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Every time that I see Healthy Choice meals in the freezer case I cringe. OK, I know that as a physician I am not supposed to let bias creep into my judgment. As a critic, however, it's hard not to. One simply must face facts. Healthy Choice meals are not very good. By and large they have the manufactured flavor of old fashioned TV dinners and the ingredient list reads like a chemistry textbook. Neither are very appealing.
Imagine my surprise to see new Healthy Choice packaging. The white background really stood out in the freezer case at the grocery. And there is a new logo. Cute. That's when I noticed the words "All Natural Entrees" on the package. It even says "Real Food!" Now the word "natural" has no meaning whatsoever. The FDA doesn't mandate what this can mean, legally speaking, like they do with the words "light" or "fat free."
Wait a minute... "Healthy Choice" and "Natural" in the same package? Have I stepped into some sort of Wal~Mart reality distortion field? But no. There it was. An ingredient list only with things that you would recognize. Words like tomatoes, egg white, semolina. No chemicals. And whole grain pasta!
And they are pretty good (I never thought that I would say that about a Healthy Choice product). For a frozen meal the Tomato Basil Penne rates even a "darn good." Not a Michael Angelos, mind you, but better than any HC meal we've ever tasted. Simple whole wheat penne with a slightly sweet tomato and onion sauce herbed with dried basil. This is topped off with mozzarella and once cooked the pasta is pretty firm with a good flavor and the sauce more than acceptable.
Even the numbers are good -- 280 calories with 2.5 grams of saturated fat. There's a whopping 7 grams of fiber (that's whopping for Healthy Choice at least). It does have 600 mg of sodium, which isn't too bad, but we'd like to see it just a bit less.
The Pumpkin Squash Ravioli fares about the same at 300 calories, 6 grams fiber, 2.5 grams saturated fat and 600 mg sodium. It's not quite as good as the penne. The flavor of the filling is subtle but well spiced. The ravioli is a bit tough, however. If the pasta was just a bit thinner, this would be much better. The butter sage sauce is good and this is all tossed together with butternut squash and asparagus, both of which actually have a fresh taste.
All in all, a 180° turnaround from their regular product. Of course, we here at Dr. Gourmet would like to take responsibility, figuring that the folks at Healthy Choice have been reading these reviews and said, "We're getting slammed by Dr. Gourmet and just have to do something!"
Reviewed: March 13, 2009