Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sweet Potatoes!

Having an infant has reminded me of one important, sometimes-forgotten food: sweet potatoes.  My baby (and as I understand from other moms, *many* babies) love sweet potatoes.  I have to admit that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying sweet potatoes with him over the course of the past several months.  We recently graduated from the mashed/pureed variety to baked sweet potato fries in our house, and I’m quite happy about that too.  Sweet potatoes seem to be the one vegetable I know he will consistently eat and that I will enjoy with him.  If you haven’t had a sweet potato in awhile, I highly recommend it.

So when I picked up the Healthy Choice Rosemary Chicken & Sweet Potatoes, it was with a sigh of baby love.  I do love sweet potatoes.  However, this meal didn’t provide the tastiest example.  I believe this is probably due somewhat to the whole processing and heating of frozen meals, which generally has an impact on the texture and flavor of red potatoes too.  I’m just not sure there can be a foolproof way to capture the true tastiness of sweet potatoes in a frozen meal, though I have to hand it to Healthy Choice for trying.

Regarding the other flavors in this meal:  the other vegetables are yellow carrots and pearl onions.  So it’s like a trifecta of vegetables one rarely eats!  I can’t say that I could really taste the rosemary in this meal, which is somewhat surprising and disappointing; I generally love rosemary in pretty much anything.

Overall, I am really liking the “steaming entrees” from Healthy Choice.  This one was only 180 calories, and while I did supplement my lunch with yogurt and fruit, the meal did leave me feeling sufficiently full.  Don’t get me wrong; it was not a meal with super-duper flavor, but a very healthy meal that contained, according to the packaging, 50% of my daily vegetable requirement.  Not only that, but the meal contained a full 100% of my daily Vitamin A requirement.  That’s pretty impressive, and it is thanks to both the carrots and that newly rediscovered favorite, SWEET POTATOES!!!


Calories:  180
Fat:  2.5 g
Sodium:  500 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  100% Vitamin A
Notes on cooking:  one 4-4 ½ minute single shot
Notes on packaging:  clear plastic tray, recyclable 

Monday, August 1, 2011


I usually feel like frozen meals boasting mushrooms do not contain nearly enough mushrooms.  But I will have to retract that statement in light of the Healthy Choice Portabella Marsala Pasta.  Instead of lamenting the lack of mushrooms, I feel as though I must lament the lack of *other* vegetables, which I do really believe to be of paramount importance to my own sense of fullness and healthiness upon my completion of a frozen meal.  Baby portabella mushrooms are listed as the second ingredient in this meal; again, an impressive amount of mushrooms.  But the only indication of any other vegetables were the flecks of green peppering the meal; a look at the list of ingredients tells me this must be parsley, which is listed far down on the list. 

I was surprised that the MyPyramid.gov information on the package indicated that this meal contains 30% of one’s daily amount of vegetables.  After all, mushrooms aren’t even a vegetable, right?  That prompted a Google search of “Are mushrooms a vegetable?,” which led me to the following

(A) mushroom (is) not a true vegetable in the sense that it does not have any leaves, roots, or seeds, and really does not need any light to grow.

So, these are the things that lead to classification as a vegetable?  I have oft-cited that there was an early American Supreme Court case that determined that tomatoes were “technically a fruit, but legally a vegetable” so that they would/would not be subjected to some particular tariff.  I’ve always loved this little fact about ‘maters.  You’ll have to scroll far down in the Wikipedia article to find the information, but it’s there.  

I suspect there is nothing quite so legalistic as the the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 challenging the mushroom’s classification as a vegetable in the MyPyramid.gov sense.  However, mushroom’s misclassification goes beyond the botany of fruit vs. vegetable.  Mushrooms belong in an entirely different living *kingdom*, as you may recall from middle school biology class.  While tomatoes will always belong to the Plant kingdom, regardless of fruit or vegetable status, mushrooms belong to the Fungus kingdom.

That’s right.  Fungus.  Yeah, I know we knew that already, but it still creeps me out a little when I say it out loud. 

Enjoy your fungus. 

Calories:  250
Fat:  6 g
Sodium:  500 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  20% Phosphorus / 50% Manganese / 40% Selenium / 20% Copper
Notes on cooking:  one 4-5 minute single shot
Notes on packaging:  clear plastic tray, reusable/recyclable

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Potstickers 101

I’ll just begin by saying: awesome.  A new favorite.

