Sometimes you just can't make it into the kitchen to cook. Dr. Gourmet has reviewed over 800 common convenience foods, ingredients, and restaurant selections so that you know what's worth eating - and what's not. View the Index of all Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews
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Amy's Kitchen has a pretty good reputation here at the Dr. Gourmet tasting lab (my kitchen table). They even have a "Light in Sodium" line which Amy's describes as "all the flavor and goodness of our regular meals, but containing 50% less sodium." Then there's the "Light & Lean" line (say that ten times fast), which are touted as "low in fat and calories, yet tasty and satisfying." Generally speaking Amy's is successful with both lines - at least, in the products we've reviewed thus far.
But as you probably know if you've been reading these reviews for a while, we're always on the lookout for something new (at least to us) to review from our more highly-rated convenience food companies. Today we have options from both of Amy's specialty lines.
We actually reviewed the "full sodium" version of their Country Cheddar Bowl back in 2008. We called it "a pretty good product all the way around" but cautioned that the meal was high in calories at 400 as well as unusually high in fat - a total of 19 grams at the time. We checked the Amy's Kitchen website to discover that at some point in the past eight years they must have changed their recipe, as it now has 430 calories and a whopping 21 grams of fat. Remember last week when we reviewed those soups from Fishpeople Seafood? I said then that those soups should be treats because they're so very high in fat (indeed, one of those soups has 13 grams of saturated fat - over half your RDA!). Right from the start this bowl should be considered to be in that same "treat" category.
When Amy's says "all the flavor and goodness" of their regular versions, they seem to mean it literally. The Light in Sodium Country Cheddar Bowl has exactly the same number of calories (430), fat (21g), saturated fat (6g), and fiber (4g) as the "regular" version, with exactly half the sodium (345mg).
Sometimes cutting the salt works well, and oftentimes people will enjoy the lower-sodium versions of foods more than the original - as long as you don't tell them they're lower in sodium. This is not one of those times. As with our review of the original, there's moderately chewy rotini pasta, slightly overcooked (but still crunchy) broccoli florets, limp bits of red bell pepper, and julienned carrots that lend the most texture to the meal. There are a few chunks of tofu, and what struck the panel as odd - chunks of potatoes. Yes, technically a potato is a vegetable. But it's a starch, just as pasta is. Why would you put a starch in a bowl of starch? Tons more broccoli would have been much better (and prettier, too).
The problem is the sauce - it's bland, bland, bland. There's just a faint cheese flavor. Cheese tends to be salty, and given that every other number on the Nutrition Information box is exactly the same as the original, we can only conclude that they used reduced-sodium (yet full fat) cheese. Honestly, a sprinkle of salt would have woken this dish right up, but then you'd be eating the original, wouldn't you? Don't bother with this one.
By contrast, the Light & Lean Roasted Polenta with Swiss Chard is full of flavor at less than half the calories (140), a moderate amount of sodium for a convenience meal (540mg), and a respectable 4 grams of fiber. This is a smallish serving of sliced Swiss chard that has all of chard's lovely, slightly bitter flavor despite it being a bit overcooked - almost limp. (Some of the panel claimed they liked their chard better that way, and I suppose you might, too.)
That chard comes alongside a polenta cake slightly smaller than a deck of cards, with a soft corn flavor, that's topped with what is essentially a pasta sauce - a thick, tomato-based stew of diced tomato, zucchini, and green bell pepper. Unlike so many pasta sauces served in convenience meals, this isn't sugary-sweet: the natural sweetness of the tomato comes through well and is balanced with the savory-sweet zucchini and the bitter tartness of the green bell pepper. I'd be happy if I could purchase something like this in a restaurant (and it's gluten-free, so I could actually eat it). If you're in the mood for a light Italian meal, try the Roasted Polenta with Swiss Chard. Much more flavor than the Country Cheddar Bowl with 20% of the fat.
Reviewed: January 15, 2015