NBP’S Test Kitchen: The Search for Healthy Frozen Meals

“Not as much beef as veggies, but that’s okay,” says Bill, between bites.Chicken Enchiladas Suiza by Smart Ones Ed likes what he’s eating but wants more: “It’s good but not nearly enough. I could eat another four of these… with about three bottles of hot sauce.” Yeah, but Ed, it’s Weight Watchers.

It’s lunchtime and Bill and Ed have agreed to participate in NBP’s test kitchen. Beef Merlot by Healthy ChoiceBill is sampling Beef Merlot by Healthy Choice, and Ed has agreed to try Smart Ones’ Chicken Enchiladas Suiza from Weight Watchers.

A handful of employees—Bill, Ed, Edie, Amber, Wynter, Joe, Elizabeth, Susan, and Joanne—volunteered to try an assortment of prepared meals for NBP’s upcoming book: Healthy Frozen Meals: Cooking Directions and Nutritional Values from Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Amy’s and Weight Watchers. The goal was to test which ones actually tasted good—reported one employee, “the chicken wasn’t rubbery and the broccoli actually tasted like broccoli”—while counting calories and fat. The first step was to read all the product reviews online, select those with the highest ratings, and then gather some culinary appraisals from the staff. Those meals that passed the taste test will be included in NBP’s braille edition, along with cooking directions, nutritional facts, and general ingredients.

Frozen meals have come a long way from the original TV dinners where you peeled back the aluminum foil and grabbed for the brownie. Today the selections are overwhelming, which makes it difficult to know what to buy, especially if you can’t see the row upon row of packaged frozen foods that line the grocery aisles. Barcode scanners, including those on an iPhone, can give a visually impaired shopper access to product information, but they can’t vouch for what tastes good.

So for one month only, at 88 St. Stephen Street, there was such a thing as a free lunch.