Today’s meal is Healthy Choice Asian Potstickers.  I am not all that familiar with potstickers myself.  I know I have eaten them before, but they’ve never been something I’ve deliberately selected from a menu.  That said, I may not be the best authority to assess this particular item; I certainly can’t compare against any other potstickers.  I can, however, respond to the fact that I found this meal incredibly yummy.

For anyone else unfamiliar, you should know that potstickers are essentially Chinese dumplings.  Unlike wontons (also often consider a Chinese dumpling), potstickers are not served in broth and they have a thicker, chewier skin.  In this meal, the potstickers are on a bed of rice with a sweet and spicy sauce.

These are vegetarian potstickers – though I’m surprised that the box doesn’t deliberately highlight this.  Instead of meat, there is tofu in the dumplings.  Even though I spent a couple years as a vegetarian, I never really embraced tofu and usually avoid it. But the tofu in this meal had the texture of chicken, not the spongy unpleasantness I’ve come to expect from tofu, so it was actually enjoyable.  Other ingredients inside the potstickers include rice, water chestnuts, green beans, onions, carrots, and soy sauce. The red peppers and carrots contained in the rice bed are like *actual* slices of red pepper and carrots – hearty, flavorful, and the same size as the picture on the box shows. 

At any rate, this one will be on my grocery list again because of taste alone.  Not too bad on the nutritional content either!

Calories:  340
Fat:  4.5 g
Sodium:  560 mg
Notable good nutritional content: 30% Vitamin A / 20% Vitamin E / 25% Folic Acid / 50% Manganese
Notes on cooking:   2 minutes, rotate potstickers and cover with sauce, 1 ½ - 2 minutes
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Baby Food for Thought

You’ll have to trust me on this one, but in order for me to write about today’s meal, I need to tell you a little bit about baby food, the other major category of food in my life. 

I’m pleased to report that I make most of my baby’s food, thanks to an incredible little baby food processor on loan to me by my incredible friend Mary Kate.  I should mention that this appliance can both steam and process the food, making cleanup a breeze. 

I get an incredible satisfaction out of making baby food because it makes me feel like I am making conscious, healthy choices about what is going into his body.  Additionally, I can begin to introduce him to flavors that he is going to eat during the coming years when I make his big boy meals for him.  And as an additional benefit for myself, making baby food has forced me to learn a little bit about the nutritional value of the food I presently consume (and make into baby food...). 

I am not a hater of pre-made baby food.  I have a stash in my cupboard for when I run out of homemade baby food (which, coincidentally, is almost never because of the amazing little phenomenon of freezing ice cube-sized portions of homemade baby food and then thawing them out as needed…but I digress).  But two things do bug me about pre-made baby food:  1) the texture is sort of unreal, not representing any likeness to the texture of the grown-up version of the same food, and 2) in most varieties, the flavor of the pre-made baby food is much blander than the real thing. 

So why all the jabber about baby food?

Smart Ones Lemon Herb Chicken Piccata

Today’s meal is the Smart Ones® Lemon Herb Chicken Piccata. The front of the box describes it as “grilled white meat chicken in a tangy lemon sauce with rice & spring vegetables.”  Really?  Well, the sauce was definitely not tangy and only marginally lemony.  And do green beans really count as spring vegetables?

I think I am just about done with Smart Ones® frozen meals.  Why?  Well, I think I could pop one into the baby food processor and turn them into the equivalent of pre-made baby food with ease.  Texture?  Blah.  Taste?  Double blah. 

The one redeeming quality of this meal is that it has a remarkably low number of calories and fat grams.  But with no notable positive nutritional content to speak of, and a long list of other frozen meal options out there, I believe I’m going to pass on these Smart Ones® from now on. 

Calories:  230
Fat:  1.5 g
Sodium:  540 mg
Notable good nutritional content:   :(
Notes on cooking:   2 ½ minutes, stir, 1 minute
Notes on packaging:  black tray, recyclable 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Move Over, Lean Cuisine Paninis!

I stated in an earlier post that I’m not a giant fan of the Lean Cuisine Panini line. The bread just doesn’t cook particularly well in the microwave and I never feel like I’ve consumed enough of a meal.  But when it comes to taste, I think I’ve found an awesome alternative.

I recently enjoyed Stouffer’s Corner Bistro® Chicken Quesadilla Flatbread Melt.  And I should emphasize that I *really* enjoyed it.  The seasoned flatbread was excellent, and unlike the bread of the Lean Cuisine paninis, it was able to achieve the desired texture, moisture, and flavor in the cooking process.  While the ingredients are very similar to the Lean Cuisine ingredients – chicken, roasted red peppers, Poblano peppers and onions – I think there must be *more* here because I felt like I had consumed much more of a complete meal.

