Sometimes you just can't make it into the kitchen to cook. Dr. Gourmet has reviewed over 1,000 common convenience foods, ingredients, and restaurant selections so that you know what's worth eating - and what's not. View the Index of all Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews
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Last month I discovered Lean Cuisine's new "Veggie Cuisine" line. As you may recall, the Enchilada Rojo was good, but the Indian Masala... wasn't. When we reviewed these meals a month ago, they were so new that they didn't appear in the online product finder on the Lean Cuisine website. Today I checked back, and they now appear in the finder, but unfortunately it doesn't appear to be accurate - the Walmart where I purchased these doesn't show up on their list. In fact, it would appear that you can't buy them anywhere. The good news is that the product finder does appear to work for other varieties.
Last month the Indian Masala got a thumbs' down for the bland sauce and the wet cardboard aftertaste of the vegetable protein chunks. This week these same chunks appear in the Roasted Red Pepper Fettuccine, so at first I was dubious. Would they tip this one into the Avoid category?
Fortunately, no. This meal has a good roasted red pepper scent, with big chunks of yellow squash, zucchini and red peppers. The squash and zucchini are a little overcooked for my taste, but not unacceptably so. After coming out of the microwave the sauce appears a little thin, but as you stir the meal and it cools a bit it thickens up nicely. The red pepper sauce is tangy and mildly sweet and the generous portion of pasta comes out al dente. The protein chunks fare much better with this sauce and have a good, meaty texture. Overall, better than many pasta convenience meals I've had. I have to give this one a thumbs' up with caution, however. For the sake of completeness (there are only four varieties, after all) we decided to go ahead and taste this meal, but ordinarily this level of sodium, at 700 milligrams, would mean we wouldn't taste it at all. At 280 calories and 4 grams of fiber, this is a good meal to have once in a while - and only if you keep an eye on your sodium intake for the rest of the day.
The last variety in Lean Cuisine's Veggie Cuisine line is a Tuscan-Style Vegetable Lasagna. Here, the vegetable protein is crumbled into the meal so you barely notice it's there. This has a moderately spicy tomato sauce with a fair amount of ricotta cheese between the layers of lasagna noodles. They're fairly thick, so you might need a knife if you're trying to eat this with a plastic fork. Like the Roasted Red Pepper Fettuccine, the chunks of zucchini and yellow squash are a little overcooked, but overall this is a good, tasty vegetarian lasagna.
I have to warn you about this one, however, and not because of the numbers, which are 320 calories, 650 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of fiber. The instructions call for you to cook this in your microwave for four minutes, then to uncover it completely and cook it another three minutes. Have some consideration for the other people in your office, and either cover this dish with a paper towel or be prepared for it to spit tomato sauce all over the inside of your microwave. If this does happen, however, cleaning it up will give you something to do while the meal sits for the recommended one to two minutes before eating.