Putting diet meals to the taste test

January 18, 2010 4:07:20 PM PST
You may have made a New Year's resolution to lose weight. Frozen foods are one way to go, but what about the taste? Consumer Reports just tested two dozen frozen meals for flavor. From the plain to the savory, they have a breakdown of their favorites.

Americans spend more than two billion dollars a year on prepackaged frozen meals. No wonder store shelves are full of them.

Jamie Hirsh with Consumer Reports said, "The last time we tested these meals, on average they weren't that good. A lot of them had rubbery veggies, mushy pastas, and a general lack of wholesome, fresh ingredients. But things are changing."

Consumer Reports' tests of diet entrées included 24 meals from names like Weight Watchers, Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine.

"We rated the meals based on taste and overall nutrition, including saturated fat, dietary fiber, and sodium, which tends to be higher in prepackaged and prepared foods," Hirsh said.

Now there are entrées like lemongrass coconut chicken and butternut squash ravioli. But how do today's meals taste? Two Hormel shelf-stable meals were disappointing, tasting very processed, with bland vegetables.

But more than half of the meals rated very good for taste. Testers found Kashi's 290 calorie chicken Florentine fresh-tasting and flavorful. For beef lovers, try Weight Watchers Smart Ones home style beef pot roast bistro selections. At 180 calories, it has real beef-stew taste. For a meatless meal, consider Lean Cuisine Santa Fe style rice and beans with its flavorful cheesy sauce.

"Be aware that not all of these entrées have enough calories to replace a full meal," Hirsh added. "You may want to add a healthy salad or some veggies or even a side of fresh fruit to help round out the meal."

Consumer Reports says even if you're on a diet, meals with fewer than about 400 calories aren't enough for a full meal. That's when you want to add those healthy side dishes like a side salad.