives Easier

I’m a huge believer of using the tools and resources out there to make our lives easier. I also believe that everyone should know their strengths and weaknesses. And when you have a weakness, you should try and find a way to create strength. I love cooking. I love to eat what I make and enjoy seeing my family around the dinner table enjoying a meal that I made.

However with an increase in work hours and a crazier family schedule, I’ve found that the one thing I don’t have is time to prep meals. That includes finding time to grocery shop (although I do love me some Amazon Prime Now and Amazon Fresh!). But even when I do get groceries delivered to our door, I still have to prep it and come up with a dinner plan. But even with the best of intentions I find myself running around 10 minutes before my husband comes home trying to find some 15 minute wonder to make and serve to the family. Or I call the husband and ask him to pick something up.

That’s when Dream Dinners stepped in and opened my eyes to how easy meal time prep could be with a little preplanning. And a little letting go. Just like I gave in and hired a maid service when I realized I am horrible at keeping up with the house cleaning, I also realize that I need help in the kitchen too for those nights that a conference call runs late, I’m still working on a project, or I have a meeting at my son’s school. And having a meal prepped and ready to go in the fridge, with little to no prep work on my end is making my life a whole lot easier.

Dream Dinners storefront

Why Dream Dinners?

Founded in 2002, Dream Dinners enables guests to choose from seasonal, rotating monthly menus and prepare the dinners in-store without the hassle of planning, shopping and chopping. They lay out the ingredients in an easy-to-follow format so you can assemble a month’s worth of meals in about an hour.

You can get a feel for the DreamDinners experience in this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-4Cu9epiAA.

Dream Dinners - instructions to follow

How Dream Dinners Works

Interested in how Dream Dinners works? Here’s a run down of exactly what I did from the time I walked into the door to when I left with my bag of meals:

  1. As soon as I came in, I dropped off my purse and headed to grab an apron and wash my hands.
  2. Then I grabbed my list of meals that I’d be preparing that day and got to work.
  3. I went to the station for my first meal and looked over the instructions.
  4. I simply went down the instructions list and added ingredients into the small bags provided to create each “layer” of the meal or recipe. All of the tools I needed were right at the station ready to use including measuring cups and spoons as well as all of the ingredients I’d need.
  5. When I had all of the components together,  I added everything to a larger bag and popped in a recipe card so I’d know what to do once I got home.
  6. After each meal was in it’s bag, I placed it in the fridge to stay cool while I finished the rest of my meals.
  7. I repeated this process until all of my meals were done, washing my hands in between each meal prep.

Dream Dinners - tools to use

When you first walk into Dream Dinners, the helpers there take you through the process. You aren’t just left alone to figure it out, you have a helper there along the way for any questions you might have.

Since I’m eating a different meal plan than my family, I could simply omit ingredients I wouldn’t eat or substitute another ingredient. I could also note on the bag if I needed to add anything at home. For example, they have low fat versions of certain things like cream cheese. So I noted what bags I needed to add full fat cream cheese to since we don’t usually eat the low fat versions.

And not only is it easy to customize your meals, you also get to choose what meals you prepare from a huge list of meals that are on a rotating basis each month. So one month’s menu will never be the same as the previous month. That means I get to try out a lot of fun options with my family. And each time I go to Dream Dinners, I can get a taste for one of the latest menu items for the next month after I’m done!

Dream Dinners - ingredients to use

When I got my meals home, I took the three I knew I’d make in the next 5 days and put them in the fridge. All of the others went into the freezer for another week. It’s recommended to pull the meal you want to enjoy from the freezer and into the fridge the night before so it has time to thaw out. But there is also thawing options available in case you forget like I have.

And while sides don’t come with the meals, Dream Dinners has a huge fridge with sides and dessert options you can add to your meals. Or you can choose to add your own sides. For the French Taragon Chicken with Redskin Potato Wedges meal, I added fresh asparagus and just roasted it when I roasted the potatoes. So easy to throw in when everything else was cooking.

Dream Dinners 1

Dream Dinners is a great option for those parents who might not have the time every night to completely prepare and cook a homemade meal for their families. I love that I now have a (cheaper) option at my fingertips for homemade dinners to take the place of calling my husband and asking him to bring home fast food.

And? I love that I can head out to Dream Dinners for a few hours to meal prep. I don’t have to make a mess in my kitchen AND I get a little me time on the weekends. Win-win!

Have you tried Dream Dinners? What’s your favorite Dream Dinners meal?

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks: Party Like A Pro

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sam’s Club. The opinions and text are all mine.

Ahhh… turkey day is nearly upon us and, if you’re like me, you’re about to lose your mind due to the long list of things you need to get done before the big day. Not to mention Christmas right around the corner! Well, in an effort to ease my mind and give myself a bit of time to prep I decided to head out to Sam’s Club® and search for great tips and tricks for planning the perfect Thanksgiving party.

Holiday entertaining can be the ultimate challenge.  But with affordable, gourmet selections from Sam’s Club®, you’ll be party planning like a pro for the best holiday season ever.  Get started at FoodNetwork.com/party, your one-stop source for great tips, recipes and behind the-scenes videos with Sam’s Club® Members.

You can also get tips directly from the pros! Check out Chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible Ambush as he ambushes an unsuspecting Sam’s Club member to help solve problems and party plan like a pro.  In this video, Robert provides his ideas for the perfect center plate protein to make sure your next dinner party is a smash!

