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We here at Dr. Gourmet have been doing reviews of frozen meals for a long time. I mean, a long time. Food brands have come and gone in the last ten years or so that we've been reviewing these foods (Advantage\10 Pizza, anyone?), but the big guys like Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers and Healthy Choice seem to endure. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that we have a hard time finding something new to review that fits our criteria of under 600 milligrams (or so) of sodium. I was lamenting the lack of choice to a friend the other day, who said that he enjoyed "the Lean Cuisine that comes in a bag."
He's a stay at home dad, so I assumed that he was referring to those frozen meals-in-a-bag that are intended for families: add a meat, saute and serve. At Dr. Gourmet we're unlikely to review such things, however. (That's why I created Pantry Meals™, after all.) But as I was standing in my local Winn-Dixie, trying vainly to find something acceptable that we hadn't already reviewed, I noticed these bagged items in with the other Lean Cuisine meals. Upon closer inspection I discovered that although the sodium levels were indeed a little higher than I'd like, at 640 milligrams each, they were indeed single servings: "Lean Cuisine in a bag."
These meals, dubbed "Market Creations," are a single serving meal that comes in a (recyclable) plastic pouch fitted with a steam valve on the back. Simply place the bag, unopened, face down in the microwave, cook for the instructed amount of time, then cut open the top, pour into a dish and eat. I approved simply because this method of delivery is so much less waste than, say, Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers (ugh!), which seem designed to use as much plastic as possible for as little enjoyment as possible.
The even better news is that the two we tested for today are good. Really good.
The first one we tested was the Chicken Poblano: "chicken tenderloins with penne pasta, green beans, tomatoes, poblano peppers, roasted corn and black beans in a chili cheddar sauce." Now, something like this could be awful - I fully expected overcooked pasta, gooey plastic-cheese flavored sauce, limp green beans and precious little real poblano flavor, let alone actual poblanos. And I was glad to be wrong (except about the pasta, which is indeed a little over done). The green beans are crisp, the chicken not too dry, the corn not only tastes roasted but actually looks roasted, and there are actual crunchy poblano bits in here. The sauce has a good, but not over powering cheddar flavor spiced with chili powder and the poblano flavor comes through well. Whole wheat pasta might not have been quite so overcooked, but with 5 grams of fiber in this meal of 300 calories I can't complain too much.
After such a positive experience I was naturally a little concerned about the second meal, but the Chicken Margherita smelled great even while it was cooking in the microwave. This is "white meat chicken with penne pasta, tomatoes, red bell peppers and spinach, with mozzarella cheese in a savory balsamic sauce." Quite frankly, this is even better than the Chicken Poblano. There's plenty of spinach in this dish and the sauce has a clean, tomato-balsamico scent. There's the same overcooked penne, but the roasted red peppers lend bite to the sauce and the cheese is again not overpowering. A very savory, satisfying dish, with 310 calories, 640 milligrams of sodium and 5 grams of fiber. We'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more of these "Lean Cuisine in a bag."