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Wow. Lean Cuisine is now making gluten-free meals.
I was surprised to discover today's Spicy Beef & Bean Enchilada with a "GLUTEN FREE" label right there on the package, and indeed, their web site shows an even dozen meals that are gluten-free. Although it's a bit on the high side in terms of sodium at 680 milligrams (300 calories and 5 grams of fiber), it was the only gluten-free meal on the shelf at Winn-Dixie so we snapped it up out of sheer curiosity. It's nice to see such a mainstream food manufacturer starting to offer alternatives for folks with Celiac disease and gluten allergies.
It's a bit cynical, I know, but I do wonder if they're jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon because it's another food fad. Whether it's done out of a true wish to be more accommodating of food allergies or not, the good news is that they're doing it, so finding a gluten-free frozen meal should be easier than ever.
We did contact Lean Cuisine to ask them about their gluten-free items, and they assured us that the meals undergo allergen testing to verify that they are gluten-free. Note, for example, that although the Sriracha Beef we are testing today does not list any wheat-containing ingredients, it is not labeled gluten-free. Those with Celiac or gluten sensitivity will already know that a lack of wheat appearing on the label does not necessarily mean that it's gluten-free - especially when it comes to processed foods.
Of course, the real question is, how do they taste?
The Spicy Beef & Bean Enchilada comes out of the microwave with that classic red enchilada sauce scent. The enchilada is wrapped in a corn tortilla, and in the first bite, that's the strongest flavor: masa cornmeal. It's filled with a savory mix of pulled beef and pinto beans, with diced onions and red bell peppers. The diced poblanos both inside the enchilada and scattered over the top give a nice spicy kick. There's not a lot of filling in this enchilada - perhaps a couple of tablespoons - but the whole meal is only 300 calories, as one of our tasters pointed out.
Half the plate is filled with gooey white rice dotted with corn, black beans, and surprisingly crunchy diced zucchini. "Tastes almost exactly like the rice in their Chicken Enchilada Suiza," said a long-time panelist. It does indeed have that tomatillo, sour cream, and cheese flavor. I would have liked less cheese on the rice (and brown rice) and more beef in the enchilada, but the panel gave the whole a thumbs up. We'll keep an eye out for the other gluten-free meals that Lean Cuisine offers.
Speaking of food fads, the Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef turned out "...just okay." There's no starch component in this dish, so the whole is just 180 calories (with 550 milligrams of sodium and 3 grams of fiber). It is, however, a generous helping (for Lean Cuisine) of broccoli, snap peas, and sliced red bell peppers that steam up just about perfectly. The half-dozen bite size chunks of beef have fair flavor and are neither dry nor tough, but the shiny, slightly sticky sauce is far more sweet than the spicy you would expect, given that it's called "Sriracha Braised Beef." In fact, it's really not spicy at all. "I wouldn't say that it's GERD-friendly, but it's definitely not spicy," the panel agreed. We'll give this one a thumbs down. It's not bad, but it's just not all that good. There are plenty of other Lean Cuisine meals that are better.
First posted: September 25, 2015