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Dream Dinners lets someone else do the shopping, chopping and cleanup

Stephanie Allen (top) and Tina Kuna founded Dream Dinners to help busy families get meals on the table.


Since the dawn of time, one imagines that parents have been trying to figure out easier ways to get a healthy, appealing dinner on the table night after night, year after year. Among the many innovations out there to simplify this daily challenge is Dream Dinners, a company started 15 years ago by two Seattle moms, Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, which now has 80-plus locations across the country.

The concept: customers view a monthly menu online, select a session date and store location and place an order for a certain number of meals. Next you visit the store — local locations are West Seattle and Mill Creek — to spend about an hour assembling all the meals while adding your own customizations. Then you bring the meals home and pop them in the freezer to await a busy night, when each takes about 30 minutes or less to get on the table.

Crucially, on-site staff does all the prep work and cleanup. The meals come in either three- or six-serving portions, with a minimum of 36 servings required per session, which works out to at least one meal a week for the six-person meals and three meals a week for the three-person meals. All costs are bundled into the menu item price.

Recent examples of dishes include chicken marinated in lemon, garlic and yogurt and served with pita and hummus ($17.99/three servings); boneless pork chops brushed with smoky, sweet molasses ($20.49/three servings); and limoncello shrimp with coconut rice ($22.99/three servings). Side dishes such as almond green beans, Key lime corn or potato wedges (which start around $4.99) are available to grab separately. While the dishes change every month, most contain fish, seafood or meat, so Dream Dinners is best suited to omnivorous families with no major restrictions. No ongoing commitment is required, so parents can just drop in as little or as often as they want.

Here, in honor of the new school year, Allen and Kuna — two women thoroughly steeped in the process of domestic streamlining — offer a few tips to make the daily operations of a household run a bit more smoothly:

> Create a space for the kids to keep themselves organized. A simple area with hooks, cubbies and shoe racks allows your child to form a routine before and after school, and helps prevent scrambling to find backpacks and homework at the last minute.

> Create a DIY homework station. Store supplies like pencils, rulers and calculators, and add a whiteboard so your child can keep track of assignments and deadlines.

> Buy healthy snacks in bulk, such as pre-packaged veggies, fruit and crackers, and set aside space in the fridge or pantry so that your child can grab them in the morning or afternoon.

> Set aside time on Sundays to review the full family schedule for the upcoming week. Use a whiteboard or oversized calendar to jot down important events, extracurricular activities and playdates. Add your Dream Dinners thaw schedule to make dinnertime easy and stress-free.

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