Let’s face it, the greatest culinary invention in America is not sliced bread, it’s the TV Dinner, better known today the “Frozen Meal”. When these meals first appeared in the fifties, they seemed to be a godsend to housewives who would slave away at the kitchen on a daily basis. They were no small feat from a food science perspective either.
Unfortunately, these products are not the healthiest thing to put in your mouth. Whether the calorie count, crazy-high amounts of sodium, or a compendium of additives you’d be hard pressed to find nutritious frozen meals at the supermarket. This is despite the fact that an entire aisle is devoted to microwave friendly meals.
The market has progressed since those early days, with food manufacturers catering to a growing need for fast solutions that take into account the nutrition aspect as well. We decided to take a look at a new line of products introduced by Lean Cuisine a few months ago. The “Honestly Good” brand extension is a tall order, but to our surprise these products were OK.
Let’s take a look, for example, at Lean Cuisine Honestly Good Honey Citrus Chicken, pictured here. There are many claims on the front of package:
- 100% all natural
- no artificial ingredients
- minimally processed
- no preservatives
Some of these buzzwords have no meaning (“all natural”), but they do push on all the right buttons. As always, the truth lies in the ingredient list:
Broccoli, Blanched Raditore Pasta (Water, Whole Durum Wheat Flour, Semolina), Grilled Chicken Breast Fillet (Cooked Chicken Breast, Water Rice Starch, Seasoning [Dehydrated Chicken Broth, Chicken Powder, Flavor, Salt], Salt, Natural Flavor), Honey Citrus Sauce (Water, Tomatoes, Honey, Sugar, Onions [Onions, Soybean Oil], Chicken Broth, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic Puree, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Canola Oil, Corn Starch, Lemon Zest Flavor [Lemon Peel, Sugar, Lemon Oil], Spices, Sea Salt, White Wine Concentrate, Dehydrated Red Peppers, Basil), Yellow Zucchini, Spinach, 2% or less of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon Blend (Lemon Peel, Sugar, Lemon Oil), Sun Dried Tomatoes, Blanched Almonds, Parsley, Sea Salt, Basil, Spices
Although it looks daunting at first, the ingredient list is fairly understandable to the average Jane. With all the flavorings added (garlic puree, lemon peel, spices, parsley…), we don’t quite understand why “Natural Flavor” had to be added. We like the fact that the first ingredient is Broccoli!
Looking at the nutrition label, the calorie count is relatively low for a meal, at 320. This may be too low for a dinner, but a salad as a side could help fill you up. The protein count is good – 27 grams, which is between one third to one half the daily needs for most adults. There are only 7 grams of fat. The broccoli and whole wheat pasta kick in with 6 grams of fiber, which is over 20% of the daily requirement. The sodium count, 500 milligrams, is relatively low for a meal, in part due to the use of all the added flavorings mentioned above.
Is this a healthy meal? Depends how you define healthy. But of all the frozen meals we’ve seen, this product definitely seems to have covered all its nutritional bases.