Product Review: Healthy Choice Four Cheese Ziti Marinara

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Since getting married and in reality, since graduating from college, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve eaten a frozen meal on a consistent basis. However, my husband and I made a trip to Publix a few weeks ago and I noticed these products were on sale. Being one to take advantage of a good deal (~$2.00/meal), I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try them out and provide a little review 🙂

Behold the Healthy Choice Four Cheese Ziti Marinara. One of the first things I noticed on the box was that it boasted a “BAKED” taste as well as being preferred over Smart Ones Three Cheese Ziti Marinara (*based on a national taste test). 20130402_172623

In terms of taste, I actually really enjoyed it. This dish was advertised to have a freshly-made ziti pasta and hearty tomato marinara sauce topped with mozzarella, parmesan, romano, and asiago cheeses. Compared to frozen meals I had during my college years, I feel like this particular dish was an appropriate portion size and fairly filling for a convenience meal. Usually with pasta dishes I like having some type of meat involved but the taste of the sauce and cheese was flavorful and allowed the meal to be contained at 310 calories.

20130402_172615 (1)As far as nutrition goes, the pasta dish had about 11 grams of protein, which as an average female (not pregnant, lactating, an athlete, or vigorously trying to lose weight, etc.) is pretty appropriate considering I only need about 45 grams of protein overall for the day. I try to encourage my patients to make sure their meals and snacks have a great source of BOTH carbohydrate AND protein, especially since protein assists in keeping you full for a longer amount of time (more on that in a future post…).  The carbohydrate content is pretty  amicable as well with 46 grams of total carbohydrate (5 of which is dietary fiber- also contributing to making the dish filling). Now, I don’t know about you, but usually with frozen meals and processed foods in general I have concerns with sodium content and other preservatives. Healthy Choice labels their products as being free of preservatives. With that said, I found the sodium content for the baked ziti to be fairly decent at 560 milligrams. For anyone who has concerns about sodium content and preservatives in a frozen meal, you want to try to purchase items with less than 600 milligrams of sodium. Now, if you have sodium restrictions to your diet due to chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, etc., remember that “fresh is best” when it comes to nutrition and you’ll likely need to consume a diet of less processed foods in order to meet the sodium recommendations prescribed by your physician, dietitian, or other health care provider.

20130403_093405Lastly, I really like how Healthy Choice (and other brands) lists the exchanges for each meal based on the Exchange Lists for Diabetes created by the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The exchange list system has been really helpful for a lot of my clients that prefer a simplified way of tracking their diabetic lifestyle vs keeping track of grams of carbohydrate for each meal and snack.

VERDICT: For someone who’s looking for a little back up meal to have at work in case you don’t have time to go out or pack something from home that morning, this is a great option. Personally, I would recommend having a serving of fruit alongside the meal to round out your food groups and provide opportunity for some additional vitamin, mineral, and fiber content to your meal 🙂

Overall, I would buy the product again (if it’s on sale 🙂 )

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obviously I had no problem finishing it 🙂

What do you guys think? Do you have a favorite go-to frozen meal as a back up in your work or home fridge?

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Eat It or Chunk It: Tips on Food Storage and Safety

As April Fool’s Day comes to a close, I want to encourage us all to avoid being fools when it comes to food safety. Earlier this afternoon I ran across an article sharing information on how long certain items stay safe in the fridge and freezer. I found this information of particular interest not only from my food safety courses in undergrad but especially from my childhood memories of feeling like my household left certain cooked food items out for extended periods of time at room temperature- especially during parties. However, if you’re good on getting raw and cooked food items in the freezer, fridge, or pantry on time, check out this information written by Jessica Girwain at Men’s Health.

20130401_1732531. Frozen Chicken: If you end up getting a great deal on bulk raw chicken but don’t have immediate plans to use it, store it in a freezer bag and keep it in a single layer so that it freezes quickly while also removing as much air as possible to avoid freezer burn. Try to use it within a month or two— it can technically be kept in your freezer for up to 6 months but the longer it’s frozen, the more its taste and texture degrades.

2. Raw Chicken: If you’ve just bought raw chicken and you’re fairly sure you’ll use it soon, it generally keeps 1 to 2 days in the fridge but follow the expiration date listed on the package —don’t push it.

3. Deli Meat: Be careful with this one! You only have about 3 days to eat it — technically you can keep deli meat for up to a week but that’s the max as some meats start to get slimy from growing bacteria.

4. Leftovers: A week is still safe, though at that time, ingredients may start to separate. (Taste and quality decline with each passing day.) Ideally, you want to eat them within 2 to 4 days. And make sure your fridge is set 35 to 36 degrees, since warmer temps encourage spoilage.

5. Frozen Bread/Bagels: You can store them for a few months in the freezer, but here’s the thing: Bread may dry out and accumulate freezer odors in about 2 to 3 weeks, which will sacrifice taste. So eat within weeks, not months.

6. Coffee: Grounds pick up moisture easily, making them a magnet for sucking up odors and flavors of other foods, whether stored in the fridge or freezer. For that reason, buy a week or two’s supply of coffee (versus a whole giant can) at a time and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Whole beans last 1 to 3 weeks in your pantry.

7. Chicken or Beef Broth: That recipe called for a half-cup of broth, so now you’re stuck with the rest. If the broth was canned, pour it into another container, refrigerate, and use it up in a few days.

8. Eggs: You’ve got some wiggle room after the sell-by date by about 2 to 3 weeks. Five weeks is your max. The sell-by date is actually a guide for sellers for how long to keep the eggs on shelves, which is why eaters can ignore it. Store them in the container in the coldest part of the fridge–not the door where they’re subject to temperature fluctuations.

9. Canned Tomatoes: It’s best to use the entire can all at once. That said, canned tomatoes can stick around in your fridge for a few days. Just don’t store them in the can after opening them–transfer them to another airtight container.

10. Snack Foods (Chips, Cookies): Fats in these foods begin to oxidize after opening the package, which means their flavor and texture start to go south. When they hit their expiration date–or a month after opening (whichever comes first)–throw the bag away. As long as they’re not moldy, stale Oreos and Cheetos don’t pose a health risk, but they certainly won’t taste good.

Soooo……what do you guys think? Do you agree with above information or have any horror stories to share? I can say by looking at the list that my husband and I have been guilty of breaking many of the rules listed above. There have been times when we’ve wanted to take advantage of great deals on raw chicken at places like Sams Club and Costco but the  meat ends up accumulating freezer burn over a length of time. This can also be tricky when you have canned ingredients or other items that you need in minute ahowdoesshedoitmounts only to be left with quickly perishable items that you no longer have use for. If you’ve found yourself in this same boat whether you’re single, married, or have a large family, I invite you to use the awesome menu planner at How Does She Do It that allows you to customize the amount of people you cook for and create weekly menus that consolidate your shopping list and use the same ingredients for various dishes in one week! 🙂

For all my family captains, parents, foodies, and dietitians, what would you consider to be your tricks of the trade or combination of dishes you cook throughout the week that utilize similar ingredients but have enough variety? I would love to hear from you!

***P.S. If you’re interested in great tips on food safety including appropriate cooking temperatures, food handling, storage, as well as keeping food safe for little ones and the elderly, please check out FightBac.Org