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Who needs meat and milkshakes when you have jackfruit carnitas and blackberry banana pie chia bowls?

By Betty Gold
Updated April 06, 2021
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Remember the days when vegans—or those simply avoiding meat and/or dairy—were forced to order a sad-looking side salad with a bowl of plain rice and tofu when they ate outside their own home? And half the time, that dismal salad arrived with bacon and buttery croutons on it regardless. Let's never go back there.

For those following a plant-based diet, the number of delicious and satisfying options for outsourcing meals is at an all-time high. Chefs are giving vegetables center stage, and we're seeing dozens of new vegan options pop up on grocery store shelves and freezer aisles every day (shoutout to Trader Joe's)—from alt-milks and meats to packaged foods, frozen meals, chocolate, butter, even wine.

The number-one reason consumers turn to plant-based foods and beverages? Personal health and sustainability. With this rise in consumer interest in nutrition and climate change, many food manufacturers are pivoting towards creating healthier, more environmentally friendly versions of their products. In addition, there are a number of new direct-to-consumer food companies cropping up that offer vegan and/or plant-based meals that are ready to eat. According to the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increased 11 percent from last year, hitting a plant-based market value of more than $4.5 billion.

Might I just say, as a food editor, I have seen it all in the "alt-product" department. And while I follow a plant-based diet and consider myself particularly open-minded when it comes to novel vegan foods, I have seen some things (looking at you, spicy chipotle-flavored fake tuna fish). That being said, you will drop when you taste how downright delicious most of these products are—who needs meat and milkshakes when you have jackfruit carnitas and Daily Harvest smoothies? Here, 12 of my favorite new plant-based meal shortcuts on the market. Stock up on them if you want to have a healthy, plant-based dinner—or breakfast or dessert—on the table in zero time.

daring-chicken
Credit: Daring

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Daring

Daring offers plant-based chicken that looks, cooks, and tastes just like the real thing (seriously). I couldn’t believe how nicely browned my pieces of soy-based lemon and herb “chicken” looked after a quick toss in a skillet, or how delicious they tasted on top of my Greek-style salad. Add these to burritos or quesadillas, sauté them with vegetables, or serve their Cajun (or better yet, breaded) pieces alongside sweet potato fries.

sakara-life
Credit: Sakara Life

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Sakara Life

Have you ever promised yourself you’ll start eating a more plant-based diet, and after a couple days of constantly chopping veggies and hustling to make lentils taste appealing, given up (and dreamt of having a vegan chef just do it all for you)? That fantasy of having a full-time vegan chef in your home is basically the equivalent of Sakara Life. It ships ready-to-eat, 100 percent plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, and organic meals directly to your doorstop that are packed with fresh produce and plant-based protein. Each meal has been analyzed for nutrient density by a team of medical and nutrition experts, so you know you’ll feel great after eating dishes like the Thai Basil Buddha Bowl with green coconut curry broth or the Sakara Burger with chile cashew cream and coconut bacon. (BTW, it doesn’t “do” calorie counts, which is a tremendous breath of fresh air.)

Bougie-bakes
Credit: Bougie Bakes

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Bougie Bakes

Just because you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or avoiding sugar doesn’t mean dessert can’t be on the table. Meet Bougie Bakes, a California-based, family-owned dessert business. Its offerings are insane—think sugar-free peanut butter blondie bites, rainbow sprinkle sugar-free sugar cookies, scones, black raspberry streusel mini muffins, double chocolate macaroons, and so much more. Everything is made from real ingredients like almond flour, vanilla extract, and coconut oil, so you don’t have to worry about consuming funky additives.

