Maybe you have noticed the sudden appearance of "dinner places" at which one can purchase a meal or meals in which most of the preparation is already done. We've tried a couple of them and here are my thoughts:
Whatz for Dinner is a store near us (they also have an in-town location) which is owned by a former chef. He and his wife do all of the prep work so that customers may order meals to pick up ready for cooking. The menus are interesting and varied and the food was very good. The instructions were sometimes lacking, but someone who is a frequent cook would not have a hard time winging it. An example of one meal we had was stuffed pork chops: You put the butter/oil mixture into your pan and heat it up, then add the chops, onions and garlic, once the chops are browned on one side, you flip them, add the sauce and mushrooms and put the whole pan into the oven. Sweet potatoes were ready for boiling with butter/seasoning to add at the end after mashing. Vegetables were cut, seasoned and buttered, ready for the microwave. If associating the meals from this store with a Food Network show, I'd say that Emeril is the closest. The cost: $7-20 per meal. Fish and holiday meals are fancier and cost more than the pork/beef/chicken stuff.
Super Suppers is a meal preparation store at which one may purchase 6 or 12 entrees to take home and freeze. The store will prepare the meals for you or you can go in and assemble them yourself. The lure here is that you can have "meal parties" with friends or family. I'd associate this store with Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee because the food is all pre-done and customers just assemble it. Some meals that I made at our playgroup party were chicken en croute (pot pie), stuffed green peppers and pasta fagiole soup. The food is also very good, but either their portion size is way small or Doug and I eat like lumberjacks. Cost per entree: $3-4 (their portions) or $6-8 (our portions).
Please note that neither of these places are for vegetarians, though they do offer some vegetarian things. Doug and I guessed that the cost to purchase them (rather than make them at home) would be too high to make vegetarian meals a good value. For some cool vegetarian ideas, check out this blog - the vegan lunchbox.
Anyway, the nutshell is - both of these places (and the billion other ones cropping up everywhere) are interesting and I will be surprised to see which operational model ends up being most successful. They do save time (how much time is debatable) but they cost more than cooking from scratch so they will likely remain a nice treat for us instead of a regular plan.