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From time to time we like to revisit older reviews. Companies do change their formulations, so it's possible that a meal we liked previously isn't quite as good now - and of course, the converse might be true, too. For today's reviews we looked for meals that had received negative reviews in the hopes that the meals had improved.
Nearly five years ago we reviewed Amy's Baked Ziti Bowl, which is both gluten-free and dairy-free. We said at the time that this was "Flabby little ziti in a sauce that will make kids feel right at home because it tastes like the school cafeteria." Not enough cheese, super-sweet sauce, a few peas.
The good news is that Amy's seems to maintained consistency, at least with this meal. The only difference we could discern was that the rice pasta seemed like it might be better than the old version: these ziti are a little chewier than we'd like, but they hold up well to cooking and stirring, unlike some rice pastas we've seen recently. They're actually pretty darn good for rice pasta in a frozen meal. The bad news is that the sauce is still sweet, sweet, sweet - "like sweet tomato soup," according to one panelist - and so smooth it might have been pureed: we couldn't find any evidence of actual tomatoes in this dish. Once again there's less than half a tablespoon of (non-dairy) "cheese" on top of this dish, and once you stir the meal, you don't see it again - nor do you taste it. This is 390 calories, 590 milligrams of sodium, 6 grams of fiber, and $4.99 worth of a waste of your time.
The Light in Sodium Vegetable Lasagna, on the other hand, seems to have improved. Our review six years ago gave it poor marks for a watery sauce, making the dish "slide apart in its watery cheeses" and overcooking the pasta to mush. Now the (wheat) pasta is fairly al dente in just enough sauce - no trouble with wateriness here. There's plenty of (dairy) cheese and lots of spinach, diced zucchini, sliced mushrooms, and little flecks of carrot to add color.
That's the good news. The bad news is that this appears to use the same super-sweet tomato sauce as the original: "It's the same sauce as in the ziti, I think," noted a panelist. We hadn't realized it the first time around (we tasted the ziti almost a year later), but it seems likely. In any event, the lasagna is missing that umami hit you look for even in a vegetarian lasagna. Verdict: improved, but not enough. Leave both of these in the freezer case.
Reviewed: April 22, 2016