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Today's Grilled Chicken Primavera caught my eye at Rouse's because of the "1 cup of VEGETABLES" emblazoned on the front.
One CUP? Really?
Right there on the package it says "Net wt 9 3/8 oz." One cup is 8 ounces. That leaves 1 3/8 ounces for pasta, sauce, and chicken, so right off the bat the panel was skeptical.
Back in 2014 the Grilled Chicken Primavera had 220 calories, 580 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of fiber. We said at the time that "this could be a really good dish with more pasta (the whole meal is only 220 calories, so another 1/4 ounce of pasta wouldn't add many calories, not to mention another gram of fiber) and a thicker, more strongly flavored sauce."
Perhaps Lean Cuisine was listening: this now has 240 calories, 530 milligrams of sodium, and, okay, the same amount of fiber, so while it's unlikely there's more pasta, given the weight of the product, maybe the sauce is better?
Good news: the sauce is better.
Despite the doubts about the weight of the meal versus the "1 cup VEGETABLES" claim, this does have an impressive amount of vegetables in the dish.
Too often we can count the number of broccoli florets on the fingers of one hand: this does have significantly more vegetables than our typical frozen meal, and broccoli is in fact the first ingredient in the ingredient list (remember that list is in descending order by weight). There's a fair amount of thick sauce ("that certainly smells cheesey"), decently-sized chunks of chicken with artistically added "grill" marks (the panel doubts that Lean Cuisine actually uses grills in cooking its chicken), and probably about an ounce of pasta.
As we mentioned, the sauce is tasty - thick, creamy, and cheesey with plenty of parmesan flavor and a note of roasted garlic. Much better than the old version. The larger pieces of chicken can be a little dry, reported the panel, but the down side of the dish is the texture: other than the chicken, it's mushy.
The broccoli is mushy. The pasta is really mushy. Even the matchstick carrots are mushy ("and that takes work," observed a panelist). On the plus side, it doesn't taste salty despite its 2.2 to 1 ratio of sodium to calories. That said, some of our panelists could detect a mild metallic aftertaste from the potassium chloride (much lower down in the ingredients list). There are better options out there - we have to give this a thumbs down.
The Chicken Parmesan (340 calories, 580 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of fiber) looks to have the same pasta as in the Grilled Chicken Primavera, and this suspicion was borne out when we tried to taste it: the pasta in this dish is so mushy that it sticks together in large clumps. It's simply impossible to twirl this on a fork.
"It's too bad," said a panelist, "the sauce is really good." It's rich and tomatoey, not too bright or acidic, plenty of basil, and it's not sweet at all - a common problem in frozen meals. Lean Cuisine could bottle this sauce and have a winner - without the pasta or the chicken.
The chicken patty is perhaps a quarter of an inch thick and the breading is so thin that it's "more like flouring than breading."
We cut into the patty, and it's abundantly clear that it's processed: it has the incredibly smooth texture of compressed wet cardboard and has a rubbery mouthfeel. In fact, the older panelists felt that it reminded them of things that the lunch ladies of their middle school years might have given them on their plastic lunch trays.
A panelist gave the ultimate verdict: "This tastes like something you'd get from a steam table at a buffet joint in the middle of the night in the middle of the California desert." Don't.
Review posted: August 23, 2019