Vegetarian ready meals

WW mushroom and pumpkin risotto

I’m the sort of person who grows fruit and vegetables, kneads their own bread and cooks everything from scratch. In part that’s to reduce my environmental impact, but they’re also just things I enjoy doing! Recently I had to put these things aside. I had surgery on my arm and was able to do very little with that hand and arm for a while. I know it’s possible to cook with one hand – my uncle lost most of the use of his arm following a stroke, and he’s an excellent one-armed cook! However, he has a few special tools to help him along. It didn’t seem worth investing in those for my temporary disability, so I decided to resort to prepared meals. If I’d realised how limited I would be, I could have had a big cook up in advance, but I didn’t. Also, my place is not convenient for takeaways, and my nearby family were in Covid isolation. I decided to order ready meals from the supermarket. I tried lots of different ones, so it seemed a good idea to record my impressions, both to help anyone else who is interested, and for my own benefit in case I have to do similar in future!

First, a general comment: I feel uneasy about the energy emissions of food – especially frozen items – being shipped around the world, though the reality is that many frozen items in New Zealand supermarkets are imported, from frozen vegetables grown in China to frozen berries grown in Chile. People on a tight budget will choose these items because locally-grown options are usually much more expensive. Of course, that then raises the question of how poorly paid the growers and workers that produce some of the imported foods might be.

Plantry frozen meals

I tried three of these vegan frozen meals: Pad Thai; Spaghetti Bolognese; and Green Curry. Their regular price at my usual supermarket is $9 for each 350g meal, but one of them I got on special at $7. Made in Singapore. The flavours in the sauces were good, but my beef (pun intended) with these meals is that they are packed with fake meat. That may be fine for some people, but I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly twenty years and I have no interest in pretend meat and don’t like the texture. In particular, I would expect a vegan green curry to be packed with vegetables, but instead its main ingredient was pretend chicken. On the positive side, these meals are very filling – their calorie counts come in between 1590kJ and 2550kJ. The cardboard covering is recyclable, but the inner container didn’t look it to me and had no recycling number so I had to throw it in the rubbish. I wouldn’t buy these again because I didn’t like the meaty texture.

WW frozen meals

WW, as Weight Watchers foods is branded, has various frozen ready meals, but I could only find one that was vegetarian (not vegan), Mushroom and pumpkin risotto. This 320g meal cost me $5 on special (usually $5.99) and has 1170kJ. Made in Australia. The packaging is recyclable except for the plastic cling top. I expected this to have more of a mushroom flavour than it did. Nevertheless, this was very tasty and I would buy it again.

Naked Kitchen chilled meals

I tried a few of these: Peanut satay and kumara bowl; California wellness bowl with red lentils; Lentil, potato and caramelised onion soup; Malaysian laksa with rice noodles and coriander; and Tomato, aubergine and chickpea bowl. The ones called ‘bowls’ are essentially very thick soups, so I would class them all as soups. They come in 450 to 500g plastic pouches, each with two servings ranging in energy from 545 to 866kJ. One night I was quite hungry and ate two servings. Made in New Zealand. I paid various amounts, from $5 on special to $6.50 full price (cheap given there are two serves). They don’t claim to be vegan, but I couldn’t spot any non-vegan ingredients in the lists of those I bought. These are packed with nutritious ingredients and nicely spiced, except for the potato and onion soup which I found a bit bland. The others I really liked and would certainly buy again. I was puzzled about whether or not the packaging was recyclable. Some packets were marked as okay for soft plastic recycling, but some was marked as number 7, or the ‘other’ category, which as far as I know isn’t accepted for recycling here.

Rosie’s Kitchen chilled meals

I tried the Pumpkin and feta lasagne, the only vegetarian choice in my supermarket from this brand. It comes in a 350g packet of 1906kJ and I paid $6.50 on special (usual price $7). I couldn’t manage the whole serving and saved some for lunch the next day. Made in New Zealand (Paraparaumu). I liked the texture and flavour, though it was a little bland, so I wouldn’t rush to get it again. The cardboard and plastic packaging is recyclable, except for the cling film top.

Wattie’s Plant Proteinz

These come in a pouch and don’t need to be refrigerated. They have a long shelf life – the ones I tried had nearly a year to go before expiry. I bought them on special at $4.50 each, the regular price being $5. Each package is 330g and has one serving of 1070kJ (suspiciously identical for each variety). Made in New Zealand. I tried two varieties, Lentil and roasted kumara dahl and 7 veg soup with quinoa. These are packed with healthy veges and grains and the flavours and textures are pretty good. They don’t claim to be vegan, but I couldn’t spot any non-vegan ingredients. However, I would hesitate to get them again because first, the packaging is not recyclable, and second, they were too salty for my taste.

Countdown frozen pizza

I got the supermarket’s own brand Mozzarella, tomato and pesto stonebaked pizza and shared it with two visitors. It weighed in at 445g and was recommended for 4 people, with an energy count of 928kJ per person, though the three of us had no trouble finishing it. I paid $5.50 on special and the usual price is $6.50. This was a very good pizza and we all really liked it, but you expect a pizza made in Italy to be good! I couldn’t quite get over the idea that we were eating a meal that had been made on the opposite side of the planet and shipped to us frozen. It comes in a recyclable cardboard box, and I can’t quite remember, but think it also had a plastic wrapping which had to go in the rubbish.

Coupland’s pies

Coupland’s bakery sells various chilled and frozen single-serve pies and quiches. I tried the frozen Creamy vegetarian pie (200g, $3.90) and also the fresh Feta and caramelised onion quiche (140g, $2.90). The pie contains 1910kJ and I forgot to note the energy count for the quiche. Made in New Zealand. I enjoyed both of these, especially the pie – they are tasty and filling, if not the healthiest choice thanks to their fat content! The pie has lots of veges in a rich and creamy sauce, with a vegan pastry. Coupland’s also sells a frozen vegan pie, but I haven’t tried that – it looks as though it has a brown gravy filling. These items come in cellophane-type wrapping which has to go in the rubbish.

Wattie’s tinned beans

In my small emergency food stash I discovered two cans of Wattie’s Salsa chilli beans. I have no idea what I paid for these, but they cost about $3 a tin now. Each tin contains two servings, at 965kJ per serve. Made in New Zealand. These are a mixture of beans and corn in a delicious salsa sauce and I love them hot on toast. They have a lot going for them – they’re cheap, nutritious, filling and tasty! The tin is of course recyclable. I did have an issue with these, though, as I discovered how difficult it is to open a tin with one arm and managed to cut myself! Special tin openers to help with this issue are available, but I wasn’t going to bother with that for a temporary thing, and decided to avoid further tinned foods until I recovered.

Naked Kitchen peanut satay and kumara bowl

Well, there you have it. Other ready meals are available, but I have now recovered and can cook properly again. The prepared meals I relied on for about a month definitely made life easier, and most of them were pretty good. However, I have resolved to make sure I always have a few home-cooked meals in the freezer, just in case of unexpected temporary disability!