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Consumer Reports finds that diet entrées serve up better taste, small portions

Posted Sunday, January 31, 2010

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CR’s testers rate 24 microwaveable meals from leading brands such as Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, and Weight Watchers

 

Yonkers, NY — From the labs at Consumer Reports, some dinner recommendations that aren’t quite fine dining but can help dieters control their portions and lose weight. In the February issue, 14 out of 24 microwaveable meals earn a “Very Good” rating for taste, a marked improvement since the last time prepared meals were tested in 2004. But Consumer Reports Health notes that many entrées have so few calories that diners may need to round out their meals with a few side dishes.

The report is part of “Get Fit In 2010,” a do-it-yourself Web guide at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org. The Web site includes new ratings of bathroom scales, fitness tips for a variety of workout styles, and low-cost ways to stay healthy in bad weather.

“The leading brands have really come a long way in terms of taste. And all but two of the meals we tested earned high marks for nutrition as well. The key thing to watch out for is sodium; we recommend that consumers try to avoid meals with more than six hundred milligrams,” said Jamie Hirsh, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health.

The top tasting prepared meals offer a range of options in four categories: chicken, beef, pasta/bean, and shrimp. Non-meat eaters, you’re in luck: the pasta/bean category outshines the others, offering the most meals deemed Very Good in taste by Consumer Reports’ tough testers. Consumer Reports Health recommends four meals in this category based on taste and sodium count: Lean Cuisine One Dish Favorites Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans ($2.57); Kashi Black Bean Mango ($4.10); Kashi Garden Vegetable Pasta $3.95); and Healthy Choice All Natural Entrées Portabella Spinach Parmesan ($2.51) (the manufacturer says the product and packaging have changed since Consumer Reports’ tests).

“The Kashi brand is clearly one to watch. It was the only brand that earned a Very Good score for both nutrition and taste for all four of its meals that we tested, though they are a little pricier than most,” said Hirsh.

Other recommended meals include Kashi Chicken Florentine ($3.96); Healthy Choice Café Steamers Roasted Beef Merlot ($3.45) (the manufacturer says the product and packaging have changed); Lean Cuisine Cafe Classics Steak Tips Portabello ($3.26); and Lean Cuisine Cafe Classics Shrimp Alfredo ($3.24).

Tips for Getting The Most From Your Diet Entrée:

  • Read sodium labels. Consumer Reports Health identifies eight meals with more than 600 milligrams of sodium, the benchmark that testers set as a maximum. Most healthy people should get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. People who have high blood pressure, African Americans (whose blood pressure tends to be especially sensitive to sodium), and older adults should get no more than 1,500 mg.
  • Make it a meal. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, products with less than 400 calories may be inadequate by themselves as a full meal. On a typical 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, you should consume 400 to 500 calories for each meal to safely lose weight. “Luckily, these meals readily lend themselves to augmentation with healthful, easy-to-prepare side dishes,” said Hirsh. Consumer Reports Health recommends some easy add-ons to turn portion controlled entrées into full, satisfying meals without raising the calorie count too high.
  • For dieters looking to boost calcium intake, there are lots of meal options with 20 percent of the Daily Value for that mineral, including these entrées: Weight Watchers Smart Ones Classic Favorites Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli & Chicken ($2.32), Lean Cuisine Spa Cuisine Classics Butternut Squash Ravioli ($3.22), and Lean Cuisine One Dish Favorites Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans ($2.57).
Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.
 
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Consumer Reports finds that diet entrées serve up better taste, small portions
Consumer Reports Health recommends four meals in this category based on taste and sodium count: Lean Cuisine One Dish Favorites Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans ($2.57); Kashi Black Bean Mango ($4.10); Kashi Garden Vegetable Pasta $3.95); and Healthy Choice All Natural Entrées Portabella Spinach Parmesan ($2.51)
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