Taste test: frozen meals

Consumers trying to lose weight in this new year might be looking for frozen meals to grab instead of fast food for lunch or chips and crackers for snacking. This week, we compared seven brands of frozen meals to see if they would satisfy our tasters in a pinch. Each entree included chicken as a common ingredient and all seven were prepared in the microwave, according to package directions. Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent

Product/Score

(out of 100)
Lean Cuisine Chile Lime Chicken 55Healthy Choice Chicken & Rice Cheddar Bake 44Weight Watchers

Smart Ones Chicken

Oriental 40
Judges'

comments
Chile and lime flavors aside, the Lean Cuisine option offered a good balance of flavor and texture, starting with the chicken. Judges who normally don't buy frozen meals said they would keep a couple of these in their freezer. "This has a very pretty mix of color with yellow, red and flecks of green in the blend," one panelist said. The side of rice in this entree was a little soft for a couple of judges, but they liked the fat grains, the kernels of corn and bits of tomato and green bell peppers in the meal. "It's got nice, white meat chicken and a pleasant flavor of pepper with nice seasonings," another said. "I like the little hint of heat and the touch of lime."Crisp broccoli accompanying this chicken was a welcome surprise for our judges. "The wild rice is also a really nice touch," one taster said. "It's not as good as homemade but, in a pinch, it would be fine." Another described the dish as "wholesome," saying it reminded her of a macaroni and cheese casserole with added meat and veggies. One panelist said he was craving stronger flavors than the meal supplied, but allowed that it was a good choice among the frozen chicken options we sampled.This Smart Ones meal got points for having very moist chicken and large grains of rice. "I like the large bits of red bell pepper and the carrot coins alongside the grilled, white meat chicken pieces," one panelist said. "The flavor is definitely Asian with soy and peanut overtones that are not overwhelming." Other judges said they were disappointed in the overall flavor of the dish, describing the taste as "unexciting." But, one said the dish might work for "a quick lunch at the office."
Would

they buy?
Three of the four judges said yes.Two of the four judges said yes.One of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information$1.97 for a 9-ounce package from Walmart.$1.98 for a 9-ounce package from Walmart.$1.78 for a 9-ounce package from Walmart.


Also Sampled: Evol Teriyaki Chicken ($4.99 for a 9-ounce package from Publix, 35 points); Kashi Chicken Florentine ($3.79 for a 10-ounce package from Publix, 33 points); Lyfe Kitchen Orange Mango Chicken ($5.49 for a 10-ounce package from Publix, 33 points); and Michelina's Lean Gourmet Chipotle Chicken & Rice ($1 for an 8-ounce package from Walmart, 31 points).

Panelists: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian; Kay Hodnett, personal chef; John Hehn, owner of All Brite Lighting & Power Design Inc.; and Laura Reiley, Times food critic.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to jkeeler@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 mealOne mealOne meal
Calories240220250
Fat/Fiber2g / 2g5g / 2g2.5g / 2g
Sugars/Sodium8g / 530mg2g / 600mg3g / 670mg
Carbs/Protein38g / 17g29g / 15g44g / 12g

Taste test: frozen meals 01/20/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 20, 2014 5:56pm]

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