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Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Life Cuisine/Lean Cuisine

Chicken Enchilada Bowl and Pasta Bolognese Bowl

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Chicken Enchilada Bowl from Life Cuisine

Back in September we were introduced to the Lean Cuisine offshoot, Life Cuisine, with two piadas (Italian-style street food). On the one hand, these were impressive because their "bread" was made with cauliflower - and that was darn good - but the overwhelming amount of salt in these sandwiches was simply unacceptable: "mouth-burningly salty."

Life Cuisine is not only focused on gluten-free options. It divides its attention between four "lifestyles": a "low carb lifestyle", a "meatless lifestyle", a "high protein lifestyle", and the "gluten free lifestyle".

Today we have two offerings from Life Cuisine: one a "high protein lifestyle" and another from the "gluten free lifestyle".

The "high protein lifestyle" product is a Chicken Enchilada Bowl with 350 calories, 700 milligrams of sodium, and 6 grams of fiber.

the Chicken Enchilada Bowl from Life Cuisine, after cooking

As you can see in the picture, this is an approximation of what people used to call a "tamale pie", something like this Tamale Pie with Black Beans or this Broccoli Corn Taco Bake: multiple layers of filling alternated with layers of corn tortillas - sort of a Southwestern lasagna.

Underneath the single corn tortilla topped with a sprinkle of diced poblano peppers and corn kernels, there's a mixture of chicken and black beans in a tomato sauce with Jack and cheddar cheeses.

Based on that description this could be a good dish, and it certainly has a promising poblano and enchilada sauce scent as it comes out of the microwave.

Here's the problem: in their decision to create a "high protein lifestyle" bowl, Life/Lean Cuisine has put so much chicken in the dish that there's no room left for a decent amount of vegetables. Quite frankly, this is everything that's bad about a "high protein diet": too much salt, too much protein (Americans don't need more protein in their diets), not enough vegetables or whole grains. Cut the chicken and salt in half, add another tortilla or two for whole grains, add a bunch of vegetables, and you might have a decent meal.

This? I can't recommend it.

The bowl from the "gluten free lifestyle" line of Lean/Life Cuisine is made with Banza® pasta, which is made with chickpeas instead of wheat. This has 550 calories, 580 milligrams of sodium (for once, a dish with less sodium than calories), and 9 grams of fiber.

Dr. Gourmet reviews the gluten-free Pasta Bolognese Bowl from Life Cuisine

The pasta, as with many pastas made with legumes, is rather gummy but holds up well to cooking. It doesn't shatter when stirred and has a lightly nutty flavor.

The Bolognese sauce is pretty darn good, made with pork and beef and having a savory meaty flavor. Lots and lots of cheese rounds this out - there's 24 grams of total fat in this dish - and overall it's pretty darn good.

the gluten-free Pasta Bolognese Bowl from Life Cuisine, after cooking

The big drawback of this dish is the reason it's so low in sodium: the last ingredient in the ingredients list is potassium chloride.

For those who may not know, potassium chloride is commonly used as a salt substitute. Used with care, it can help enhance the saltiness of a dish.

Too much, however, gives the dish a metallic flavor, and that's where Lean/Life Cuisine went completely off the rails with this dish. The metallic flavor is so strong that the dish is inedible. We got through one or two bites to evaluate the components of the dish, but the potassium chloride was just too much to stomach. Suck on a copper penny or six instead - it's cheaper.

An interesting note about these bowls, however: the "high protein lifestyle" bowl had 24 grams of protein. The Bolognese has 32. While the "high protein lifestyle" bowl is not labeled "gluten-free", there are no gluten-containing ingredients in the dish and "wheat" does not appear in the federally-required list of common allergens. Which is "high protein" and which is "gluten free"? It's clearly a marketing ploy and one you should ignore.

Posted: December 10, 2021