"The food is key," says Cassia Welton, who is set to open a Dream Dinners franchise in Chesterfield, Va., on Aug. 4. "No matter which place you go, if your husband and kids don't like the food, you're not going back."

So how does the food taste? I tried three entrees from the Let's Dish! in Timonium, Md., to find out.

Like most chains, Let's Dish! gets its ingredients from a large food service provider such as Sysco Corp. That means some ingredients are fresh, such as cilantro and limes, but some are more mass-market, such as bottled chopped garlic and frozen broccoli florets.

Because recipes are designed to be frozen, Let's Dish! uses ingredients that will stand up to weeks in the freezer, says Lisa Hardiman, a co-owner of the Timonium location.

Of the three recipes I tried, two were very good and one was mediocre. In all cases, cooking directions (included on labels attached to each assembled entree) were accurate.

I tried the salmon, spread with butter flavored with garlic, lemon peel and dried dill. The salmon is wrapped in foil and plastic wrap and frozen, then cooked (still wrapped in foil) on the grill. The cooking directions worked perfectly, and the salmon was moist and nicely seasoned, although some guests thought it needed a little more salt.

Chili lime grilled chicken breasts with black bean salsa were also a hit. The spicy, Mexican-style chicken can be grilled or baked and doesn't require thawing. Following the directions exactly kept the chicken from drying out, and the salsa was a good complement. I turned leftovers into chicken quesadillas for the next day's meal.

The disappointment was the broccoli and chicken fried rice with almonds. One guest called it hospital cafeteria food at best. The cooked chicken chunks were dry. The prepared sauce for the vegetables was goopy and bland, and the frozen broccoli florets came out mushy and overcooked. In addition, the one cup of chicken that the recipe called for was barely enough for three servings, not the four to six that most entrees provide.

My advice: Stick to entrees that use only fresh or minimally processed ingredients. And follow the cooking directions exactly.

-- Candy Sagon