02/19/2012Taco Bell Home Originals Seasoned Beans. Pinto, and Black. $1.99 per 8-ounce pouch. (photo sm120219a.jpg)
Bonnie: Microwavable pouches of rice that cook in 90 seconds hit supermarkets about five years back. Today we have beans that heat in 60 seconds. Or so say Taco Bell's directions. I needed to heat my pouch at least 30 seconds longer to get them warm.
Both varieties are good sources of vegetable protein, fiber and some calcium and iron. I'd recommend Taco Bell's pinto beans over the black, as they have more flavor, fewer ingredients and a third less sodium. I recommend Taco Bell's Black Beans over El Paso's similar product for similar reasons: Taco Bell's has fewer ingredients and a third less sodium.
Carolyn: I not only loved microwaveable pouches when they first came out, I thought they would revolutionize convenience cooking.
The pouches offer such cleanup, environmental and, certainly in the case of rice, cooking advantages over cans that I'm surprised and disappointed they still aren't being used for more foods -- macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, beef stew, oatmeal and apple crisp, for instance.
The bright side is that pouches are now being used for beans: mildly Mexicali-seasoned ones from Taco Bell that heat in two minutes (not one, as Bonnie just explained) and pair well with Uncle Ben's similarly speedy microwavable Ready Rice that started it all.
Would it be too much to ask Taco Bell to come out with additional varieties at medium and hot levels of spice?
Ocean Spray Fruit Flavored Snacks. Assorted Fruit, and Berries & Cherries. $2.99 per 8-ounce box containing 10 pouches. (photo sm120219b.jpg)
Bonnie: Food companies would love parents to believe that fruit-flavored snacks made with real fruit juices, like these new ones from Ocean Spray, are a good thing to serve their kids.
Ocean Spray Fruit Flavored Snacks contain 80 mostly sugar calories. They're colored naturally with fruit and vegetable juices and contain 100 percent of the vitamin C recommended daily. This comes more from the added ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) than from the apple, pear and cranberry juice concentrate these contain.
So when are fruit-flavored chewy snacks good for you? Never; they're just candy.
Carolyn: Ocean Spray is not the first fruit snack brand to brag about its real juice content. Welch's was singing the same song last fall. Ocean Spray's product is different (and maybe better?) for also having natural flavors and colors. But Ocean Spray cooperative's signature cranberry is the only fruit juice concentrate in here that has anything to do with the package variety names.
Ocean Spray is to be commended for not going the usual route of selling these based on some cartoon character it paid to put on the box. Still, people interested in buying a real fruit snack would be better off buying Ocean Spray's Craisins snack packs.
Marzetti Simply Dressed & Light Refrigerated Salad Dressing. Celery Seed Slaw, Ranch, Blue Cheese, Caesar, and Raspberry Acai. $3.79 to $4.49 per 12-ounce bottle. (photo sm120219c.jpg)
Bonnie: As a from-scratch cook, I'm mighty critical of pre-made dressings. But I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and lack of additives in some of these light dressings. To keep calories and fat in check, water is a primary ingredient, so a gum is almost compulsory to give the dressings thickness. The creamy ones also contain yogurt, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and canola oil, a source of omega-3.
The Raspberry Acai, my least favorite, tastes more like raspberry sorbet salad dressing, not surprising considering that its primary ingredients are water and sugar, in that order. Sugar is No. 1 in the even-sweeter Celery Seed Slaw. The Blue Cheese is tasty enough, if too light on cheese. The garlicky Ranch and the even more garlicky Caesar are my two favorites. Both have less fat and fewer calories than regular counterparts and don't taste like it.
Carolyn: Food scientists generally need their whole bag of chemistry tricks to make light dressings appealing. Making them with a minimal number of ingredients and no preservatives can't be easy. After trying Marzetti's new Simply Dressed & Light varieties, I'd venture to say it's not possible.
The one non-creamy offering, the Raspberry Acai, is reminiscent of raspberry cough syrup. The creamy ones are too tangy from their low-fat natural yogurt base.
In short, I would not buy any of these.
(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.)