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Finding single-serving meals in the freezer case is easy, but finding ones with less than around 650 milligrams of sodium per serving (and I'm aware that we go over that guideline on occasion) is much more difficult. I've seen single serving meals with more than 1,700 milligrams of sodium, which is as much as most people need in a single day!
For that reason there are a few companies that I honestly do not expect to ever review in this column, and until today Banquet was one of them. Their Chicken Pot Pies were a staple in my house as a kid, but they have over 1,000 milligrams of sodium per pie. I'd always thought of their products as being far too high in sodium for us to review.
My wife spotted today's offerings in the freezer at our local Rouse's (a regional grocery store). They grabbed her eye because their packaging is very different from Banquet's typical red background, and of course they're marked "NEW!" The Banquet web site describes this line of meals as "entrees" as opposed to "dinners" and describes them as "perfect for lunch or as a light-dinner meal." She brought a few home for our panel to test.
The panel chose to start with their Fettuccini Alfredo, which comes with "Broccoli and White Meat Chicken." It comes in a typical shallow plastic dish that you microwave, but the panel noted (with some dismay) that the serving doesn't even fill the dish. This did not bode well.
After microwaving, stirring, and microwaving again, the serving still seemed scanty. The same description applies to the chicken: three chunks 1/2 inch square and a tiny piece that might have broken off a larger piece. That's it. (Good flavor, though.) The tiny broccoli chunks are mostly stem, and overcooked. The worst offense, however, was the sauce: bland, bland, bland. One panelist, one of our culinary student interns, said it tasted "like their first white sauce ever." The numbers for this are good at 220 calories, 470 milligrams of sodium, and 3 grams of fiber, but this is just a waste of your time. Don't bother looking for it.
Not so with the Queso Mac (described as "Macaroni with Monterey Pepperjack Cheese Sauce." There are more calories and sodium in this one - 270 and 670 respectively - but as another panelist put it, "if you like mac and cheese and you like pepperjack cheese, this is for you." This is just what you'd expect of frozen mac and cheese in the sense that the pasta is overcooked, but there are bits of red bell pepper and tiny diced pieces of jalapeno to go along with a thick, creamy pepperjack cheese sauce. I'd have like this to be made with whole-wheat pasta for a little more texture (and fiber), but the panelists insisted that this get a thumbs up: "It's way better than those mac and cheeses from evol Foods!"
Better than I expected from Banquet, to be sure. And a look at the Nutrition Information for the Dinners on the Banquet web site shows a few meals with reasonable sodium levels, as well. We'll test those for you in the future.