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We review convenience meals on the Dr. Gourmet web site. While I am not a fan of them, I do realize that folks are busy and challenged for time, so we try to look for the better choices to help you out. Most of the ones that we choose to put to the tasting panel come out of the freezer case, and there's a reason for that. When I look for foods on the aisles of the grocery store, what I find is so terrible that I can't even consider putting anyone through having to taste it. (Remember our motto: "We eat it so you don't have to.™")
I will use Hamburger Helper as the prototype (hey, there are others but it's such an easy target). While it's easy for people to focus on fast food, the super-sizing of meals at restaurants, and soda as being the thing that has caused the obesity epidemic, Hamburger Helper is equally to blame (OK, not all by itself but it is the model for bad food). There is nothing valuable about this product in any way. Let's look:
Note that the serving size is one cup as prepared. Sadly, this is unlikely to be the serving that most people consume but even if they did the quality of the calories is pretty darn poor.
There's 310 calories per "serving" and they are made up of mostly the white pasta. As such, there is less than 1 gram of fiber, even with 23 grams of total carbs. There's 810 mg of sodium in that cup serving, but very few other minerals, with essentially no iron and no calcium (even though it's supposed to contain cheese). In spite of the fact that this is labeled "cheeseburger" there's more sugar than cheese in the box.
This is like eating a cheeseburger with white bread, meat and cheese (kind of) but without anything that might be good like lettuce, tomatoes, onions or even pickles.
What you get instead are things you won't recognize:
Monosodium glutamate (yep, MSG)
Modified corn starch
Yellow Lakes 5 & 6 (artificial color)
(interestingly, no High Fructose Corn Syrup)
I realize that there are a lot of jokes about the food on grocery store shelves being "plastic." In some cases this isn't far from the truth. That's not to say that Hamburger Helper is plastic, but it has very little nutritional value – high calorie, high salt, low fiber and few valuable nutrients. It's not just Hamburger Helper, of course, and not foods that you haven't heard of. Dinty Moore products, Hormel Compleats meals, Campbell's soups, Swanson Chicken A La King.... There's just too many of them to list.
What not to eat? As a rule of thumb, don't select convenience meals that are not frozen (and be cautious about those that are frozen).
If you're reading this, it's likely that you have already bought into the Dr. Gourmet message. As I am preaching to the choir, it would be good for you to forward this to those who you might want to help find a way to eat healthier.