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We haven't done very many reviews of frozen meals directed toward children. Sure, we looked at some kids meals from Amy's (ugh), a few Lunchables (double ugh), and some gluten-free options from Ian's (some pretty good, others not). But seeing Elmo on the package of a frozen meal gave me pause. Sesame Street, marketing frozen food? Imagine my surprise when I looked at the Nutrition Information and found that the two there on the shelf were actually well within our guidelines for fat and salt, not to mention actually containing whole grains. I would be sorely disappointed if our panel found these inedible.
The instructions for the Whole Grain Cheese Pizza are for oven baking only - no microwave option is offered. I can understand that - you're not exactly sending your toddler off to work, so expecting the parent to turn on the oven is reasonable enough. These come two to a pack, and at five inches across, these are definitely kid-sized (190 calories, 380 mg sodium, 4g fiber per pizza). On the front of the box it proclaims that these contain 35 grams of whole grains per serving - and we can believe it when we look at the pizza: this is definitely a whole wheat crust. The instructions say to place the pizza directly on the oven rack for a crispier crust, or on an oven rack for a softer crust. We have to recommend the oven rack option, as that's what we chose and the crust was really only crispy around the edges.
That's okay, because what a crust! This has a fine whole wheat flavor with plenty of the yeastiness and satisfying chew thicker-crusted-pizza fans love. (Sorry, thin-crust fans.) A panelist regarded his tiny slice thoughtfully and asked, "Why can't they make whole wheat crust like this for grown-up pizzas?" Contrary to the picture on the front of the box, the cheese on this pizza doesn't cover the top of the pizza, but again, that's OK - on the back of the package it suggests that you allow your child to "choose some colorful vegetables that can be used as toppings for the pizza." This is an excellent idea and a great way to make the pizza a complete meal. Along with the moderate amount of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, this has a quite classic tomato sauce enhanced with oregano; indeed the only real drawback to this pizza was that "it could use more of the sauce." Thumbs enthusiastically up for this cheese pizza for kids, and why aren't they making grownup pizza, too?
Somewhat to our surprise, the same applies to the Elmo Mac 'n Cheese. While this is Elmo-shaped pasta, it's whole grain pasta with a fine, subtly wheaty flavor that comes out satisfyingly al dente - "it's exactly what you're talking about when you say people should use whole wheat pasta, Dr. Harlan," said one panelist. While there's (again) less cheese sauce than we might wish, it's a good, cheesy flavor that compares well with the various boxed versions of mac 'n' cheese we've tested.
This is paired with diced carrots and broccoli - but not only is it 90% carrots (not necessarily a bad thing), the broccoli is nearly all diced stem - there's only one lone broccoli floret. On the plus side, however, you can actually taste the sweet flavor of the carrots (and what broccoli is there), which is not a bad thing when you want kids to learn to like vegetables. Two meals we'd be happy to feed our kids - and we wish they made food for grownups.
Reviewed: April 15, 2016