Need Help With Dinner? Niche Companies Offer Meal Plans, Meal Prep, Shopping Lists, Recipes, Nutrition Advice

RecipesFamilyCookingLifestyle and LeisureOld Saybrook

We're all busy. Who isn't busy? Even people who have buckets of free time sometimes would rather do almost anything than think of what to make for dinner.

That's when services like We Got the List, Nourishing Habits and Dream Dinners are a huge help.

Like many ideas, We Got the List was born of necessity. Teacher Stephanie Brucher of Madison took a long-term substitute position and was thrust back into a full-time work schedule while still keeping most of the cooking and shopping duties for her family. She felt stressed each day when she came home from work and tried to cook dinner and drive her three children to their after-school activities.

"When I went back to work, I didn't have the bandwidth to think about dinner, too," she said. "I was also spending a lot of money at the grocery store and nothing I bought was ever on sale. I joined an Internet menu service, but I never cooked one thing. The recipes were too complicated."

Wouldn't it be great to have a quick and easy meal plan and shopping list for the week? Brucher enlisted two friends with culinary backgrounds, Cheryl Hannan and Tina Newman, both from Madison, to help her create an Internet meal-planning service based on sale items at the local Stop & Shop.

We Got the List went live in April. For $10 a month, subscribers receive menus for simple, crowd-pleasing meals and corresponding recipes and a shopping list. The idea is to feed a family of four for a whole week for $150 or less by taking advantage of store specials.

One grade-schooler favorite is sliders, basically mini-cheeseburgers that can be thrown together in 30 minutes. (see recipe below). If necessary, a child could eat this meal out of a piece of aluminum foil in the car on the way to gymnastics or lacrosse.

Fancier meals include lemon-herb marinated grilled chicken New Orleans-style, yellow rice with sautéed onions and red peppers and diced watermelon for dessert. Cooks in a hurry can substitute a prepared rotisserie chicken. There are vegetarian options, fast meals and crock-pot meals.

Currently, We Got the List is set up to serve clients from Maine to Virginia who shop at Stop & Shop or Giant supermarkets.

"It saves time and money and eliminates stress and decision-making. The recipes are simple. If I can make it, anyone can," says Brucher. Find it at

Flash-Frozen Meals

Dream Dinners, a national chain with Connecticut locations in Berlin, Branford, Manchester, Plantsville and West Hartford, goes one step further. They provide a menu, flash-frozen meats, spices and other ingredients, and a clean, cheerful place in which to assemble meals that you then bring home and place in the freezer.

"Guests," as they're called, log on to the Dream Dinners website to choose a time to prep their meals. Within an hour or less, you can fix the main dishes for 12 family dinners to be used throughout the month. Not only does the family know what's for dinner, but it's in the fridge and anyone old enough to use the broiler can follow the simple directions and get the chow on the table.

"All of our recipes were developed by a registered dietician and diabetes educator," said Laura Pantani, co-owner of the Branford franchise. "Everything is portion-controlled. A lot of people who are finishing Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig come to us for maintenance."

In fact, one Branford client lost 70 pounds in a year on Dream Dinners.

In June, Dream Dinners featured Buttery Peanut Chicken with brown rice at 357 calories per serving and Italian Pomodoro Burgers with a bun for 583 calories, for example. Dream Dinners are designed in three- or six-portion serving sizes. The three-portion option costs about $150 for 12 dinners. People wishing to try out the concept can buy six dinners for $75.

"The best thing about it is the time you'll save," Pantani said. Visit

Nutritional Counseling

While services like We Got the List and Dream Dinners are based on the USDA Food Pyramid and the traditional meat-starch-vegetable dinner model, Nourishing Habits is a customized nutritional-counseling service. Kai Hersher aims to get people to change habits slowly and introduce more organic and raw, living foods, like home-grown bean sprouts, into their diets.

"I'm a nutrition coach. I educate people about how to grow beyond their eating habits. If you don't like kale, I'm not going to make you eat kale," said Hersher, who works out of her home in Guilford.

For example, if you love hamburgers, Hersher will tell you that most supermarket ground beef comes from not one but many cows, and that some of those may be sick. She will encourage you to replace that burger with a beef filet from a single grass-fed cow that was slaughtered within driving distance of your house. (Hardwick Beef from Massachusetts, for example, is available at Forte's Gourmet Market in Guilford and Foodworks in Old Saybrook.)

"It tastes better and you're not feeding yourself junk," Hersher said.

In addition to individual counseling at $125 per hour, Nourishing Habits offers occasional workshops in which students learn to make entire meals from raw foods. At a recent event, participants assembled collard wraps by layering collard greens with grated carrots, bean sprouts, nori, avocado and salad dressing. Hersher created banana ice cream by pushing frozen bananas through a juicer and topping with cinnamon.

Seasonally, Hersher offers "cleanses," five days of drinking only juices and green soups to enable the body to rest and renew. Weight loss is not the main point, but an added benefit. For more information, visit

Regina's Oven-Baked Cheeseburger Sliders

(courtesy of We Got the List)

2 pounds ground beef

McCormick hamburger seasoning

1/4 lb. American cheese slices

Miniature potato rolls

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ground beef on cookie sheet and press to 1-inch thickness to form rectangular shape in center of pan, leaving a 2-inch border; sprinkle with hamburger seasoning and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Pour off liquid; top with cheese and bake until melts.

Slice into 12 equal squares. Serve on miniature potato rolls.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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