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Not everybody has access to a refrigerator at work. I know I don't, and some of my patients don't either. All in all I'd say that Healthy Choice's Lunch Express products (which are labeled "formerly 'Fresh Mixers'") are probably a good idea. The idea is that the pasta or rice in the product has been pre-cooked and then dred, so all you have to do is add some water to the pasta or rice in the package and microwave that by itself until the pasta or rice absorbs the water. It comes with a separate dish of sauce that you can also heat separately (or not). No refrigeration needed - and I would guess that if you don't have a microwave, you could probably use boiling water instead (I might have to try that next time we review these products).
As I said, probably a good idea - if they taste good.
There were five varieties on the shelf in my local Winn-Dixie, and I was suprised to see that ALL of them met our sodium criteria. Today we'll be testing two of the pasta varieties and we'll get to the other three in a few weeks.
We started with the Rotini & Zesty Marinara. We added water to the pasta bowl to the marked fill line, then microwaved the pasta for three minutes. After three minutes there was just a little water left in the bowl, so we opened up the sauce packet and poured it directly into the pasta. After stirring (that's a generous amount of sauce!), we tasted it.
The sauce has a bright, tomatoey flavor with a hint of red pepper flakes to add some zing (it actually would make a good pizza sauce). It's just a little too sweet, however. Not too bad, but it reminded our panel of cafeteria pasta sauce. The numbers are good, at 290 calories, 500 milligrams of sodium (surprising!) and a whopping 7 grams of fiber. Seven grams!
With that many grams of fiber I expected the pasta to hold up pretty well to cooking. Its ingredients include whole wheat and durum wheat flour, after all. But it doesn't. This pasta is really the most overdone pasta we've seen in over 10 years of tasting frozen foods. It's mush. It's really too bad - with these numbers we might have given mushy pasta a pass if it weren't for the sweet sauce to push it over the top.
The Italian Style Penne, on the other hand, is a whole different story. The numbers are almost as good as the Rotini, at 280 calories, 560 milligrams of sodium and 5 grams of fiber (still a lot of fiber for a frozen meal).
For some reason the penne in this dish held up much better to cooking (or would the better term be "soaking?"). They're certainly not perfect, but much more on a par with the better pastas we've tried. This comes with a meat sauce that has a similar bright tomato flavor, with the addition of red bell pepper. It's not sweet, but it is a touch on the salty side. Overall, it's really pretty good, with plenty of chunks of ground beef. Much better than the Rotini!
A split decision for Healthy Choice today. We'll have the others for you in a few weeks.