"Freshly steams in minutes," the Lean Cuisine package says about its latest garlic chicken. "Uses the power of steam to cook flavorful Seven Whole Grain pasta in just minutes," Kashi says of its new three-cheese ravioli. But are those steamable meals any different from standard frozen entrées? We decided to put 10 to the test.
The packaging is clearly different. Kashi and Lean Cuisine use vented plastic bags that release steam during cooking. Healthy Choice and Marie Callender's have a steamer basket that sits inside a sauce bowl. Cooking times for most were 4 to 5½ minutes—about what it takes to heat conventional frozen entrées.
Flavor and texture were also what you'd expect from a typical frozen meal: tasty, but not off-the-charts. Lean Cuisine's garlic chicken has large white chicken pieces and flavorful vegetables, Kashi's sesame chicken offers a nice mix of chewy whole grains, and Marie Callender's three-cheese tortellini has a soft cheese filling and decent tomato sauce. With the others, pasta could be hard in spots and the chicken could be dry.
Nutritional profiles were comparable, too, with most steamable meals receiving the same very good scores we've seen with many diet meals. But if you're counting calories or following a low-sodium diet, check the labels, because we did note some variations there.
Steamable meals offer a fast and fairly tasty and healthful dinner for one. But any suggestion that they're reinventing frozen entrées is just a lot of hot air.
This article appeared in the February 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.