Home cooking – at “meal assembly centers”

Americans, pinched for time and increasingly uncomfortable in their kitchens, have been on a 50-year slide away from home cooking. Now, at almost 700 meal assembly centers around the country, families like the Robbinses prepare two weeks’ worth of dinners they can call their own with little more effort than it takes to buy a rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad.
The centers are opening at a rate of about 40 a month, mostly in strip malls and office parks in the nation’s suburbs and smaller cities, and are projected to earn $270 million this year, according to the Easy Meal Prep Association, the industry’s trade group.
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For people with few cooking skills, the centers keep things simple with a rotating menu of mostly stews and casseroles designed to be assembled in freezer bags or aluminum trays, then taken home to be baked or simmered in a single pot.
Customers select their dishes online ahead of time. When they show up, they follow recipes that hang over restaurant-style work stations filled with ingredients like frozen chicken breasts, chopped onions and jars of seasonings.
Cheerful workers hover around, carting off measuring spoons as soon as they are dirty and pouring fresh coffee. They encourage the calorie conscious or sodium sensitive to customize meals. And if someone hates broccoli, it can be left out. For people who feel guilty about not cooking for their families, the centers offer absolution in just a couple of hours.

Meals That Moms Can Almost Call Their Own,” by Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, The New York Times, March 26, 2006