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Written by:  Allison Carter
Date: August 29, 2012

"Mooom, I'm huuuungry," my 3-year-old wails at me at 6 p.m.  With a toddler and an infant, work, and a house to take care of, getting a healthy, hearty dinner on the table is usually not a high priority.  Until, of course, that little hunger rumble starts somewhere in the area below my tummy, or more specifically in the area rolling around on my kitchen floor.  As I rummage through the freezer looking for another Stouffer's meal I think, "There has to be a better way."  Turns out, there is.

Throughout the Triangle, local companies and chefs are willing to help families like yours and mine create healthy, well-rounded meals to use on the busiest of days.  Here's a detailed look some of the services offered by a few companies. See the listing below to contact them and to find more resources. And see Fast Meals for Busy Parents for more tips.

Personal Chef Services

You may think that bringing a personal chef to your home is too posh.  But believe it or not, having a personal chef doesn't mean you're an aspiring Hollywood A-lister. On the contrary, you're simply a smart parent taking advantage of the talents of a group of Triangle professionals who want to help you succeed in creating delicious, healthy meals as efficiently as possible.  Depending on your budget and what you need, these chefs will tailor a program just for you.  Want them to put together a list and grocery shop for you?  They'll do that.  Want them to prepare a week's worth of meals for your fridge?  Sure.  Want them to teach you how to do it yourself with hands-on lessons?  They'd love to.  Cary Dinner Fairy is operated by "fairy" chef Jenny who specializes in helping families with dietary restrictions.  Chef Joe at NC Chef for Me says his service provides you with more time to spend with your kids.  With both of these personal chefs, price is varies widely depending on what you request, what you need, meals prepared, and what services they provide.  Your best bet is to contact them directly.

An option that you may find cheaper ($100 for five made-from-scratch meals) but less customizable is the Family Dinner plan from Foster's Market. Both Foster's locations, in Durham and Chapel Hill, offer an order-ahead family meal plan for the week.  Get your request in on a Friday before 2 p.m., and the next Monday you can pick up a week's worth of delicious gourmet meals that just need to be heated and mixed according to the directions provided.

Meal Preparation

If you are more of a DIYer, you may like a meal prep option that lets you prepare healthy, delicious freezer meals for your family.  Dinner Savvy in Apex is a place where busy folks like us can take one night out to place precut ingredients into freezer-friendly storage according to instructions laid out on easy-to-follow recipe cards.   Entrees feed between four to six people and cost from $22 to $34 each, with a minimum of three meals required.  At the end of the night you leave with weeks' worth of freshly made frozen meals, and you didn't have to grocery shop, recipe hunt, or even chop!

Takeout Delights

If you are not the type of person who plans in advance or if your family feels the fierce calling of a particular craving some nights, you no longer need to pack up the kids in the car and fight boredom and "is my food ready yet" whining at a restaurant.  A number of Triangle companies can help you get what you want.  Thanks to Tar Heel Takeout, Durham Takeout and Raleigh Takeout, food from hot spots such as Shiki Sushi, Satisfaction, Mediterranean Deli,  Shaba Shabu, The Q Shack and more can show up at your door. Just call the appropriate takeout service for your area, pick your restaurant, and order.  With a minimum $10 food order and a $4.99 delivery fee, the staff will do all the restaurant waiting and get your food for you.   919Dine offers the same service for families in Garner, North Hills, Triangle Town, Downtown Raleigh, Brier Creek, Cary, Apex, Morrisville, and Durham.  The delivery fee for 919Dine varies anywhere between $3.99 and $6.99, dependent upon how many miles you live from the restaurant of choice.  However, not only will 919Dine bring you an order from Champas or The Big Easy but you can also get dessert from Cold Stone.  Get 919Dine's app on your phone to make it even easier.

Grab and Go

Of course, gourmet and specialty food stores throughout the Triangle offer cases of pre-made, delicious, and nutritious food for a quick stop to fit any budget.  Fresh Market serves up some remarkable and creative pasta, meats, casseroles, vegetables, and more goodies that you can buy in bulk.  Chapel Hill gourmet behemoth A Southern Season has a similar case filled with delectable eats. Whole Foods Market has a fabulous family dinner option in its refrigerated prepared foods section. Use it to pick a main entrée and side salad to feed a family of four for as little as $14.99. Just reheat and toss for a healthy, well-rounded meal. If you place the food in your own serving ware, no one has to know you didn't cook it yourself!

Whichever service works for you, remember that fresh, healthy meals are only a phone call or click away.  Treat your family, make things easier for yourself, and, above all, remember that you are worth more than frozen lasagna every night.

Personal Chef Services
Cary Dinner Fairy carydinnerfairy.com
Chef Joe at NC Chef for Me chefforme.com

Order-Ahead Family Meal Plan for a Week
Foster's Market fostersmarket.com

Meal Preparation
Dinner Savvy in Apex dinnersavvy.com

Take-Out Delights
Tar Heel Takeout tarheeltakeout.com
Durham Takeout durhamtakeout.com
Raleigh Takeout raleightakeout.com
919Dine 919dine.com)

Grab and Go
The Fresh Market thefreshmarket.com/
A Southern Season southernseason.com
Whole Foods Market wholefoodsmarket.com



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