Consumer News

Will microwaveable meals help your diet?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's the New Year and many of us have resolved to lose weight and eat better. Could adding diet microwavable meals to the menu help? Consumer Reports just tested two dozen and can tell you which you can savor and which you should just plain skip.

Diet meals - Americans spend more than $2 billion a year on prepackaged frozen meals. No wonder store shelves are full of them.

"The last time we tested these meals, on average they weren't that good," says Jamie Hirsh of Consumer Reports. "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 said. "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 less than about 400 calories aren't enough as a full meal. That's when you want to add those healthy side dishes.

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