However, a glance at the nutritional content begins to explain my enjoyment:

  • 370 calories here in contrast to 310 calories in Lean Cuisine
  • 15 g of fat here in contrast to 9 g of fat in Lean Cuisine

But truthfully, I think the taste of this one is worth the 60 extra calories and the 15 g of fat (only 6 g saturated fat, by the way).  If you haven’t tried this product, or any of the Stouffer’s flatbread items, I highly recommend you give them a try. 

Calories:  370
Fat:  15 g
Sodium:  640 mg
Notable good nutritional content:   Vitamin C 25% / Calcium 35%
Notes on cooking:   Single 2 ½ minute shot
Notes on packaging:  cardboard box and silver crisping tray; nothing recyclable

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Actual Nutrition? Who Knew!?!?

I launched into Healthy Choice’s Chicken Teriyaki without much thought.  It was a busy day and I was trying to get a lot done while I ate through lunch.  It was fine.  I can’t say it really left me with a strong negative or positive impression when it came to taste.  The side of vegetables – which included carrots, red peppers, shelled edamame – lacked salt, as is customary with these compartmentalized tray meals.  The gingersnap peach crisp was an interesting change.  Given that most of these compartmentalized trays boast an apple crisp, it was good to have a different dessert.  Admittedly, though, I think I prefer the apple crisp; Healthy Choice has perfected that option a little better than this one.

Near the end of my meal, I grabbed the box to make my notes for this blog and noticed that when compared to other meals I’ve reviewed, this one claims quite a bit of nutritional content.  In the details at the end of each blog entry, under “notable good nutritional content,” I generally note any vitamin/mineral when 20% of the daily value is contained in the product.  For a few meal reviews, I’ve had only one or two items to list.  Having *seven* might be a record for this blog. I, for one, take pride in the times when I make a truly healthy choice for a lunchtime meal, and this is one I can really feel good about.

Calories:  350
Fat:  6 g
Sodium:  500 mg
Notable good nutritional content:   Vitamin A 35% / Vitamin C 50% / Vitamin E 20% / Manganese 50% / Folic Acid 30% / Selenium 30% / Niacin 20%
Notes on cooking:   Single 5 ½ - 6 ½ minute shot
Notes on packaging:  black compartmentalized tray, recyclable

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Healthy Choice Garlic Herb Shrimp

Just a simple meal review here…

Today’s meal is the Healthy Choice Garlic Herb Shrimp.  This is one of Healthy Choice’s “Steaming EntrĂ©e” products – which is not the line with a colander nested into a bowl, but the line that includes a small, single tray that does not require puncturing of its plastic wrapper for cooking.  The cardboard packaging portrays the product to be chock full of vegetables and other natural ingredients; there is even a stamp-like image that states “Fresh Taste from Quality Ingredients” and photographs of the individual natural ingredients.  The ingredients listed begin with whole grain pasta, zucchini, asparagus, and shrimp.

Another thing that further solidifies this product’s description as “healthy” is its taste.  Which is to say…it tastes very boring.  Now don’t get me wrong; as I’ve said on many occasions, I like the taste of a good fresh vegetable.  But somehow this product’s bits of asparagus and zucchini just didn’t add the flavor I desired.  Additionally, the sauce was overly mild – a bizarre statement, many would say, about a garlic-flavored sauce (since afternoon meetings following consumption of such a named sauce are typically not a good idea). 

I wouldn't say I would never eat this again, but I can’t say I’d turn to it if I was looking for rewarding flavor. 

Calories:  260
Fat:  7 g
Sodium:  600 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  Folic Acid 20%
Notes on cooking:   single shot, 3 - 3 ½ minutes
Notes on packaging:  clear plastic tray, recyclable 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Confessions of a Dieter

Here’s a confession:  I went on an actual, follow-the-instructions diet a few weeks ago.  I’d never done this before because – frankly – I never had to.  Not so anymore.  The physical toll of pregnancy added to the fact that I’m not in my twenties anymore elevated the need for a diet – at least, if I wanted to fit into those pre-pregnancy t-shirts.  Also adding to my need for a diet was the fact that I was – and am – still only learning how to buy and prepare food for just one person. 

