The Lazy Cook: Yummy Organic Options

By Ashley Robinson

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(REAL ad from the 50's. We've come a long way...)

I never have time to make myself lunch in the morning before leaving for work. I barely have time to do my hair (which I don’t do often either), much less make a filling and delicious meal.  But let’s throw this into the mix … I would also like an organic and preferably vegetarian meal that doesn’t leave me eating my arm by 2pm.

I am a meat-eater living in a vegetarian world. My vegetarian fiancé has really shown how many delicious (and sometimes easy) meat-less dishes there are out there. I have become a huge fan of meatless “meat,” like seitan with Braggs, Quorn’s no-chicken patties/nuggets, soy products and Gardein products. My personal favorite is Tofurkey’s kielbasa, which added to pasta, a light cream sauce and steamed veggies, is the best leftover to take to lunch.

As for the organic stuff, I just don’t want to be ingesting all those icky chemicals and processed foods. I like to support organic farmers and I like to eat food that is pure of any chemicals – even if that does mean digesting a few bugs here and there in my braised kale.

So, back to lunches: I rely pretty heavily on the boxed and frozen food aisles at the Sacramento Food Co-op and Whole Foods Market. (I know that Raley’s Bel Air have great organic foods, but I don’t have a store near my house, so I can’t personally express consistent customer satisfaction. And Safeway’s selection is pricey and not great.) Not only are there lots of organic options – with lots of vegetarian and dairy-free varieties to boot – they are also extremely delicious and naturally low in fat.

Something to consider before we start: how much will you spend on a quality frozen meal? (We aren’t talking Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s.) I average about $8 for food with beverage when I go out for lunch near my office. Organic frozen meals can range from $3 to $8 … and sometimes they aren’t entirely filling. For most of these recommendations, I would suggest pairing it with a small mixed green salad and my favorite, Newman’s Own Organic Light Balsamic Vinaigrette. Easy peezy.

Ethnic Gourmet

BIG FAN. The meals are filling, delicious and they are sure to stink up your office, but who cares?! They make Indian, Thai, Greek and Malaysian dishes, sauces, etc. that are free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.

A staple in my freezer is definitely the palak paneer (spinach with cubes of cheese) with long-grain brown rice. It is medium spiced, so it isn’t going to kill people like me – a big wussy when it comes to spicy foods. I also love their chicken tikka masala, but have found a better version of it sold at Whole Foods by their private brand albeit at a higher price.

Look for Ethnic Gourmet foods when they are on sale because it is totally worth it! (Usually each meal sales for about $3 for $4.) You can find a great variety of their products at the Co-op.

For other semi-prepared Indian food, I’m a fan of the Tasty Bite boxes – also all natural with no preservatives. Some come with rice, and you can just microwave the two packages together in less than five minutes and you have a pretty good-sized dish for under five bucks!

Muir Glen

I love their soups!! (I do question the recent trimming of the cans and discarding the pop-top.) But seriously, any soup they make is awesome and filling … Chicken and Wild Rice, Minestrone, Lentil and (my fiancé’s fave) Southwest Black Bean. For $2.99 a can, 15 calories of fat (the Chicken and Wild Rice), and 19 oz of organic ingredients, it is almost the perfect take-to-work meal.

Amy’s Kitchen

On a recent cold day, I enjoyed Amy’s Kitchen Vegetable Pot Pie. I was incredibly impressed with how well the wheat crust stood up against my office microwave and how delicious the cream sauce was. The innards – I know, good word choice – consisted of tofu, potatoes, carrots and peas, which were firm and flavorful. However, I was still a little hungry afterward … again, small salad.

Amy’s Kitchen also makes some great burritos (individually wrapped makes it easy to take and go) varying in beans, meat, non-meat, cheese, tortillas, veggies and rice. And they are on the cheap!

My fave AK dish is the pesto tortellini. Filling, rich, creamy, flavorful … and not totally loaded with calories for how yummy it is. I have tried their other pastas/bowls and thought they were a little hit-or-miss … and they are on the more expensive side for a frozen dish – found at Safeway for around seven bucks.  Look for cheaper prices at the Co-op or Whole Foods.

However, they can be found at almost every grocery store these days.

I do not recommend their canned soups. I have found them to be lacking in flavor and content.

Organic Bistro

This brand is a better dinner option. Organic Bistro can be on the pricey side for frozen meals, so I would suggest saving their sockeye salmon cake with wild rice and steamed veggies for a Tuesday night. Delectable.

Gardein

Found in the natural refrigerated foods at Whole Foods (harder to find at other places), Gardein is made of “garden protein” … whatever the hell that is. Truthfully, it’s a nice perk and all, but I could care less. The food is so good!

The Santa Fe “Good Stuff” is A-MAZING. Not frozen, so it tastes a little bit fresher with the yummy sauce and the corn and black beans stuffed inside. A good source of iron, no trans fats, good source of protein, and a meatless meat that tastes phenomenal.

I won’t try to fool you, it does not taste like meat, and the texture definitely lingers, but not in a bad way. I am extremely picky about texture (I don’t even like mashed potatoes, I am THAT picky), but I think the texture is firm, delicious and natural. Doesn’t seem foamy or squishy.

Their BBQ Skewers, which emulates beef kabobs, are great to top off pastas or salads.They also sell buffalo wings, chicken tenders, beefless tips, and chicken strips. And for other creative ways to use Gardein products in your house, I recommend the beautiful “The Conscious Cook” by Tal Ronnen.

Cedarlane

Haven’t tried these products … has anyone? I would like to know if they are good or not.

And if you do feel like eating out on the grid for some quick organic food, visit Chipotle – probably the world’s only all-organic fast food chain. But that’s for another blog post.

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1 Comment

  1. David Abed says

    Hi Ashley,

    I am the social media director for Organic Bistro. I just wanted to say thanks from recommending our sockeye salmon cake! I look forward to reading your future blog entries!

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