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Taste test: frozen macaroni and cheese

When we realize we are running out of evenings to finish our holiday shopping, wrapping or cooking, we often turn to a quick dinner to save time. Frozen macaroni and cheese is a family comfort food that's easy to prepare and satisfying for a hungry brood. This week we found 10 different varieties of frozen macaroni and cheese at local grocery stores. All were baked in the oven except when the directions recommended microwave cooking. Our judges were quick to stash a few in their freezers for busy nights. One brand will even help us stay on our holiday fitness plans.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent

Product/Score

(out of 100)
Stouffer's 70Trader Joe's 56Lean Cuisine 49
Judges'

comments
White cheese and a buttery bread crumb topping made this a hit with our judges. "It's a great version of the classic dish," said one panelist. Judges liked the consistency of the offering but a few said they would add touches of their own. One said she would add more salt and pepper, along with some fresh herbs. Another said she would serve it as a side dish along with a baked chicken breast or piece of fish. "It would be a fun, guilty pleasure on a hectic night," said another.Judges described the cheese in this offering as "the most real cheese" of the options tasted. "It has a subtle flavor, but I love the stringiness of the cheese," said one panelist. "We appreciate real cheese!" Another compared the stringy texture to "TV pizza," saying, "It's a great overall dish." This lower-calorie mac and cheese was the most homemade-looking among the choices. "I could easily be talked into eating this," said one panelist. "It's plump and gooey and good mac and cheese," said another. The macaroni in the Lean Cuisine was nice and tender, giving judges more reasons to like this brand. "This would work as a quick weeknight dinner or a holiday side dish in my house," said one taster who would buy the brand.
Would

they buy?
Three of the four judges said yes.Three of the four judges said yes.Three of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information$2.94 for a 20-ounce package from Walmart.$2.99 for a 14-ounce package.$2.69 for a 10-ounce package from Publix.


Also Sampled: Atkins ($4.49 for an 8-ounce bowl from Winn-Dixie, 12 points); Michelina's ($1 for an 8-ounce package from Walmart, 18 points); Wagon Wheel's ($2.72 for a 6.3-ounce package from Walmart, 33 points); Udi's Gluten Free ($9.86 for a 26.5-ounce package from Walmart, 28 points); Banquet ($1.24 for a 10-ounce package from Walmart, 15 points); Publix ($5.99 for a 40-ounce package, 7 points); and Marie Callender's ($5.99 for a 24-ounce package from Publix, 14 points).

Panelists: Jeff Jensen, public information officer for the city of Treasure Island; Wayne Conery, retired restaurant manager; Julie Overton, cook and bartender; and Kay Hodnett, personal chef. All foods were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to mstark@tampabay.com. Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to

tampabay.com/things-to-do/food/tastetest.

Serving sizeOne cupOne cupOne package
Calories320360300
Fat/Fiber15g / 1g15g / 1g6g / 2g
Sugars/Sodium4g / 830mg3g / 590mg5g / 560mg
Carbs/Protein31g / 14g42g / 16g48g / 13g

Taste test: frozen macaroni and cheese 12/19/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2016 11:51am]
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