The diet I followed was the much-publicized, post-holiday Yoplait Two-Week Tune-Up.  The plan is centered - of course - on Yoplait yogurt, which I already eat quite a bit of.  The gist of the plan is to eat a yogurt cup, a serving of fruit, and a grain for both breakfast and lunch; two servings of vegetables as snacks throughout the day; and a sensible, lean-protein dinner, adding additional dairy servings as necessary to achieve the recommended daily allowance. 

I am well aware that dieting only works when it is part of a lifestyle change that also includes exercise.  I think I’m doing pretty well with that.  Never one to refuse fruits and vegetables, I have now made a deliberate choice to always eat these *first* in my food day.  And the exercise has been helped tremendously by my discovery of a couple of well-scheduled group exercise classes at my gym and some work colleagues who have been doing some group P90X workouts midday (thank our work at a university, which affords us some empty classrooms with projectors very near our offices). 

The result?  Well, in five weeks, I’ve lost half of the pounds I’d like to lose to get to that pre-pregnancy weight.  That seems like a good start to me.  More to come…

So all that said, I’ve had little opportunity to enjoy frozen meals, due to all the fresh fruits and veggies.  But I did have the opportunity recently to enjoy Marie Callender’s Penne Chicken Piccata.  As a Marie Callender steamer, it automatically starts with a gold star and after eating it, I’m comfortable leaving the gold star.  This one contained capers, which is a fun, welcomed flavor.  But there weren’t nearly enough of these flavorful gems.  I would have loved more.

This meal is in a white wine lemon butter sauce.  Call me crazy, but I swear that I could actually *feel* the alcohol a little bit.  Maybe the relaxation of a Friday evening caused me to feel this, but I just can’t be sure.  I do know that it was pleasantly flavorful.  The parmesan cheese also added positively to the flavor. 

Overall, I would have preferred more vegetables, but the flavor truly could not be beat. 

Calories:  370
Fat:  14 g
Sodium:  860 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  15% Iron / 10% Calcium / Folic Acid 35%
Notes on cooking:   single shot, 3 ½ - 4 minutes
Notes on packaging:  clear plastic bowl and colander, reusable/recyclable 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Call to the Lean Cuisine Corporation

A couple months ago, an interesting thing happened to me; I might even daresay that – given that I write this blog – it was an ironic thing.  I opened a box of Lean Cuisine’s Spinach, Artichoke, & Chicken Panini only to discover that the panini was missing both its plastic wrapping and its silver REVOLUTIONARY GRILLING® tray.  That's right - the two halves of the sandwich were just sitting there in the cardboard box, sort of embarrassed by their nudity.  As the writer of this blog, I had to take a photo of the naked panini and also seize the opportunity to CALL THE LEAN CUISINE CORPORATION to see what recourse I had.

The customer service representative with whom I spoke apologized for the manufacturing flaw and took all kinds of product details from me.  She also asked for some demographic data so that I could be mailed a coupon for a free future Lean Cuisine meal of choice.   The best part, though, was that she said “We do recommend that you not eat the product” about six times before the conversation was done.  Time after time, her bland tone indicated to me that she was reading the sentence from a computer screen. 

A couple weeks later, my coupon arrived.  I was surprised, actually, to only receive a voucher for one free meal.  That only replaced the meal that Lean Cuisine “recommended that I not eat” and required me to go to the grocery store to replace it.  I was hoping for a whole windfall of Lean Cuisine coupons, much like the flood of formula coupons I received after the Similac baby formula recall in the fall. 

Humorous incident aside, I am surprised to find that in at least this particular panini, there is a surprising amount of nutrition:  30% of Vitamin A, 30% of calcium and 20% of iron.  As evidenced by earlier posts, frozen meals just really don’t reflect the epitome of nutrition, so it’s always pleasing to me when a meal boasts a significant percentage of more than one nutrient.

I don’t particularly care for the idea of a frozen sandwich as a meal, but I think I’m pretty alone in this opinion.  Many readers and friends have made verbal and posted comments to me about how much they love these Lean Cuisine paninis.  While each of them generally includes at least a couple of vegetables in the ingredients, they just don’t feel like a complete meal to me (of course, no one ever said you couldn’t add other items to create a fuller meal).  But additionally, REVOLUTIONARY GRILLING® tray or not, a microwaved sandwich just lacks a little luster for me. 

