A good friend of mine asked me to taste test a brand of pre-packaged meals that he represents. He was so excited about the food, emphasizing the flavors that he had never experienced before with pre-packaged meals. The package containing a full day of food arrived by Fed Ex. A small Styrofoam cooler cradled the food and additional ice packs were keeping it cool, not frozen. The information with the food said that it would keep well in a refrigerator for 10 days.

I had never eaten pre-packaged diet food before, so I invited my husband to do a taste test with me. The first meal we shared was Bourbon Pork with Butternut Mashed Potatoes. The meat was seasoned and almost spicy. The potatoes were blended with butternut squash and offered a new flavor to my palette. Since we had shared this meal, we decided to try the other main course meal, which was a Turkey Quesadilla (turkey on a tortilla with cheese and salsa). We were skeptical about this one, because we live in Arizona, near the birthplace of the tortilla and thought no good tortilla could come from Iowa. Well, the whole wheat tortilla was soft and didn't fall apart when we ate it, and the turkey was absolutely wonderful! My husband did not ask for Tabasco sauce at all with either the bourbon pork or the turkey quesadilla, and he eats it on everything.

Later that day we shared a pre-packaged Baked Apple with Ricotta Cheese and Pecans. My husband isn't fond of apples or dessert and I got two bites of the baked apple dessert. So to finish off my sweet tooth, I ate the pre-packaged breakfast which featured French Toast with Raspberry Syrup, Turkey Sausage, and Scrambled Egg Whites. The raspberry syrup was great with the whole wheat French toast. My husband ate most of the Turkey Sausage and wished there was more. We were leery about the egg whites. To our surprise, they actually tasted like egg whites with a little seasoning!

The day of eating pre-packaged food (PurFood Fitness) caused me to wonder about the other brands. In order to be a credible reviewer I needed to compare. I went to the grocery store and purchased four different entrees from four different brands. I excitedly heated up one after another and then informed my supportive spouse that we were in for another treat. Here is what we ate:

Healthy Choice – Salisbury Steak with mashed potatoes, peas & carrots
"Icky" was the immediate response when we tasted the meat and potatoes. I ate the peas and carrots because I am superstitious about dying of malnutrition if I don't eat the veggies.

South Beach Diet – Savory Pork with pecans and green beans
This one was tasty. It was the best of the frozen meals.

Lean Cuisine – Sesame Chicken with noodles (spaghetti)
Some flavor but the mushy texture was a turn off.

Weight Watchers Smart Ones – Chicken Enchiladas Monterey with Southwest Rice
Mushy cardboard with no flavor describes it best.

In order to be fair, I conducted an informal survey of what other people think of pre-packaged diet food. Of course, there was a wide variety of preferences. Most of my feedback did not address the taste of the food as much as the concern about sodium levels and preservatives:

Jon said, "I've used Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers, and Lean Cuisine. The downside is that they're all pretty high in sodium. The upside is that they tend to be between 250-350 calories and have the four major food groups included. They're decently portioned, although I'll sometimes eat a granola bar for dessert. Lean Cuisine is my least favorite because most of their meals look like someone already ate them. Healthy Choice is my favorite, but they're usually more expensive. Weight Watchers is pretty good, but I think it may be a little less healthy than the other two. It's good for when you want something warm for lunch and you don't have time or the option to cook something yourself. You can only eat so many chicken breast sandwiches."

"They are a very useful diet tool, but nothing will beat cooking for yourself. I think most taste lousy, but I grew up around good cooking. My wife eats the Weight Watchers because she likes the points method."

Kaje contributed, "In my opinion they (pre-packaged meals) are good for people that are trying to restrict their calories and don't have time to cook. But if you look at the ingredients they do not compare to the real thing. Frozen foods are processed and usually contain large amount of preservatives."

I was surprised that I did not get many opinions about the programs like NutriSystem and Jenny Craig. The two people who had tried them said the food tasted good. The food is packaged into sealed containers that do not require refrigeration. The emphasis is on a complete weight loss program.

What started out as a taste test has lead to many other aspects of diet and weight loss. I think most people would agree that the best tasting and healthiest food is the fresh food a knowledgeable person prepares at home (if he or she is good at cooking). However, pre-packaged meals can be nutritious for a busy person and are a much better choice for dinner than a bag of potato chips.

Author's Bio: 

Pam Germain has a Masters degree in Wellness Programming and has been in the fitness industry for over 20 years as a Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Wellness Consultant. She directs National Association for Fitness Certification (NAFC),training and certifying fitness professionals. You may visit the website at www.body-basics.com or e-mail bodybasics@body-basics.com