Contemplating your first diet of the century? Thinking it wouldn't hurt to have a few diet entrees on hand in the freezer?
We wondered how the different brands would stack up against each other, so we hit the freezer aisle, picking up a few pasta entrees, some chicken choices and one intriguing enchilada. Here's how they fared with our holiday-weary tasters.
CEDARLANE GARDEN VEGETABLE ENCHILADAS We thought these were as good as any enchilada you'd get in a restaurant, which is high praise for something that's low in both fat and calories. One warning: The impressive nutritional numbers are for one serving--or one enchilada--which means you'll have to somehow divide the package in two to really consume just 1 gram of fat and 135 calories. About $3 at Fresh Fields (per 4.5-ounce serving: 135 calories, 8 calories from fat, 1 gm total fat, 300 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol).
CELANTANO LOW-FAT MANICOTTI It's what you don't taste--and feel--that sets this pasta apart from the others. The cheese isn't chalky, the pasta isn't gummy and the sauce has none of that tinny, acidic taste that's the hallmark of some frozen entrees. An all-around nice choice. About $3.70 at Fresh Fields (per 10-ounce serving: 250 calories, 25 calories from fat, 2.5 gm total fat, 650 gm sodium, 20 mg cholesterol).
WEIGHT WATCHERS SMART ONES LASAGNA FLORENTINE This lasagna definitely gets the Best-Looking award; what's surprising is that it tastes top-of-the-line, too. Five layers of nicely ruffled noodles, a decent amount of ricotta and good-size bits of zucchini and spinach make this an appealing meal. About $2.15 at most supermarkets (per 10.5-ounce serving: 290 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 gm total fat, 650 mg sodium, 30 mg cholesterol)
BUDGET GOURMET ANGEL HAIR PASTA WITH CHUNKY TOMATOES IN MEAT SAUCE A perfectly good pasta, with a tomato sauce that's better than most frozen entrees. Be careful when you zap this one, though; it's easy to overcook those delicate strands of angel hair pasta. About $1.25 at most supermarkets (per 8-ounce serving: 240 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 gm total fat, 450 mg sodium, 10 mg cholesterol).
BUDGET GOURMET CHINESE STYLE VEGETABLES AND CHICKEN IN SAUCE WITH RICE You really taste the salt with this one, plus a vague flavor reminiscent of MSG. Other than that, this is a perfectly nice low-fat choice. About $1.25 at most supermarkets (per 8-ounce serving: 250 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 gm total fat, 670 mg sodium, 10 mg cholesterol)
LEAN CUISINE CHEESE RAVIOLI WITH CHUNKY TOMATO SAUCE Our tasters weren't wild about the sweetness, but plenty of people expect that from a tomato sauce. As for the ravioli, they were decent little pillows of pasta filled with unobjectionable cheese. About $2.15 at most supermarkets (per 8.5-ounce serving: 260 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 gm total fat, 590 mg sodium, 35 mg cholesterol).
LEAN CUISINE GLAZED CHICKEN French-cut green beans, white and wild rice and mushrooms accompany the somewhat sweet chicken tenderloins, so there's a little variety with this entree. Be careful not to "cook" it too long; the rice has a tendency to go to mush. About $3 at most supermarkets (per 8.5-ounce serving: 240 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 gm total fat, 480 mg sodium, 55 mg cholesterol).
WEIGHT WATCHERS SMART ONES CHICKEN PICCATA Stay away from this one if you're not wild about the taste of lemon; you'll almost pucker up after just one bite. But the chicken is particularly tender and the overall texture of the dish is good. About $2.15 at most supermarkets (per 9-ounce serving: 210 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2 gm total fat, 550 mg sodium, 50 mg cholesterol).
ADVANTAGE\10 MEDITERRANEAN PASTA Only a diet doctor could call this vegetarian entree a tasty meal. The dark red tomato sauce is like a really bad jar sauce while the corkscrew pasta is tough and chewy. About $3.50 at Fresh Fields (per 10-ounce serving: 230 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2 gm total fat, 340 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol).
HEALTHY CHOICE COUNTRY GLAZED CHICKEN "This tastes like something you'd get at 30,000 feet," said one of our tasters after a bite of this unfortunate entree. Actually, comparing this to airline food does airline food a disservice. About $2.80 at most supermarkets (per 8.5-ounce serving: 230 calories, 35 calories from fat, 4 gm total fat, 480 gm sodium, 45 gm cholesterol).
HEALTHY CHOICE MANICOTTI WITH THREE CHEESES There's not much you can say about a pasta entree that features chalky cheese, an acidic tomato sauce and chewy pasta. Stay away from this one. About $2 at most supermarkets (per 11-ounce serving: 300 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 gm total fat, 550 mg sodium, 35 mg cholesterol).