Dream Dinners: Making home cooking accessible for the physically challenged, elderly or just busy

Nothin' spells lovin' like somethin' from the oven. And Dream Dinners make it possible. Photo: Coconut shrimp, a favorite

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., December 19, 2011 — My wife suffers from multiple sclerosis and she was recently invited to spend a few hours at a local Dream Dinners franchise on Cloverly Street in Silver Spring, MD.

An evening that changed her life or so she swears to me. Located in 27 states, Dream Dinners are making a difference in many lives.

DreamMakerS (no relation), a group dedicated to helping children and families with a parent with MS, had extended an offer to us to go there and learn about their health food service. However, Dream Dinners is not just for folks with MS, it can be a help send to any busy family.

Arriving, we were warmly received by the owner Yihung Mohs and her manager Nicole Will, who handed us a printed copy of our meal order. They had us wash our hands and don an apron sending us on to the first station on our list. Staff on hand instructed us on good food service practices, including washing our hands every time we went to a new station.

The place itself was spotless.

We were able to take breaks as needed and socialize with the other MS patients and their families, a diverse and interesting bunch.

We also got to meet Liza Levenson, head of DreamMakerS, and others in that helpful group.

Although we were provided a buffet as part of this private special event, normally coffee and scones or cookies are available to customers. There is also an adjoining relaxation area with comfortable sofas, all in a pleasant atmosphere. A big plus is that all of the staff were friendly and helpful.

Each station at Dream Dinner was for a different dinner choice, clearly marked, and with the instructions for each dinner clearly displayed. Dry ingredients were on a shelf above, with other ingredients laid out like in a salad bar with meats prepackaged in baggies and in appropriate serving sizes. As we read the instructions, we lined up the corresponding ingredients. We were told which items to bag together into ziploc bags or into a disposable and recyclable casserole pan.

It took only a few minutes to gather all the ingredients into a series of baggies, and then into one larger bag with a cooking instructions label. We could even alter the seasoning to taste. Measuring spoons and cups were provided with the staff whisking them away as soon as they were used. Most meals also contained a side dish like rice or potatoes. With the addition of, say, a salad or vegetable (or one of theirs, below), dinner was complete.

Each bagged meal then goes into the freezer when you get home. (Bring a laundry basket or cooler to bring the stuff home in.) Meals can be defrosted in a microwave or left in the fridge to defrost. Then, the day of the meal, cooking is either quick assembly and cooking in say 30 minutes, or already assembled into a casserole pan and baked for about an hour.

The menus selected offer calorie counts, heart healthy options, 30 minute-or-less options, and even some “company” dinners like pot roast with vegetables. It’s basically all fresh food with fresh ingredients.

With the help of a dear friend who has been using the service since the Silver Spring Dream Dinners opened, we quickly assembled the six dinners offered. Our friend doesn’t have MS: she is just a busy working mom. After we completed each dish, we put it in “our” refrigeration area, since each shelf had the name of a participating family.

Steak for dinner tonight?

Before checkout we also visited the freezers labeled Grab and Go. These had additional meals already assembled, side/vegetable dishes, and even desserts. We made several purchases from these to round out our meals.

Our friend who uses the service had been telling us how convenient it was, and now we experienced what she had been telling us for some time. The assembling of the recipes had even been a social experience more than a chore. Do it as a family, do it with a friend. No grocery list to make and no trip to and from the grocery store.

Best of all, no dishes to wash nor any leftover ingredients to go bad before we can get around to using them again.

Would we really have prepared a Greek Island dish, a Chinese chicken dish, meatballs, to name a few, in the same week? Or would we have done fast food, takeout, pizza, or thrown a plain chicken in the oven yet again?

Our favorite dishes so far have been the Coconut Shrimp and the Sonoma Grill Steak. The steak dinners are a little more expensive with smaller portions and are less likely to have a side dish. However, the cuts of meat are high quality.

The bottom line is that per serving cost is usually a bit less than $6, as cheap as fast food and much better tasting and healthier. For anyone who is diet-conscious, there is also a built-in portion control.

By now we have tried about a dozen of the dinners and have to say that we are very happy with them. You can visit the Dream Dinners site (www.DreamDinners.com) for a short introduction and maybe a free introductory offer. The Silver Spring store also has a first-timer’s special: If you get five people together for a session, you pay only $75 for 18 servings.

The Silver Spring store even offers “Made for You” (preassembly of the dinners for pickup) and limited monthly delivery with certain conditions such as minimum monthly orders of 36 servings.

My wife has had to stop cooking because of MS. Heat only exacerbates MS symptoms, and long cooking in front of a stove means heat. She has balance problems as well, so running back and forth to get ingredients gives her unbearable vertigo. She also has some vision and cognition issues, so the clear labeling, standing only at one place, with steps listed clearly in order, really helps her.

In fact, she has been taking out her Dream Dinners and cooking them every night since the event! She believes that it has really changed her life by making her feel like cooking again, at least one thing that she has lost that she can do again.

I’m happy for her, and my stomach isn’t complaining, either.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles, ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket, in 21st Century Pacifist http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/ at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.









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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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