Calories:  310
Fat:  9 g
Sodium:  660 mg
Notable good nutritional content:   Vitamin A 30% / Calcium 30% / Iron 20%
Notes on cooking:   2 minutes and 45 seconds
Notes on packaging:  cardboard and plastic wrap, grilling tray not recyclable

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Comfort that is Lean Cuisine

Today’s meal is the Lean Cuisine Roasted Honey Chicken (of the “Spa Cuisine” line).  I used to buy these Lean Cuisine meals religiously, but ever since I started this blog and expanded my frozen food palate, it feels so odd to me when I do go back to Lean Cuisine for a meal.  Mostly what I mean by that is that most of the Lean Cuisine chicken meals taste very similar to me, whether their flavor is garlic-, sesame-, or lemon-based.  I’m not saying that this is bad, only that they are similar, which might be really familiar/comfortable for many people.  Also, the chunks of chicken in these meals are completely predictable.  Again, not to say that this is bad; they are consistently good-textured chunks of chicken, but I am fairly certain that none of them have been pre-seasoned in any way. 

So today’s meal is honey-based, and honestly, if it weren’t for writing this blog, I’m not sure I could have told you that it was honey-based two minutes after finishing eating it.  The vegetables in this meal are snap peas and yellow beans, with occasional carrots and red onion.  Yellow beans are particularly unusual for a frozen meal, and I appreciate having something different.  The snap peas, however, I found to be particularly stringy, and I had to pull at least a couple long strings out of my mouth because they were unchewable – blegh!  I do have a bizarre homey-like fondness for the whole wheat pilaf that Lean Cuisine produces, so the meal has that in its favor. 

As with most Lean Cuisine meals, I’ll probably buy this again.  And again.  And forget what it tasted like two minutes after eating it. 

Calories:  280
Fat:  4 g
Sodium:  600 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  20% Vitamin A
Notes on cooking:  one 5 minute single shot
Notes on packaging:  black bowl, recyclable

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let’s Talk About Mac & Cheese

Today’s meal is Marie Callendar’s Fresh Flavor Steamer Smoky Cheddar Mac & Uncured Bacon.  I should begin with a disclaimer: my family doesn’t have a tradition for homemade mac & cheese.  I realize that for many people, this is absolutely sacrilegious.  Well, we’re sorry.  We make many awesome homemade dishes in my family, but mac & cheese just isn’t one of them; the Kraft box was always good enough for us.

That said, though, as soon as I got over the initial childhood shock of mac & cheese that didn’t look exactly like the box variety of which I was accustomed, I have always been able to appreciate a good homemade mac & cheese, when offered to me by another family.  But I have absolutely no expectation for it, so I don’t have particularly discriminating taste for this dish.

As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed the taste and texture of this meal.  But then I got to looking more closely at the nutrition information.  Nineteen grams of fat.  Nineteen!  Most of the meals I’ve eaten for this blog have had 5 or 6 grams of fat.  840 mg of sodium.  Whew!  At a total of 380 calories also, this will not be a meal I’ll buy again in the new year of babyfat-losing resolutions! 
Calories:  380
Fat:  19 g
Sodium:  840 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  15% Calcium / 25% Folic Acid
Notes on cooking:  one 3 ½ - 4 minute single shot
Notes on packaging:  clear bowl and colander, reusable/recyclable

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stock up now in Springfield!

Happy New Year, faithful readers!

I went to a Springfield Shop ‘n Save earlier in the week and discovered a fantastic sale on some great frozen meals.  Even several of the high-end meals were available for only $2 apiece.  Stop by and stock up!

Today’s meal is the Healthy Choice Roasted Chicken Verde.  This is a new kind of steamer for me.  It’s a bit smaller than the usual steamer package. It doesn’t have the two separate tray pieces for steaming; instead, vegetables, rice, and sauce steam inside a single tray.  It seems like a rather small portion size for a lunch meal, but I can’t say I was particularly hungry afterwards (plus, the packaging does say “Ideal for Lunch!”)

More so than with other meals I have eaten, I truly felt like I was eating a plateful of vegetables, and what better way to start off a new year of healthful resolutions?  This meal contains red and poblano peppers and the poblanos actually packed a little bit of natural heat.  In fact, the flavor and heat of the peppers overpowered the cilantro-lime sauce, and that’s just fine with me.  I was truly impressed with the quality ingredients of this meal, also including whole grain rice and sweet corn. 

Calories:  240
Fat:  3.5 g
Sodium:  500 mg
Notable good nutritional content:  15% Vitamin A / 20% Vitamin C
Notes on cooking:  one 3 ½ - 4 minute single shot
Notes on packaging:  clear, uniquely-shaped (let’s call it a wavy square) tray, reusable/recyclable