Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Weight Watcher's Fresh Meals

I've never been a member of Weight Watchers, but I know a few people who've had success with the program. And I know a few who, er ... fell off the wagon.

Unlike some diets that I think are totally insane, Weight Watchers seems pretty rational. Logical. Healthy, even. So when I got an email asking me if I wanted to review some of their new Fresh Meals and Deli Salads, I said yes. I mean, why not?

I figured that if they're selling fresh food, it might be interesting. And I don't have to be in the program to judge whether the stuff is good or not.

I thought they might send coupons for some of the meals, but the products aren't available locally. Even more reason to give them a test. The meals arrived in a large Styrofoam cooler. It was almost lunch time, so I popped a three-cheese ravioli into the microwave. A few minutes and 230 calories later, my first impression was that the flavor was decent - the sauce had a hit of spice - but that spiciness covered up the flavor of whatever the three cheeses were inside the ravioli. But still, it wasn't bad. I liked the sauce and even though the cheese didn't add a whole lot of flavor, it added a different texture.

I envision these meals as something you'd pick up at the grocery store and pop into the microwave at work for a quick lunch. But after eating that first one, I couldn't help thinking that it would have been a heck of a lot better for a meal if there had been a vegetable alongside. If you were eating these things at home, of course you could make a salad or cook some vegetables to go with. But for a quick lunch option, it would have been great if there had been some vegetables bulking up the meal a little.

Of course, that was just the first one I tried.

Turkey and stuffing
Next, I decided to try the one I figured would be worst - the turkey with stuffing. I mean, people ruin turkeys every Thanksgiving. I was actually surprised that the turkey was decently moist.

Interestingly, when the meal was in the microwave, it smelled like cumin. There was no trace of that flavor in the turkey or in the stuffing.

Speaking of the stuffing, it was a little sweet and had what I thought were raisins. Which puzzled me. But when I looked at the box a second time, I saw they were cranberries.

Whatever they were, I thought the stuffing would have been better without them. Then again, stuffing is a personal thing. I'm sure some people would love it. Since I prefer a savory stuffing, I wasn't a huge fan of this sweeter version.

Next on the agenda were the three-cheese macaroni and the baked ziti. I shared these with my husband who wasn't particularly impressed. Then again, he's pretty unfamiliar with frozen dinners. I thought the ziti was better than the mac and cheese. Like the ravioli, the ziti was a little bit spicy. In comparison, the macaroni and cheese was bland, and I thought the noodles were a little too soft. The ziti had a little more bite, both in flavor and in texture.

Next up was meatloaf. It came with garlic mashed potatoes. So far, this was my least favorite meal, but meatloaf is one of those dishes where you probably won't like anything as much as you like your own - or your mom's.

Here's the box, and the meal when I pulled it out of the microwave:

And here's what it looked like after I fluffed up the potatoes a bit and broke the meatloaf patty in half. It looked a lot better. The mashed potatoes really needed that fluffing.

Meatloaf and mashers

Taste-wise, it was okay. I didn't taste garlic in the potatoes and the meatloaf was a little softer than I like. But again, it's personal preference. It wouldn't be my first choice from among all the ones I tried, but for a calorie-controlled meal, it wasn't bad. And if you're afraid of garlic in your mashed potatoes, these would be fine for you.

BBQ chicken & sweet potatoes
Last was the Chicken with BBQ Sauce that came with southern-style sweet potatoes. To be honest, I was sort of dreading those sweet potatoes. After the sweetness of the stuffing that came with the turkey, I was a little afraid that the sweet potatoes would be too sweet. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were left mostly unmolested.

The chicken was okay. Not quite as tender as the turkey, but not dry, either. Better than I expected from this sort of meal, and the barbecue sauce was decent, too. A good balance of sweet and tart with a teeny kick of spice. Of course, barbecue sauces are a personal preference, but I thought this one was acceptable. It was really dark in color, as you can see from the photo.

Overall, these meals weren't too bad. Not great. But if you need a calorie-controlled meal, these will do the trick.

The one thing that puzzles me just a little bit about these meals is the lack of vegetables. Like I said at the very beginning, if you're at home with one of these meals, it would be a simple thing to steam some broccoli or make a green salad or finish the meal with a piece of fruit.

But if you're picking up one of these to eat at work, or if you're picking up one of these because you simply don't have time to prep and cook anything at home, then it might be convenient if these also included a vegetable that could cook in the same time as the rest of the meal. Maybe that's not possible since these are sold refrigerated rather than frozen, or maybe the meal plan has something else in mind.

Would I buy these, if they were available? Probably not. I work from home, so I don't need convenience foods for lunch. My convenient lunches tend to be whatever's left over from dinner. And my dinners are mostly cooked from scratch.

I'm sure these are the perfect option for some people. They didn't taste terrible. Of all of them, I thought the ravioli was the best, followed by the ziti and the bbq chicken. The turkey was pretty good, but I didn't care for the stuffing. And there are more options as well, so it's a good bet that anyone on the Weight Watcher's plan would be able to find at least a few items that they'd like.

Meanwhile, I'd have to suggest to the WW folks that they package up some sides to go with these meals to make them a little more complete. Or add more vegetables to the meals themselves. Celery and onions in that stuffing would have given it a bit more texture and increased volume at the cost of very few calories, for example. And there was plenty of space in that little plastic container, so it's not like packaging would have to change if there was an extra 1/2 cup of vegetables included.

Or at least offer some serving suggestions on the packaging for people who are buying for the first time. "To complete this meal, how about an apple for dessert?" or "Steamed green beans would make an idea side with this meal." And include how many calories or points those items would add to the meal. Otherwise, someone who buys this for a quick lunch thinking it's a complete meal is probably going to be looking for something else a little later. At an office, that "something else" is much more likely to be a candy bar that a bowl of carrot sticks.

So there we go. For people who are on the WW plan or who buy frozen meals for quick lunches, I'm curious what you think of these and how they compare to similar products. Yea or nay?


Janis said...

Did you happen to notice how much sodium they put in these. Awful.

mia xara said...

A couple of years ago I was on the WW plan and I did try a couple of frozen pasta dinners.I can't say I liked or disliked them because I DON'T LIKE frozen dinners in general.I suppose they're good for a "quick fix", however I'd still choose to make something from scratch (with lots of veggies)...And YES, I'll be watching "The Chew" !

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