Based on their shape-shifting capabilities, soft active materials have enabled new possibilities for the engineering of sensing and actuation devices. While the relation between active strains and emergent equilibrium shapes has been fully characterized, the transient morphing of thin structures is a rather unexplored topic. Here, we focus on polymer gel plates and derive a reduced linear model to study their time-dependent response to changes in the fluid environment. We show that independent control of stretching and bending deformations in stress-free conditions allows to realize spherical shapes with prescribed geometry of the mid-plane. Furthermore, we demonstrate that tensile (compressive) membrane stresses delay (accelerate) swelling-induced shape transitions compared to the stress-free evolution. We believe that these effects should be considered for the accurate design of smart systems and may contribute to explain the complexity of natural shapes.