In addition to great food from Sam’s Club, I’ve also asked bloggers what their favorite ways to help save them time (and sometimes money!) when hosting or attending a Thanksgiving party. If you’re like me and need a game plan to keep your mind at ease, read along to find out all of the great tips I discovered.

Thanksgiving Checklist
1. Create a checklist

One of the easiest ways for me to stay on track with big meals or events is to have a checklist. A place I can put everything I need to do and have the satisfaction of checking off each little box as I go along. Luckily, Tonya Staab wrote a Thanksgiving checklist featured on Blissfully Domestic that should help each of us prep and plan for this Thanksgiving.

2. Prep ahead

One of the easiest things to do when prepping for Thanksgiving is to do things in advance. Rachael Nash Wunderlich of Adventures in Wunderland suggests to make pies and put together casseroles the day before, then on thanksgiving day you just rotate the casseroles in to bake and all you really have to worry about is the turkey and potatoes.

Need help on those potatoes? Check out these mashed potato tips from Dish over Dinner. Or do what I do and make a twice baked potato casserole (recipe coming soon!) that you can prep in advance.

Prepping doesn’t stop with food. Consider setting up the buffet with dishes and decor while placing post its and labels to indicate where dishes should go on the big day. Put out anything you can in advance so you aren’t rushing to put things together on the day of the party. We also set the table a few days before too.

chocolate espresso pecan pie3. Keep drinks and dessert simple

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to keep it simple. Delegate some items so that you aren’t burdened with many different dishes. One tip Joann Wooley of Sign4Baby thinks helps a lot is to have your guests be in charge of dessert and beverages.

Now if you really love to bake and that’s your thing then consider delegating out some side dishes instead. Consider this chocolate espresso pecan pie from Baby Birds Farm for your main dessert and then have guests bring other pies to add to the mix. That way you can spend more time on other aspects of the meal.

And drinks can be kept super easy. Ask guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine and then for the kids make this easy crock pot apple caramel cider featured on Catching Up With Kate.

4. Remember food allergies

Its important to remember that not all guests can eat everything on the table. Try to accommodate guests food allergies says Melonie Gallegos. It may be a small change you make to  a recipe or simply preparing a dish without one ingredient but your guests will sure appreciate it!

Know of a guest who’s gluten or dairy free? Try this delicious pumpkin pie I made with coconut milk. Cook it up in a dairy-free, gluten-free crust and you have an allergy friendly dessert!

green bean casserole

5. Make sure to think of the leftovers

No one wants to miss out on the delicious left overs so consider buying 2 turkeys if you are hosting a big family gathering suggests Joann Wooley. Or plan to make a double batch of that favorite casserole everyone loves. And make sure to pick up plenty of goodie bags and dishes from Sam’s Club so you can send leftovers home with your guest. The one thing I always regret each year is not taking enough leftovers home!

7. Don’t Overcook the Bird!

Now I’ve only cooked two turkeys in my life. One with a brine, the other without. And the only thing I was concerned about was dry turkey. So I did a bit of research and found that cooking the turkey with it’s breast down for half of the cooking time allows the bird to cook evenly without overcooking the white meat. By flipping it back over 1/2 way through I can still get that gorgeous golden brown crisp skin everyone loves.

8. Keep it Simple

I had to laugh when a fellow blogger suggested to simply purchase everything already made. Heather Delaney Reese of It’s A Lovely Life mentioned that her best Thanksgiving ever was the year they bought everything at Sam’s Club (and split the cost with friends). Sam’s Club has a truly impressive array of holiday foods from the entire meal-in-a-frozen-box to just the sides (fresh or frozen) to just the ingredients for a homemade feast. Now I’m all about home cooking 99% of the time but when it comes to these giant meals for parties keeping it simple just makes it easier on everyone.

9. Entertain your Guests

There really can be too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to prepping Thanksgiving parties. So make sure you have something for your guests to do (or eat) while you’re finishing up.

Make sure there’s a ball game on for the guys and the black Friday ads out for those who shop early. Some bloggers may have mentioned getting into arguments with their mother-in-law. Jillian Warner of Mommy Testers tip is one we should keep at heart – keep your mother-in-law out of the kitchen! Or simply give her all of the salad fixings and set her at the table to get to work.

Thanksgiving Kiddie Table

10. Enjoy yourself!

With all of the prep and work that goes into a Thanksgiving meal, remember to enjoy yourself and the time you have with your family. Don’t sweat it if something goes wrong. Because you’re with people who you care about and just want to have a good time. Plus… if dinner is a huge disaster there’s always dessert!

How do you keep Thanksgiving stress-free?

Don’t forget to enter the “Holiday Party Planning” sweepstakes running from 10/22 – 12/31/15 and make the holidays just a little brighter! The Grand Prize winner will receive a $500 gift card and 1 year Plus membership ($100 value). 5 1st Place winners will receive a 1 year Prime membership ($100 value). 5 2nd Place winners will receive a Wolfgang Puck 10 piece Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set ($29.99 value). And 10 3rd Place winners will receive a Kitchen Aid 3pc Chef Knife Set ($15.98 value). 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and D.C., 21 years or older.  Ends 12/31/15.  To enter and for complete details and odds, visitwww.foodnetwork.com/party. 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sam’s Club. The opinions and text are all mine.



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