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Our past reviews of Weight Watchers Smart Ones products have been few and far between. Why? Because so many of them have been terribly high in sodium. I was in Walmart the other day looking at the convenience meals on offer there and noted that they have an enormous section of Weight Watchers meals - many of which I hadn't seen before. I don't know if it's that the other locations I've been purchasing our review products simply don't carry these varieties or if these are new or newly-reformulated products, but I was surprised to find quite a few of their meals meeting our Dr. Gourmet standards for calories, sodium and fiber. We'll start with a couple this week and you'll be seeing more of them in the weeks to come.
It was actually the Tuna Noodle Gratin that caught my eye in Walmart. There just aren't many fish or shellfish options available in convenience meals. I fully expected to see that it contained 800 milligrams or more of sodium, but 550? Only 550 milligrams of sodium? (Granted, that would be a lot if you were making this yourself, but for convenience meals this is quite respectable.)
When you take the Tuna Noodle Gratin out of the box, it looks like the Tuna Noodle Casserole your mom used to make (but frozen, of course). Pasta, peas, celery, tuna bits, lots of breadcrumbs on top. Microwave for 4 minutes, stir, cook another minute and allow the meal to sit for a minute or two. And what do you get? Essentially... the Tuna Noodle Casserole your mom used to make. The chunks of celery and the peas retain some bite, the sauce is creamy, the breadcrumbs are a little crunchy and there are tuna bits. The pasta is overcooked and gooey, but really.... so was the pasta in the Tuna Noodle Casserole your mom used to make, wasn't it? There's only 3 grams of fiber to go with the 240 calories, so I'd rather they used whole wheat pasta for a little more texture as well as higher fiber, but when the convenience meal echoes the original so closely, there's really not much to complain about. If you liked Tuna Casserole as a kid, you'll like this (I did).
The other meal we tested was the Pasta with Ricotta and Spinach. Take this one out of the box, and - wow! There's a lot of spinach in this dish! After microwaving for a couple of minutes, I noted doing the obligatory stirring that not only is there a lot of spinach in here, there are significant chunks of ricotta cheese to be stirred into the pasta. You just don't expect convenience meals to seem so generous with the ingredients.
Even better, this dish is really good. The cream sauce is spiced with a hint of nutmeg to bring out the flavor of the spinach, and the ricotta cheese brings the whole dish together. For best results, allow the dish to sit uncovered for a minute or two to allow the sauce to thicken; even so, it does get a little grainy. And as we've seen in other pasta meals, the ribbons tend to break up with stirring, which could be minimized with whole wheat pasta (not to mention adding fiber, even though this dish contains a very respectable 6 grams of fiber). The sodium is a little on the high side at 630 milligrams, but it's not too surprising, as ricotta cheese tends to be higher in sodium all by itself. All in all, 280 calories of spinach cheesy goodness.
If these two dishes are indicative of the quality of the other meals we'll be testing, I'll be very pleased. Nice work, Weight Watchers! Both of these will make good lunches or quick dinner meals for your freezer.
Reviewed: April 15, 2011