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Just like Mom used to make

(article, Caroline Cummins)

According to a November 2005 article in the trade publication Advertising Age, the home-cooked meal is dead. Sort of.

See, everybody likes home-cooked meals (if the home cook is a decent one). But home cooking requires planning, shopping, prep work, cooking, and cleaning. All that, just to eat. 

So in lieu of a personal chef, a variety of companies are doing the labor in exchange for the dollar. They typically fall into two categories: "meal assembly kitchens," where customers can put together a series of take-out meals from a variety of freshly prepared foods, or old-fashioned delivery companies, which deliver fresh meals every week or so to subscribers.

Nationwide, according to Ad Age, there are some 200 meal-assembly-kitchen companies operating nearly 500 stores. In the Seattle area alone, the MAK companies include Dream Dinners and Dinners Ready; delivery companies include Delicious Planet; and hybrids (MAKs plus delivery) include Month of Meals.

The trend makes sense; after all, we eat out far more than we used to, making us accustomed, in turn, to the idea of mouthwatering meals literally handed to us. (According to a recent article in the Evansville Courier & Press_, in 1980, Americans dined out for 34 percent of their meals; by the late 1990s, nearly half of our meals, or 47 percent, was consumed outside the home.) And if time is money, why not trade some of that dough for more time and tasty bread?

[[block(sidebar).

h1. Home away from home

Meal-delivery companies tend to be regional only, but given our ever-increasing need for convenience, it's likely many of these national meal-assembly kitchens, below, will start to offer delivery service as well.

Dream Dinners
Dinners Ready
Dinner My Way
My Girlfriend's Kitchen
Let's Dish!
Meal Makers
Designed Dinners

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Most of these companies offer high-quality food; Delicious Planet, for example, uses only organic ingredients and concocts such dishes as "Tandoori Chicken (Indian Spiced Chicken Breast served w/Cauliflower & Peas over Quinoa Tabouli)" and "Bulgogi Beef (Oregon Country Natural Beef in a delicious Korean marinade of Tamari & Sesame Oil served over Brown Rice w/Sauteed Mixed Spring Vegetables)." 

The meals aren't cheap — that bulgogi beef costs $13.50, for example — but the portions easily serve two people and are quickly reheated in the oven or microwave. And, yeah, they're pretty darn tasty.

Sure, maybe you're missing something by cutting home cooking out of your lifestyle. Like the pleasure of going to the store and looking for the latest local vegetable, or the stimulation of planning a menu yourself, or the relaxation of prep work, or the satisfaction of your efforts being rewarded in that first taste.

But, still, it's nice to know that there are other options besides restaurants, fast-food joints, and the corner mart.