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Are all frozen diet meals created equal?

January 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Many are resolving to lose weight in 2010, so is adding microwavable diet meals the answer? Consumer Reports just tested 24 of them to help us decide which to savor and which to skip.Americans spend more than $2 billion a year on prepackaged diet frozen meals. It's no wonder store shelves are full of them.

"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," said Jamie Hirsh of Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports' tests of diet entrees 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," said Hirsh.

Now there are entrees 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 entrees have enough calories to replace a full meal. You may want to add a healthy salad or some veggies or even a side of fresh fruit to help round out the meal," advised Hirsh.

Since 300 calories isn't apt to stay with you too long, adding those healthy sides is a great idea. In addition, choose a meal that offers at least 10 grams of protein and is as low in sodium as possible.