Friday, November 17, 2017
Cooking

From the food editor: Why a Lean Cuisine called to me from the freezer aisle

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While walking down the frozen food aisle in the grocery store the other day, something caught my eye: a Lean Cuisine, of all things.

It was one of their new entrees, four of which they are offering for a limited time: Southwest-Style Potato Bake, Chicken Tikka Masala, Cheese & Fire-Roasted Chile Tamale and Thai-Style Ginger Beef.

Caught in a deluge of wedding planning for the next two months, with little time or money to spare, I am turning to easy lunches to get me through the workday more than usual. Most days, it's a chopped salad — current fave: kale, fresh corn, chickpeas, chunks of cheddar cheese and avocado — that I can prep in a few minutes. But sometimes, I don't have time even for that. You probably don't either.

I don't have the best relationship with premade frozen meals. It's less for me about what's in them and more about the fact that they all tend to taste the same, like rubber and despair. But on this particular day, I was feeling lazy, and a chile tamale that would be ready in three minutes and 30 seconds sounded really appealing.

So I tried it. And it wasn't bad. Made with organic and non-GMO ingredients (so they claim, at least), the tamale wasn't as toothsome as the fresh kind, but it had good flavor, a sweet and spicy chile sauce giving the whole thing a needed kick. Cilantro lime rice on the side helped keep me full for a respectable amount of time. It was fine. It was a Lean Cuisine.

The next day, there was a news release from the frozen food company in my in-box.

"In addition to new, delicious flavors, the four entrees offer high-protein and gluten-free options and dishes made with organic ingredients. The new items boast the high-quality ingredients consumers are looking for in their grocery store aisles."

And: "The new limited-time entrees gave our team of chefs a chance to explore new ideas and flavors while bringing creative, delicious foods to your home."

A few hours later, an email from Stouffer's, touting similar wholesome improvements to their frozen meals, arrived.

"Stouffer's has just announced a new initiative to renovate its recipes making them shorter and simpler — and ingredients that you could find in your own home. As a part of this Kitchen Cupboard commitment, Stouffer's will begin to apply a consistent set of standards across new and existing meal lines, starting with its staple dish — Meat and Sauce Lasagna."

Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that the Lean Cuisine called out to me from the freezer case. These food companies are actively trying to make their items more appealing to consumers, especially ones aware of the ingredients in their meals.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

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