Food Fight: Frozen, Zapped Mac’n’Cheese
Once again it’s time to subject my already punished body to needless experimentation with processed food products. In this installment we’ve got a side-by-side-by-side battle between three frozen, microwavable macaroni and cheese products. I originally was just going to compare Lean Cuisine to Smart Ones, but figured I should throw in a third, non-diet brand to give a good taste comparison, so I’ve added in Stouffer’s as well.
Both the Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine came in single serving packages, and while it looks like Stouffer’s does to, my store only had the large size. The two diet brands weighed in at 283g, while one serving of the Stouffer’s was 225g, so the Stouffer’s nutritional data will be increased by 25% to compensate.
Round One: Bad Nutrition
Lean Cuisine: 290
Smart Ones: 270
Lean Cuisine: 6g
Smart Ones: 2g
Lean Cuisine: 630mg
Smart Ones: 790mg
Lean Cuisine: 43g
Smart Ones: 52g
Winner: Close class, but this round goes to Lean Cuisine. Smart Ones smashed Lean Cuisine for fat, but I’ve found finding low fat options fairly easy to do. Low sodium is harder, so the higher sodium count of Smart Ones costs it this round.
Round Two: Good Nutrition
Lean Cuisine: 15g
Smart Ones: 11g
Lean Cuisine: 30%
Smart Ones: 15%
Lean Cuisine: 6%
Smart Ones: 10%
Lean Cuisine: 16%
Smart Ones: 0%
Winner: Stouffer’s. No contest here. Stouffer’s ties or beats the other in everything aside from potassium. Not too difficult for the fattening product to win on protein and calcium though, especially in a cheese dish.
Round Three: Cost
Stouffer’s: $1.31 per serving ($2.63 for the box). The box says it has 2 1/2 servings, but the 25% we’re using here brings that number down to just 2.
Lean Cuisine: $2.53
Smart Ones: $2.53
Winner: Stouffer’s, by a good margin too. I’m not entirely sure on the prices for the Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones, since I got them on sale (5 for $10), and the receipt was confusing about the original prices. So, I distributed the discount evenly over the 3 items I got on sale, and reached a price of $2.53 for each.
Round Four: Convenience
Stouffer’s: Cook for 8 minutes, stir, cook for another 3. Keep in mind that this is a large container, so it will have a longer cooking time.
Lean Cuisine: Cook for 3 minutes, stir, cook again for 90 seconds.
Smart Ones: Cook for 3 minutes, stir, cook again for 1 minute.
Winner: Draw. Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones are too close to make a difference, and Stouffer’s large size means it can’t really be compared. All three require stirring in the middle, which I find annoying. Where am I supposed to put the fork after I’ve stirred? (I know, on the box, but I’ve usually thrown it out by then.)
Round Five: The Main Event – How Was It?
Stouffer’s: I expected Stouffer’s to come in as the tasty-but-bad-for you contestant, but it just wasn’t very tasty. The noodles were soggy, tiny grease pools were visible on the surface, and the cheese was down right bland. C
Lean Cuisine: Just by looking at it, I could tell that the pasta had a better texture than the Stouffer’s. But, just from eating it, I probably could not have recognized it as macaroni and cheese. The color is spot on, but the cheese sauce just tastes thin and watery. D
Smart Ones: After Smart Ones triumphant victory in the mini pizza battle, I expected them to do well with another classic junk food item, but they didn’t pull through, not in the slightest. While Lean Cuisine was edible (if awkward), Smart Ones is just disgusting. I can’t place what’s wrong with the cheese sauce, my only because I refuse to eat enough to really figure it out. F
Winner: Stouffer’s wins this round, but I’d consider it more of a loss for all three. I wouldn’t want to have to finish any of them.
Final Verdict: Total Failure
None of the three products is worthy of a victory today, and my recommendation is to simply avoid them at all costs. The boxed mac’n’cheese options are far better, and there’s definitely better frozen food choices. No need to ever try any of these.
Full disclosure requires me to mention that each also has instructions for preparing it in a conventional oven. These cooking times are much longer and I wanted this to be a straight up microwave battle. I don’t think the oven would have improved them much. It might have given the pasta a better texture, but all three fell flat in the taste department, and I doubt the oven would have helped that.
Frozen pizzas have managed to get some really nice blends of multiple cheeses and herbs. I think that technology needs to be applied here. A combination of cheese sauce and actual cheese would have given them a nice, stringy texture and could have resulted in an actually pleasant flavor.