News of the Food

News of the Food

What’s for Dinner?

By Heather Irwin

How exactly did we become a nation of fat people when no one’s been near a kitchen in the last 10 years? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the kitchen table has become mom’s impromptu home office, dad’s working three jobs and the kids are too busy with soccer, ballet and private math tutors to manage to do anything as mundane as eat a home-cooked meal. So it’s frozen pizza on Monday, burgers on Tuesday, a salad bar on Wednesday and leftover Chinese on Friday–and that’s on a good week.

But the creators of Dinner Time want to change all that. Somewhere between fast food and the agony of shopping, cooking, dicing and cleaning up, this new chain of food-service stores (the first in the area is in Santa Rosa) allows customers to walk away with six to 12 semi-homemade entrées, each enough to feed six people, all prepared in roughly under an hour.

Here’s how it works: the Responsible Household Adult (the presence of kids is not generally encouraged) signs up for a time slot with Dinner Time’s commercial-grade kitchen, making entrée choices in advance through the website ( Current selections range from chicken cacciatore to grilled teriyaki pork chops to penne with proscuitto and marinara. The menu is heavy on ready-to-grill entrées and cheesy pasta choices; only one dish is vegetarian.

Upon arrival, the RHA is presented with a prep station fully stocked with precut, presliced, premeasured ingredients for the entrées already picked and an assembly list for each. Customers can add, subtract or substitute based on personal dietary restrictions and tastes. Many of the meals can be made in batches, so that the cacciatore meant to feed six doesn’t have to be baked for that Tuesday when only three folks are at the table. And meals can be eaten immediately or frozen for use later in the week (or month).

At $115 for a minimum of six entrées, the sticker shock is a bit alarming. (If Dinner Time preps them for you–and yes, you lazy soul, they will–it goes to $145.) However, if you break it down, this averages out to about $19 per meal, or about $3.19 per serving. For shrimp, that’s a steal; for lasagna, well. . . . But considering the price of fast food, in addition to the calories and content, and the cost of the RHA’s own precious time shopping and chopping, the price begins to seem more reasonable. In addition, Dinner Time has relatively complete ingredient lists, calories, carb and fat counts, and, unlike restaurants, allows customers to ease up on things like cheese, oil and meat if they choose to. The downside is that the meals lack significant fruit or vegetable content and include high-fat items. You’re still going to have to make a salad, slice a peach and go for a walk afterwards. But at least you know what’s in your lasagna.

Dinner Time, 4243 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.539.PREP.

Editor’s note: Other Dinner Time outlets are in the Central Valley and Southern California. It will be interesting to see how the concept fares here in the foodie aerie of the North Bay, for while the corp indeed details its ingredients, it doesn’t stress organics or locally sourced staples and we ’round these parts like to know where our tomatoes (and our salt and our herbs and our . . . ) come from.

From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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