Meals for Busy Moms

The home-cooked family meal was once an institution of American life, and now it has almost become an endangered species. Gone are the days of pot roast. Welcome to the age of pizza.

Back in the days of Donna Reed, women spent an average of 2.5 hours making dinner each night. Today, they spend just 30 minutes. Even with their busy work schedules, women still do a staggering 80 percent of food-related work in the home. Maybe that's why more and more busy moms are turning to so-called "meal-assembly" chains, like Super Suppers and Dream Dinners.

Alan and Susan Stromfeld own a Super Suppers in East Hanover, N.J. They joined the business 2005 even though neither had experience in the food industry. Alan owns an office supplies business in New York City, and Susan was a teacher before Super Suppers became her full-time job. There are more than 200 Super Suppers locations that are either open or in development.

There are more than 700 meal-assembly centers throughout the country, with 40 new ones opening up each week. It's a burgeoning industry that's expected to rake in $270 million this year alone.

Meal-assembly stores like the Stromfelds' give busy moms the chance to make home-cooked meals without the time-consuming preparation.

The secret is to allow the families to tailor the recipes to their needs. Customers are able to pick and choose exactly what they want.

"If you say your family doesn't like onions, you can leave them out," Susan Stromfeld said.

They have 12 recipes a month, and a customer can make enough for two weeks. Super Suppers provides instructions on how to freeze the meals and how to thaw them.

"Everything has been chef-created, chef-tested," she said.

A lot of people turn to takeout to save time, but the cost adds up. Another part of Super Suppers' appeal is the price. It evens out to about $3.50 a portion.

"It's cheaper than fast food, and it's a lot healthier," Alan Stromfeld said.