Monday, May 9, 2011

Healthy Choice: My lunch needs a makeover

Here's a typical eating scenario that takes place during my day: I start off pretty good, eating a healthy breakfast of cereal or oatmeal (with tons of coffee, of course, just to offset all that healthiness.) Sometimes I'll get crazy and have an egg, but usually it's whatever my kids are having since that would be what is already out on the counter and doesn't require any extra energy to prepare. Some call it lazy, I call it efficient.

Then, around 3 or 4 o'clock I'll start to get really hungry. Why? Because I suddenly realize that I forgot to eat lunch. Not skipped lunch, but just completely forgot to eat with all the craziness of my day. And because it's so late I'll start to panic and just grab whatever I can in the kitchen. Sometimes it's a piece of bread, or a muffin, or a handful of chips. If we've just had a party at our house – look out, since I may just grab a cupcake or a leftover piece of birthday cake. You don't want to know what I had for lunch the day after a Super Bowl party.

So when I was asked to sample some Healthy Choice frozen meals, I thought, why not? I figured it might be a way to find something that could be whipped up quickly if I forgot to eat, and might inspire me to actually get on some sort of schedule so that I ate at a reasonable time like most normal humans do. Also, I'd been wanting to drop a few pounds so eating a portion-controlled meal at a sensible hour seemed like a good plan all around. Which is more than I can say for that 4pm cupcake lunch.

I have had Healthy Choice meals before and to be honest I think I just bought them because of the word 'healthy' in the title, and didn't realize that using that word means the product is actually held to a higher nutritional standard set by the FDA. (In other words, I don't think I could call yesterday's lunch of espresso and a Pop Tart 'healthy'.) Healthy Choice is the only major brand in its category that can call 100% of its products “healthy” as defined by the FDA. This means that each meal must be:

1. Low in fat
2. Low in saturated fat
3. Controlled in sodium and cholesterol
4. Supply at least 10% of the daily value for three beneficial nutrients (calcium, protein, fiber, iron, vitamin A or vitamin C)

Here are the two meals I chose to sample, how I liked them and if I'll be putting them in my freezer to get my lunch plan on track.

I enlisted  my 13-year-old sample the Chicken Parmigiana with me, since she never met a pasta she didn't like, and this chicken was served on a bed of penne. We were both surprised at how good this was. I was anticipating a dry, rubbery piece of chicken like you would expect with a frozen meal, but this one was actually pretty moist and the light breading was seasoned nicely and didn't overwhelm. The sauce wasn't too sweet, and the penne wasn't overcooked - again, not what you would expect from a frozen meal. I would definitely buy this one again – the only drawback was that I had to share it with my daughter.

My next meal, Sweet and Spice Orange Zest Chicken, came from the Healthy Choice Café Steamers line. The idea is that the food steams in your microwave for a healthier meal. I understand the health benefits if you're steaming fresh ingredients, but with a frozen meal the food has already been cooked so without knowing how the food was originally prepared, I'm not sure if there is any extra health benefit here.

But steamed or not, I found this meal to be a little lacking in flavor. The sauce was overly sweet, the rice overcooked and I found the dish to be just bland in general. The best part about it were the snap peas, which had retained their crispness and sweetness despite being frozen. I'm curious to try the General Tso's Spicy Chicken which may have a little more kick to it.

We've all heard before about the obesity epidemic in our country that is threatening our health and that of our children. (Center for Disease Control (CDC) says two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese) Healthy Choice sent along some research that shows that replacing 10 meals per week with a portion-controlled Healthy Choice meal, as part of a reduced calorie diet, can lead to weight loss, increase of energy and improved dietary quality.

It isn't likely that I'd eat (or feed my family) 10 frozen food meals a week, but I've always been a firm believer in portion control as a weight loss method and this shows me Healthy Choice meals could also be a part of my diet plan. (Their portion prevented me from stuffing myself with chicken parmigiana, for example.) Also, knowing that these meet the FDA requirements for a 'healthy' designation makes them a smarter choice than most for the occasional lunch.

I am on a mission to healthy up my lifestyle and that of my family, though, and in addition to eating a sensible lunch (at a reasonable time) I'm also vowing to get us out exercising as a family more often and to buy and eat more organic food. Healthy Choice meals can help me with at least one of those goals, as long as I remember to eat it at the right time. If they could make a frozen entree that came with an alarm clock it would be a perfect world.

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I received coupons for two Healthy Choice items to purchase for purposes of this review. I also received a stipend for my participation in this program, but no restrictions were placed on the content of my review. All opinions are 100% mine. 

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NorCal Sistah said...

I tried the Healthy Steamers before and I thought that they were okay -- like you I wasn't overly impressed. I was thinking it would be so much better because the contents were being steamed but since it is being done in a microwave I guess that probably cancels that out. Dad liked them though -- and we know how picky he is about food. :-) I will have to try the Chicken Parmesan since it was approved by you and K2.

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