Planta-pizza
Credit: Planta

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Planta

Vegans in Miami and Toronto are already highly familiar with Planta—and its squash dumplings and eggplant lasagna—but thanks to its new nationwide delivery, we all can get in on Planta's delicious plant-based offerings. Choose from restaurant-quality options like cauliflower tots, gyoza, or tempeh pizza—your dishes will be cooked to perfection, frozen, and shipped directly to your home (just don’t forget the sticky coconut buns).

daily-harvest-chia-bowl
Credit: Daily Harvest

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Daily Harvest Chia Bowls

Let’s be honest: Everything Daily Harvest makes is dreamy. (Have you tried the flatbreads and smoothies?) The best of the bunch, however, are the frozen chia bowls. Choose from organic vanilla bean and apple, blackberry and majik, or chocolate and almond (or all three). The fruits and vegetables are frozen on the farm within 24 hours of harvest—at their peak nutrition and flavor—and you can definitely taste the difference. And before you feel guilty for the extra paper goods involved in shipping the frozen foods to your home, know that the packaging is completely compostable and recyclable.

banza-pizza
Credit: Banza

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Banza Pizza

This freezer-aisle fave has a crust that’s made from chickpeas, not wheat or cauliflower (or kale). The crispness of the crust strongly resembles the real-deal—none of that mushy, doughy texture you typically taste in a frozen pizza. While it offers toppings like roasted veggie or margherita, to make it fully vegan, you can top the basic crust with marinara and basil plus a plant-based cheese or shmear of cashew cream.

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Credit: Treeline

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Treeline Cheese

Treeline crafts plant-based cheeses that are healthy, free from animal products, and kind to the environment. Based in the heart of New York’s Hudson Valley, Treeline plant-based cheeses are made with sustainably farmed and ethically sourced cashews from Brazil that are ground into a cream and then fermented to produce deliciously complex flavors. Treeline cheeses have a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to conventional dairy, plus they're made with minimal ingredients and pack tons of protein. My favorite part? The variety of options—who could choose between a soft French-style herb garlic and an aged artisanal cracked pepper cheese? Best to buy both. 

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Sambazon Frozen Acaí Bowls

Sambazon’s latest delicious acaí product makes eating a healthy, vibrant breakfast easier than ever: Ready to Eat Frozen Acaí Bowls. Each flavor—Berry Bliss, Amazon Superberry, and Peanut Butter Power—is packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, and probiotics and comes with a “sidecar” of granola in a 100 percent plant fiber container.

plantmade
Credit: PlantMade

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PlantMade

Famed vegan chef Matthew Kenney just launched a line of his own 100 percent plant-based frozen dinners, entrees, and snacks that require zero effort to prep and taste just like something you’d order in an upscale vegan restaurant. Choose from options like cacio e pepe mac and cheese (made with semolina pasta, cashew cheese, and oodles of black pepper), jackfruit carnitas, grilled cauliflower steak with wild rice and chimichurri, or buffalo cauliflower bites. 

kind-smoothie-bowls
Credit: KIND

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KIND Frozen Smoothie Bowls

Your go-to brand for super healthy snack bars just entered new territory—the frozen smoothie bowl market—and I don’t think I’ll ever eat anything else. The protein-packed plant-based sweet treats come in three flavors: Almond + Triple Berry Acai, Almond + Mango Pineapple Passion Fruit, Almond + Peach Kiwi Greens, and Almond + Chocolate Banana. Each one is made from a base of fresh fruit and almond milk smoothie, then gets layered with decadent almond butter and sweet-salty granola. Eat them straight out of the freezer as a frozen dessert or thawed for a slushier smoothie bowl meal or snack.

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Credit: Green Giant

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Green Giant Veggie Sides

Do not sleep on Green Giant’s new line of frozen plant-based side dishes, like marinated eggplant with peppers and zucchini, cauliflower and spinach gnocchi, broccoli fries, and veggie-based hash browns and onion rings. Each one takes no more than a few minutes in the microwave or toaster oven to cook, and I promise that even your kids will beg for them (did I mention the hash browns?). They’re highly affordable and widely available in supermarkets nationwide, too.  

palmini
Credit: Palmini

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Palmini

This hearts of palm pasta is so good, it was enough to get me to (well, nearly) give up regular pasta for good. While I won’t go so far as to call it “similar” to standard spaghetti or fettuccini noodles, there’s a lot to be said for the fresh flavor it adds to basil-rich pesto or the perfect al dente texture that hearts of palm have naturally.

path-of-life
Credit: Path of Life

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Path of Life Quinoa

Speaking of delicious, fuss-free side dishes, Path of Life makes incredible plant-based quinoa blends you can cook in the microwave or in a skillet that serve as the ideal base for a healthy dinner. Try the Southwest mango quinoa blend, Tuscan quinoa, or my favorite, Mediterranean quinoa.