Assemble your own home-style meals before your next motorhome excursion.
By Terri Blazell
We pull into our campsite; set the leveling jacks; hook up the electricity and water; open the slideouts; and then introduce ourselves to the neighbors who so graciously directed us into our spot.
Now, it’s time to eat!
In the past, I’d stare at the pantry for a while, see what’s inside the refrigerator, and, finally, peruse the freezer. I’d find a huge box of rice, several boxes of pasta, cold cereal, oatmeal packets, and some canned goods, none of it convenient or, at the moment, appetizing. The rice is for a stir-fry, but the meat is still frozen. The pasta needs sauce, and I forgot to bring that. The fridge has a pack of hot dogs and lunch meat. The freezer holds a few frozen dinners. I find myself wavering between a microwaved hot dog and a cold sandwich. Sound familiar?
Well, I have discovered something better. On this particular trip, I open the refrigerator and pull out an aluminum pan with a homemade Bacon Chicken Cheese Pocket, big enough for two or even three. After 20 minutes in the oven, this football-sized delicacy comes out warm, golden brown, and oozing with sauce, melted cheese, and meat filling. Absolutely delicious. Are you getting hungry?
The notion of having meals that have already been prepped in a retail kitchen is ideal for RVers of all stripes, from weekenders to full-timers. “Cook and carry,” “take and bake,” and “grab and go” are among the terms these establishments use to describe their homemade, make-it-from-scratch offerings. You choose delicious recipes and create generous portions, and the meals are reasonably priced. You’ll never microwave a hot dog again. Well, maybe once in awhile.
The premise is this: these businesses provide the ingredients for your meal, and you do the assembly work. For example, my meals came from Dinners Done Right in Lacey, Washington. After a brief orientation and tour, I slipped on an apron and gloves (both provided by staff) and I was set loose in the spacious, clean kitchen.
Workstations are set up, each geared to a different entrée. All the ingredients you need to make the recipe are right there, and they’ve already been “shopped, chopped, and cleaned,” as Lacey store owner and manager Valerie Krein puts it. Large-print recipe cards give step-by-step instructions that even a fifth-grader could follow. Measuring cups and spoons in the correct sizes accompany each ingredient, so there is no hunting or guessing. Since you assemble meals yourself, there are no surprise ingredients that may contradict your taste or health needs. If the recipe calls for something you don’t like or can’t eat, leave it out or substitute something else.
You put casseroles in their own disposable (recyclable) pans. Other dishes are assembled in freezer bags. Attach cooking instructions to the bag or pan and you are ready to go. Freezer bags full of ingredients can be rolled, tube-style, to maximize space in small RV freezers. Best of all, when you’re finished, you simply put the dirty mixing bowls and utensils in a cart and let someone else do the cleanup.
For this trip, I created the aforementioned Pastry Pocket, plus Penne Chicken, Beef Teriyaki, Irish Pie, and eight other tasty dishes. Portions are large enough for two, plus leftovers, depending on appetites. In all, I made nearly two weeks’ worth of yummy meals. And I accomplished it in less than two hours. You read that right: two weeks’ worth of homemade meals for two in two hours. My cost was approximately $100; yours may be more or less, depending on the meal size and type.
The benefit to RVers is, with everything preassembled, you are no longer stuck trying to slice, dice, and otherwise corral ingredients using a sliver of a countertop. You spend virtually no time prepping the meal once you’re in the motorhome, so you have more time to enjoy what RVing is all about. And these are real meals made with fresh ingredients cooked on the stove top or in the oven — not reheated microwave dinners.
At some meal prep locations, you also have the option to order ahead and have the meals prepared for you or to just drop by to pick up an already-assembled meal. The price is higher for those services. Most have several things in common: menus change monthly; the more meals you buy at once, the less it costs; and some meals cost less than $4 per serving — and these are generous servings.
Meal prep kitchens can be found in the United States and Canada. Go to www.easymealprep.com and then click on directory. The site lists dozens of meal prep spots, complete with links and phone numbers. You can search by Zip Code, location, or via a map. However, the site initially was compiled back in 2011, so be sure to confirm the location by contacting it before you visit.
Meal prep franchise names include Dream Dinners (www.dreamdinners.com), the Washington-based company that began the trend. It is the largest, with nearly 100 locations throughout 25 states. Started in 2002 by two women with busy families, the company has one of the most comprehensive menus. Unlike some of the others that have a set cost for all entrées, Dream Dinners’ prices vary by menu item. You must have a computer for Dream Dinners, as they require registering and ordering online, and then scheduling an appointment for your meal assembly time.
Dinners Done Right (www.dinnersdoneright.com) has three locations — one each in Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Another Washington franchise, Dinners Ready (www.dinnersready.com), has 12 locations in that state. Some locations have the traditional “make and take” services, but many offer delivery to homes, churches, and even senior centers or RV parks.
Minnesota-based Let’s Dish has approximately 10 locations; its menu changes monthly and also reflects seasonal tastes. In the summer they offer more chicken and steaks, while in winter months you’ll find stews and stroganoffs. RVers staying at the KOA Kampground in Maple Grove, Minnesota, can drop by the Maple Grove Let’s Dish store (www.letsdish.com; 763-425-9383) to assemble fresh meals, or inquire about having some delivered. In addition to stores in Minnesota, the company has locations in Virginia and Maryland.
Before you leave on your next RV trip, look up a meal-assembly location nearest you. Stop by and grab your meals on your way out of town. You get perfectly delicious, healthful meals for the price of fast food. And, most importantly, spare time for you to do anything but cook.