Mom's love, prechopped and wrapped to go

In new "meal assembly centers," mothers put together dinners for families and work off their takeout guilt.

Sarah Elizabeth Richards
March 27, 2006 11:32PM (UTC)

Bring on the cream-of-mushroom soup! It looks like casseroles are back in fashion. The Sunday New York Times reports on a new culinary trend in which families visit "meal assembly centers" to prepare dishes that can be heated up later at home. For example, customers can go to Dream Dinners in West Seattle, one of nearly 700 centers that now exist around the country, and "cook" by throwing together prechopped vegetables and frozen meat to make '50s throwbacks like cheesy chicken casserole and Salisbury steak.

The centers, which are opening up at a rate of about 40 a month in strip malls and office parks, are being touted as faster, healthier and cheaper alternatives to greasy takeout. (Dishes cost about $3.50 a serving, and you can make about 12 dinners for six in two hours for under $200.)


The idea sounds like an inventive and convenient option for harried families to eat better and connect at the dinner table. But its also being sold as a way for parents to make up for their supposed dereliction of duty in the kitchen. "For people who feel guilty about not cooking for their families, the centers offer absolution in just a couple of hours," write Kim Severson and Julia Moskin. That means women, who still do about 80 percent of families' food preparation.

"When a mother says, 'Do you like my lasagna?' that is much more loaded than 'Do you like the lasagna?'" says Bradd Shore, director of the Emory Center on Myth and Ritual in American Life, in the article. "The fact that she made it with her hands is powerful."

Whats so wrong with the takeout rotisserie chicken that I rushed to sit through the drive-thru for so we could all have dinner together? Will the litany of indictments against working mothers ever stop?


She cant give her all to her job, kids or marriage. And now she doesnt even cook for her family! (But cmon now, is an assembled meal really cooking anyway? Does that count?) Why are moms being offered redemption from a guilt trip they dont deserve or need?

Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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