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Yes, Healthy Choice and their plastic colander bowls are back again this week after we reviewed their Chicken Fried Rice and Meatball Marinara a few weeks ago. Those were surprisingly good, with good flavor and texture. Would they mark a change in our overall perception of the brand?
This week also started out looking promising. As we placed it in the microwave we noted that the Chicken Margherita has quite a lot of diced tomatoes in it, along with a half-dozen good-sized chunks of chicken. We regard it as a good sign when what the meal looks like frozen is fairly appetizing, and this seems to have a fair amount of vegetables and protein to go along with the ubiquitous pasta.
Unfortunately, this isn't always a reliable sign of quality. "How can the chicken by itself taste salty?" asked one panelist.
"Mushy pasta," said another.
"Only balsamic scented."
"Tastes like light brown plastic."
This is the sort of meal that gave convenience meals a bad name. Here's the package description: "Chicken Margherita with Balsamic: Grilled white meat chicken with freshly-made angel hair pasta, roasted garlic & tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette sauce." There is no flavor of roasted garlic and the tomatoes are cooked into flavorless mush. It's basically light brown goo with red bits in it. Leave this on the shelf (280 calories, 530 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber).
The second meal has a similarly long description: "Grilled Basil Chicken: Grilled white meat chicken with freshly-made whole grain angel hair pasta & vegetables in a fire roasted basil tomato sauce." Hmm. If the angel hair pasta is whole grain and the previous meal's pasta was not, why is there only 1 gram more of fiber in this dish (which has 240 calories, 550 milligrams sodium, and 5 grams fiber)?
Like the Chicken Margherita, this also has chunks of chicken and plenty of vegetables, which in this case are zucchini and shredded spinach along with a few lonely bits of red bell peppers.
Once again we went around the table for the panelists' impressions:
"Pasta's not quite as mushy, but it's still so soft it's breaking up."
"Chicken's a lot better - not as dry and it doesn't have that salty aftertaste."
The panelists further agreed that the sauce did indeed have a roasted tomato and basil flavor, and the zucchini added a little crunch and texture to the dish. They did note the slight metallic aftertaste that betrays the use of salt substitutes. Overall, not bad, they said, but not particularly good, either, given the number of better pasta meals we've tried. A disappointing return to form for Healthy Choice's Cafe Steamers.
First posted: October 9, 2015