03/27/2011Stouffer's Farmers' Harvest. Meat Sauce Lasagna, Chicken & Parmesan Pasta Bake, Vegetable Lasagna, Macaroni & Cheese, Roasted Chicken & Bowtie Pasta, Spaghetti & Meatballs, and Grilled Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo. $3.49 per 10.5-to 12-ounce single serve and $7.49 per 36.5- to 39-ounce family-size container.
Bonnie: Stouffer's has just introduced Farmers' Harvest, a new line of entrees containing whole grains and, in some, a portion of veggies. These contain no preservatives and use sea salt (which often gives more of a salty wallop with less sodium).
Eight entrees contain at least half a serving of whole grains; that's only 8 grams of the 48 grams recommended daily. Four contain one of the five half-cup servings of vegetables we should be eating daily. The line's sodium ranges from 660 milligrams in the Meat Sauce Lasagna to 950 in the Spaghetti and Meatballs; or 28 percent to 40 percent of the old recommended sodium limit.
I say "old," as the updated 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that half of Americans (including those 51 or older, African-Americans, and those with certain health issues) consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. For those people, these entrees would provide 44 percent to 66 percent of the daily sodium limit.
Tastewise, they're fine, but nothing I'd rave about or seek out. I preferred the tomato-based ones, finding the Vegetable Lasagna, Macaroni & Cheese, Roasted Chicken & Bowtie Pasta and Grilled Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo way too rich and creamy.
Carolyn: Stouffer's new Farmers' Harvest line is a tribute to good photography and creative copywriting. The photos on the boxes make these new meals look food-magazine gorgeous; their promotional materials boast of "freshly made" pasta (freshly made weeks ago maybe, before they were frozen, trucked, stored in a food warehouse and sent to the supermarket), "farm-picked vegetables" (as if vegetables could come from some other place) and "high-quality ingredients" (implying the ingredients in other Stouffer's meals are not high-quality?).
It's all an obvious if illogical attempt to link these frozen entrees to the red-hot farmers market and locavore trends that may end up doing Stouffer's more harm than good. I, for one, was bummed that the food coming out of my microwave didn't look anywhere near as good as it did on the box. On the plus side: The whole grains in the pastas don't hurt their taste. In fact, the main noticeable difference between the single-serve ones and comparable ordinary Stouffer's red box varieties is more veggies.
That makes them great for people who like and buy Stouffer's lasagna, basil chicken, mac and cheese and Alfredo dishes, but would like more vegetables.
Everyone else -- including purchasers of the extra-veggie-less family-size Farmers' Harvest -- will probably be disappointed.
Michael Season's Kettle Cooked Thick & Crunchy Potato Chips. Lightly Salted, Unsalted, Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar, Jalapeno, and Honey Barbecue. $1.19 per 2-ounce and $2.99 per 5-ounce bag.
Bonnie: Michael Season's Kettle Cooked Thick & Crunchy Potato Chips are reduced-fat chips so tasty and crunchy you won't miss the fat. I know I didn't. In fact, I'd say that four of the five are the best-tasting reduced-fat kettle chips I've tasted. That includes having 40 percent less fat than regular chips (with a mini 6 grams total fat, of which only 1 is saturated), while also being low in sodium (140 milligrams or less, as the Unsalted has 0).
I like the taste of all except the Unsalted, but do have favorites: the plain Lightly Salted and the spicy Jalapeno. I also like that the taste comes from ingredients I'd like to eat -- nothing artificial is used to flavor these. If you're a chip eater, don't miss these.
Carolyn: I don't mind compromising on taste to save calories in the case of lower-fat sausage, whole-grain pasta and fat-free milk. You'll notice I said nothing about potato chips.
Like pastries, cake and cookies, chips are something nobody needs to eat. You eat them as a treat. So while these new reduced-fat Michael Season's kettle chips are OK, especially compared to even lower-fat baked chips, there is, to my mind, no point in eating potato chips that aren't terrific.
Any brand of full-fat potato chips would be better than these. Buy whatever one you can find in a single-serve bag (to keep the treat down to reasonable levels).
Hershey's Drops. Milk Chocolate, and Cookies 'n' Creme. $3.29 per 8-ounce resealable standup pouch. Milk Chocolate also available in a 2.1-ounce bag.
Bonnie: Hershey's new Drops are M&M's wannabes -- and poor ones at that. These Drops neither melt in your mouth nor crunch like the M&M's crust I love. One Drop was all I needed to know I wanted to give the rest away, although after sampling, it took quite a while to find someone who'd take them!
Drops are comparable to M&M's in calories but have more total fat (about 4 grams) and saturated fat (2 grams) per serving. At least they're aptly named: Hershey should "drop" these from their product line.
Carolyn: These new Hershey Drops are nowhere near as bad as Bonnie thinks. These are just Hershey's chocolate bars in large drop form. Like the old Mega M&M's, they're nickel-sized. Unlike box candy, Drops have a semi-hard coating, so you can snack free of sticky chocolate fingers.
But Drops are also not the answer to candy snackers' prayers that Hershey's marketers would have you believe.
People have been enjoying millions of mess-free hours snacking on candy bars in their cars since Henry Ford (by peeling back the candy wrapper to act as a holder). So the only real need these half-pound bags of easy-to-overeat, good-tasting Drops is fulfilling is Hershey's to get us to eat more candy.
Which is not to say I'll be giving away the bags I already own. In fact, I'd be glad to take any opened bags off your hands, Bonnie.
(Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. She has a blog (www.biteofthebest.com) about products she recommends; follow her on Twitter: @BonnieBOTB. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book" (Running Press). Each week they critique three new food items.)