Lean Cuisine meals are not my favorite Stouffer's product; that honor definitely goes to their frozen, family-size macaroni and cheese. If, however, I ate a vat of that luscious cheesy goodness every day, my doctor would not be happy. Although I try to make my own (non-processed) healthful snacks, lunches and suppers, Stouffer's Lean Cuisine meals are a decent substitute in a pinch. Choosing the right ones can be its own source of stress 'cause there's, like, one million varieties. Here are my five favorites:
5. Garden Chicken Spring Rolls. Determined to have Chinese takeout but equally determined not to feel too guilty the next day? Skip ordering a deep-fried appetizer and instead pair that entrée of sesame beef with a few of these garden spring rolls. They have all of the crunch of the traditional Asian starter with significantly less fat, plus vegetables (carrots, onions, spinach).
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4. Stuffed Cabbage. Don't knock it until you've tried it. A lighter version of the Polish favorite your babusia used to make, Lean Cuisine's stuffed cabbage is filled with lean ground beef and paired with mashed potatoes dusted with paprika.
3. Deep Dish Spinach and Mushroom Pizza. Here are some famous last words: "I'll just have one slice." If there's an entire pizza (delivery or frozen) sitting in front of you, it's easier said than done to restrain yourself. Lean Cuisine offers the melted cheese and crust combo you crave as well as some heart-healthy roughage in a modest portion.
2. Butternut Squash Ravioli. A member of Lean Cuisine's new "spa collection" line, this satisfying mound of al dente pasta squares filled with nutmeg-laced puréed squash is perfect for lunch on a chilly autumn day. Snap peas, carrots and walnuts mingle with the ravioli to provide some additional botanical crunch.
1. Thai Style Chicken. The words "cream" and "coconut" in a dish's description are usually cause to set off dietary warning bells, but amazingly not so in Lean Cuisine's rendition of Thai chicken. The tomato-based sauce is less oily than standard curries but creamy nevertheless, and the ample chunks of white-meat chicken are tender and moist. You can take or leave the rice; I suggest the latter, as it pales in comparison to the protein and your carbohydrate allowance is better spent elsewhere.