Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Can ready meals be healthy, and tasty?

Stock photo supplied by Sainsbury's
I will admit, I don't do ready meals. It's an expensive way of eating for families when you are on a budget too, especially when you have a child that eats like a horse and always wants more. (Step forward, Monkey.) And you know me, I enjoy cooking things now. Yes, I used to eat them when I lived alone - I know well the feeling that cooking for one doesn't seem worth it.

Of course, the time that ready meals can come into their own is when you're on a diet because they are a standard unit and you know how many calories are in that little tray. Healthy ready meals have got better over the years - I swear the first ones were scientifically designed to remove the flavour along with the fat, sugar and salt.

Sainsbury's contacted me and asked me if I'd like to try some of their Be Good To Yourself ready meals. They have put a lot of winter dishes into the range that they discovered people turn to in the winter months for comfort food, like shepherd's pie (preferred by older people), lasagne (top choice for 18-35 year olds) and curry, that are often perceived to be calorific.

I say "we" but this task was delegated to my husband. He volunteered to try them out as they were convenient for him to take to work and have for his lunch, now that he is working days and is subsequently always out at lunchtimes. We bought two of the larger dishes which cost £3 or are 2 for £5 and 3 of the smaller dishes, which cost £2 and are currently 3 for £5. All have a calorie count of between 300 and 400 calories.

The dishes we tried were:

- Chicken Jambalaya
- Chicken Chow Mein (these were the larger dishes )
- Shepherds Pie
- Beef Lasagne
- Chicken and Mushroom Pie

Of the dishes, the chow mein was his favourite. The bigger dishes were a hit anyway, and they were more filling for him. The jambalaya was just on the right side of being too spicy, which I suspect means I would have enjoyed as I can take more heat than him, but was

He was a little more disappointed in the smaller dishes. What he didn't tell me was that he is not really a huge fan of ready made shepherd's pie and although he thought it was a perfectly fine example, he didn't really like it and found it "processed". The chicken and mushroom pie threw him slightly as he didn't realise that the pie didn't have pastry (it's potato topped, much like a shepherd's pie) but all the same, he preferred it. And the lasagne? That was deemed "OK"; tasted nice but a bit watery, although he microwaved and felt it might be less watery if he had cooked it in an oven.

Our overall verdict, then, were that they were a mixed bag but that the bigger dish ones were better to eat. The cost of those when bought as a multibuy means that one ready meal would cost £2.50 which is comparable to buying sandwiches and so forth. This makes them a viable person for an office worker who have access to a microwave oven and is trying to watch their weight. The range is substantially wider than I have mentioned - you can see all the dishes here. There are several veggie options there, in case you're wondering. Something for everyone in other words, although we have not tried the other meals.

Back to the question in the title of this post- can ready meals be healthy and tasty? My answer is a qualified yes. There are some nice ones, but there will possibly always be some dishes that will always be nicer made from scratch.

(Sainsbury's kindly supplied gift cards to allow me to buy the dishes named above to try and review them. I have not received any other compensation, I have not been told what to write and all opinions are words are mine - or my husband's!)
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