Best of Washington: Fast Dinners

A home-cooking whiz puts six meal assembly centers to the test

Home-cooking guru Aviva Goldfarb liked the fresh ingredients at Dinner Done, Robert Nasser's meal-assembly center in Centreville. Photograph by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg.

Meal-assembly centers—where customers put together a week’s worth of meals and take them home to freeze—are a new trend in quick-meal prep. We asked home-cooking guru Aviva Goldfarb, a mother of two in Chevy Chase, to check out the local choices and report back. Goldfarb is the author of “The Six O’Clock Scramble,” a weekly e-mail newsletter that led to a cookbook of the same name published last year. She’s an expert on navigating the dinner rush: The “Scramble” ( provides weekly meal plans with grocery lists designed to take the stress out of preparing well-balanced weekday meals.

What’s her take on these semihomemade meals? “Anything that gets people knowing what they’re eating is a positive thing,” she says. “It gets families around the dinner table and away from fast food.” She came away with a few tips:

*Don’t forget that you’ll need to think about side dishes for many of these meals, so you can’t entirely escape the grocery store.

*The meals are not always instant prep at home.

*Don’t be afraid to use less salt than the recipe says; you can always add more at home.

*It’s fun to go with a spouse or friend and easy to split a meal package, which usually serves four to six, with a friend.

Here’s the dish on six centers that Goldfarb visited:

Dinner Done (13860 Braddock Rd., Suite D, Centreville; 703-266-4004; Eight-meal minimum; $154. Prepackaged meals and delivery available.

“I wanted to steal the recipes and run away with the chef!” jokes Goldfarb. At Dinner Done, ingredients were fresh—“veggies were recently chopped and looked great”—and it was hard to choose among the appealing recipes. The meals turned out to be as good as they sounded: Chicken marengo “tasted and smelled like homemade,” and pork loin with chipotle sauce was a hit with her family.

Rating: **** (four stars) 


Let’s Dish! (Locations in Gaithersburg, Rockville, Alexandria, Ashburn, Fairfax, and Leesburg; Four-meal minimum; $100. Prepackaged meals available.

The night session starts at 8 pm at this national chain’s local outposts, so Goldfarb recommends making it an evening outing with a friend or spouse. The staff is “friendly and helpful,” and there’s a counter with coffee and snacks. The chicken chili with cornbread was a winner.

Rating: *** (three stars) 


Dream Dinners (1701 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-770-9555; 720 Cloverly St., Silver Spring, 301-879-4707; 12162 Darnestown Rd., Gaithersburg, 301-330-0082; Six-meal minimum, meals priced à la carte, average $22. Prepackaged meals available; delivery for group orders.

Though Goldfarb found some dishes from Dream Dinners—like coconut shrimp and turkey medallions—to be excellent, some required more than 20 minutes of prep work later at home. Goldfarb called the staff “professional and hands-on.”

Rating: *** (three stars) 


Thyme Out (341 Main St., North Potomac; 301-990-6440; Meal minimum varies; no minimum weekday mornings. Meals priced à la carte, average $27. Prepackaged meals available.

Homey dishes like chicken pot pie and “very creamy” pumpkin ravioli were tasty, but Goldfarb had concerns about the fat content in some recipes. Meals come with at least one starch or vegetable side dish. The “kitchenlike” facility is smaller than others.

Rating: **1/2 (two and a half stars) 


Dinner Zen (11160 E. South Lakes Dr., Reston; 703-391-9361; Two-meal sample pack for new customers, $46; four meals, $92. Prepackaged meals and delivery available.

Dinner Zen has several meatless and whole-grain options, and Goldfarb liked that the meals had more vegetables than other companies’. She and her family enjoyed the pork tenderloin with apple-ginger glaze, but the veggie sides were so bland that her kids wouldn’t eat them. The spacious, clean facility played upbeat music and was well organized.

Rating: **1/2 (two and a half stars) 


Super Suppers (12589 Fair Lakes Cir., Fairfax; 703-378-7782; No meal minimum. Single meal $11.50; six meals $63 (three servings each). Prepackaged meals available.

This newly opened center was “clean and bright,” but Goldfarb wasn’t impressed with the “industrial” ingredients or how her meals turned out.

Rating: ** (two stars)