Healthful vegetarian meals can do wonders for the body, but who says vegetarians all have time to shop, rinse, chop and cook every single day just because we cut that one little thing out of our diets? Sometimes, we like to pull the junk food out of the freezer just like anybody else. (There, the secret is out. We can all stop gasping and pretending this is a surprise.) But for years this was a difficult objective. Vegetable lasagna doesn’t always mean vegetarian, and reading every label in search of chicken stock or beef broth can get time consuming. There was always a small group of options at any major grocery store, maybe three to five products, plus veggie dogs, available to us, but that’s changing fast.

We’ve recently noticed the vegetarian sections in the freezer cases getting larger. The original few selections from Amy’s and a few more from MorningStar Farms or Boca are still around but lately we’ve noticed actual vegetarian (not so much vegan yet, sorry) options for pizza, burritos and a wider variety of meat substitutes.

Whole Foods Market's frozen meals displayEven the go-to veggie places are increasing their options. Whole Foods Market has a huge selection of Amy’s products (perhaps the whole line, with at least three cases of just that brand), Tofurkey pizzas and meals, Kashi, Starlite Cuisine – which was new to us – and the more widely accessible brands we keep stocked in our freezers. Add to that Veganaise, Tofutti and Wallaby brands and you might not need to go anyplace else. The frozen options are mostly of the three to five minute variety, so we’re well on our way to fitting in with the other people who don’t have time to cook.

Central Market Frozen Food DisplayCentral Market offers an equally strong variety of frozen meals, but, to be honest, we started going there for the bakery. Artisan breads made fresh daily, need we say more? We do? Really? OK. Fresh tortillas made in house! We asked, and these do not include lard, so there’s a double bonus. Yes, we’ve loved Central market for years, mostly for the bakery, but also for the variety of vegetarian and vegan options the stores offer.

While looking for fast meals, remember that Whole Foods and Central Market have both created their own store brands that offer some vegetarian options. Whole Foods markets their brand under 365 Everyday Value and 365 Organic Everyday Value while Central Market’s brand uses the store name. Both stores also have great bulk and pre-made areas to grab anything from pickles and olives to pesto and couscous. These can get a little pricey, but the options are there if you’re in a hurry.

Natural Grocers frozen food displayIn our search for fast options, we ran across a Natural Grocers. Never having been into one, we were impressed with wide the vegetarian selection, which extended beyond the freezer case and into the frozen bins, but also with the prices. Some of the items we saw here were significantly less expensive than at similar places. Of course, dealing with specialty foods means paying more until our diets are mainstream, but this bill didn’t sting like so many others.

Sprouts Texas Grown produce signWe found another nice surprise at Sprouts Farmers Market. This store offers dry goods and bulk snacks, but it really does look more like a market than a store. The produce stacked up in bins and along walls was clean, colorful, and it smelled delicious. Coming across a huge section marked “Texas Grown” didn’t hurt our opinions, either. We like any chance we get to eat food grown on relatively nearby soil so the sign made us smile. Add to all of this a decent sound track and Sprouts absolutely goes onto our “must frequent” list.

Mock Abalone and Mock Chicken from an Asian marketA couple of options we never heard mentioned when asking people where to find good vegetarian pre-made food are the Asian and Indian markets around town. This hole in the suggestion list surprised us. Given the abundance of vegetarian options available at any of these stores we honestly thought those would be top of the list. Whether you are looking for mock meats or paneer, both of these tend to have huge selections at great prices. We often spend less going to both our local Indian and Asian markets in one day than we do in a quick trip to Whole Foods. Like so many other places, the vegetarian and meat versions are shelveGreen dot marking vegetarian option on Indian food packagingd side by side, but reading the labels will keep you on track. And here’s a helpful tip: foods imported from or intended for sale in India tend to have either red or green dots on their packages, indicating meat (red) or veg (green) ingredients. That’s a shopping speed increase off the bat.

Wherever you shop, if you’re in the market for quick microwave meals and prepared foods, the vegetarian options are growing. Yes, fresh is always better, and better for you, but that’s generally true about anything. And, like so many other people around here, sometimes we’re just too busy to dice and chop, bake and boil, stir and fry. But it’s great to know we have options and that they’re growing every day.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.