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Tres Market Foods’ vast selection of fresh and frozen meals and side dishes.

Image: Emily Oberton

When the lazy days of summer morph into barely-have-time-to-catch-your-breath school nights, dinner sometimes comes as an afterthought. More time spent watching sports practices and dance lessons means less time for preparing healthy family meals. Let’s face it—it’s easy to find an excuse to not cook. Too easy.

But fear not, avid avoiders of the apron! There are services throughout the greater Houston area that prepare nutritious family-sized meals for those who don’t have the time–or compulsion–to cook. Many services provide both fresh and frozen prepared meals in a variety of sizes for a reasonable price. Some will deliver for an additional charge, while others invite customers to their restaurant for meal pickup.

Make room in your freezer and try these meal services for a taste of healthy convenience.

Tres Market Foods (Memorial)

In addition to boxed lunches, baked goods and fresh food for dine-in customers, Tres Market Foods offers an extensive selection of single-serving and family-sized meals, both fresh and frozen. Choose from entrees such as Chicken Divan, red wine beef tips, and marinated grilled pork tenderloin, and pair them with frozen side dishes like carrot soufflé, candied green beans, and Sonoma vegetable blend. I took home the frozen poppy seed chicken dish, and after thawing it in the refrigerator, dinner was as easy as setting my oven to 350 degrees and sliding on an oven mitt.

If the morning is the busiest part of your day, Tres Market Foods also sells frozen meals for breakfast and brunch. Meals range from hearty dishes like sausage-mushroom breakfast casserole to items like chocolate chip scones for those with an early morning sweet tooth. Average price: $20 for a five-serving meal.

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The six meals the author assembled at Dream Dinners.

Image: Emily Oberton

Dream Dinners (Bellaire, Missouri City, Pearland)

Or maybe you do like the apron, after all. If so, Dream Dinners will loan you one while you assemble a dozen or so dinners yourself, using their utensils, tools and pre-sliced ingredients. Once a month, customers order dinners online and select a session that works with their schedule. When they arrive, customers follow simple instructions to assemble their meals, which takes about an hour for 12 to 15 dinners. You can freeze your meals, and Dream Dinners will remind you via text message to transfer your food to the refrigerator for the upcoming week.  

When I visited Dream Dinners' Pearland location, my meals included Mexican meatballs, creamy chicken risotto and raspberry-chipotle-glazed chicken over rice. Although they offer an add-on service to assemble the meals for you, you get an extra serving of pride when you do it yourself. 

New customers can sign up for the introductory offer for $85 and returning customers typically spend $215 for a dozen three-serving meals.

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Cordon Bleu casserole at the Upper Crust

Image: Garrett McAnn

The Upper Crust (Pearland)

Chef-owner Gary La Fave prepares fresh and frozen casseroles for breakfast, brunch and dinner, using healthy ingredients like antibiotic-free chicken, while shunning hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. The Upper Crust also offers paleo and fully organic options. Customers can pick up their meals or schedule a delivery time and location. I ordered a frozen beef enchilada casserole, and served it with a side of charro beans. Other menu items include almond chicken, served over organic brown rice; Chicken Divan; and meatless spinach lasagna pie.

Do you have friends who could use a night off from cooking? The Upper Crust will soon begin a casserole delivery service, where you can order a meal online and have it shipped to select states. Average price: $20 for a two-person meal and $30 for a family meal.

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Mom's Secret? Not making the lasagna.

Mom’s Secret Chef (The Woodlands/Magnolia)

Convenient to busy families in the Woodlands and Magnolia, Mom’s Secret Chef stocks its freezers and refrigerators with chicken pot pies, Baja fish tacos, stuffed bell peppers and other hearty meals. You don’t need to pre-order your meals here, unless you’re ordering a breakfast casserole or quiche.

Mom’s Secret Chef posts its weekly menu on its website and emails it to customers. When I visited, I stocked up on half-priced casseroles included in their freezer sale. Typically, dinners are $12 to $16 for two servings, $22 to $26 for four servings and $40 to $50 for eight servings. 

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Wholesome Bites' cinnamon roll casserole

Image: Emily Oberton

Wholesome Bites (Spring/The Woodlands)

Do you prefer organic food? Wholesome Bites chef-owner Jennifer Hinson prepares healthy, organic meals, all of which come frozen. In addition to dinners like turkey quinoa taco skillet and peach-glazed chicken, she also sells kid-sized energy bites, which are perfect for lunch boxes or after-school snacks. Her menu, which is published on her website and Facebook page each Friday, provides nutrition information for each meal, including Weight Watchers’ SmartPoints. She will even make your meal gluten-free for an additional $2.

Customers place their order on the Wholesome Bites website, then select a pick-up location. Since my family’s favorite meal of the day is breakfast, I ordered the cinnamon roll casserole. Before thawing it, I transferred it from the disposable aluminum container to my favorite pie dish. Average price: $33 for a full order (serves six), $20 for a half order (serves three) and $8 for a single order.

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