Sunday, June 30, 2013

Frozen Dinner: Swanson Chicken Strips Review

Waking up on the weekend and having a frozen dinner cooked using a microwave is an absolute pleasurable way to start the day. I'm not kidding, I really like these things. They have been available since I was a kid, and they have kept me fed on numerous occasions from "breakfast" to lunch to dinner. Throughout high school, I skipped lunch all the time for some stupid reason, and I came home to these at 4:00pm. I know they aren't "healthy", but I don't care: I like how they taste and often supplement them with other items -- partly for nutrition, partly for more calories.

The frozen food market seems to have really expanded over the past few years with the idea that people just don't have time to cook after work. Without a doubt, frozen food saves time by doing all the preparation and requiring but a few minutes in a microwave, pot, or oven. It seems like you can get any kind of food in frozen, pre-prepared form nowadays. However, the "traditional" meal with two sides, a main course, and a desert or sauce are in a class of their own in my mind. These are "full meals" and not just sides. In addition, they are better suited for standalone, smaller meals for a party of one.

I've found over the years that these tray, "full meal" type foods haven't changed that much. The staples that many brands seem to put out are the nuggets, sauce, potatoes, and corn; Salisbury steak, potatoes, brownie, and corn or peas; and fried chicken, potatoes, brownie, and corn. There have been extra large sized meals and other variations that I like, but these appear to be the most common combinations.

Swanson Chicken Strips Box
Overview/ Contents
The subject of my "review" is the chicken strip, corn, potatoes, and BBQ dipping sauce meal from Swanson. This one sort of lies between the fried chicken and chicken nuggets boxes. I've had this box dozen of times, but I'll focus on the one I had most recently. All of the food came in a black, plastic tray covered in a plastic sheet. I forget which type of plastic it was and threw out the container before looking it up.

Swanson Chicken Strips Food Tray
As you can see, one of the unfortunate things about having a frozen sauce is that it may spill into surrounding containers. The dipping sauce spilled over into the corn this time around. I've seen it in the potatoes and the main dish tray too. It was a hot day when it was bought, so melting may have been the issue. However, sometimes it seems like the machine that inserted the contents into the tray wasn't quite aligned properly. Oh well.

Every few months, there's usually another study about some material, usually plastic, leaching something into water or food. Whereas a number of plastics are designated as "safe", and the tray in this box was likely one of them, I prefer to play it safe with virtually no inconvenience. Considering how often I eat these, it's probably more an issue for me -- on the other hand, the nutritional content of these meals is probably what I should be more worried about.

So, my usual cooking procedure involves emptying all the contents into a ceramic dish and cooking it for the standard amount of time. In my case, that's about four minutes. I find that they cook more uniformly in the dish than in the tray. The removal part isn't difficult because everything is usually frozen solid put of the freezer. Even if there is some melting, especially with sauces and brownies, I can usually push or scrape everything out of the plastic dray relatively easily. As you can see, the sauce or brownie usually goes into a separate bowl.

Nutritional Content
Nutritional information is available on the Swanson website if you're really interested

Listed in the fact box on my package were calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fibre, sugars, protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron in various quantities or "% of daily value".

Among the highlights were the calories at 490 and fat at 17g. If it isn't obvious, there weren't that many calories in the meal. I think two pieces of bread that I usually buy are 200 calories, so this would be the equivalent of 4 slices of bread. I'm 5'4" and weigh 140lb -- these meals have never really been filling on their own. Having to add extra items is usually a necessity unless I'm going for a snack. Fat content was a bit high at 30% of the daily too and there were 1.5g of trans fat. From my experience, about 1g seems to be pretty standard in most things I look at nowadays.

Other items, aside from sodium, didn't appear to be very significant -- that's not a good thing.

Taste & Verdict
The potatoes were and usually are my absolute favorite. Real mashed potatoes just don't compare -- low or weird standards. I also liked the corn a lot and am glad that they didn't substitute it with mixed vegetables or peas. These two substitutes tend to be pretty bland on taste, in my experience, unless a lot of salt is added. I usually add just a pinch of salt to the potatoes and corn.

Swanson Chicken Strips Microwaved

The main course included three chicken strips about 3" x 1" in height and width. I found them to be salty and buttery, a bit crispy, despite being cooked in a microwave, and pretty good overall. Because I used a microwave, the bottom was a bit on the soggy side. Having the BBQ sauce made it so that I don't have to get out any ketchup, but I wouldn't say it was spectacular in taste. I would have preferred the standard brownie.

Overall, I thought that this was a good package. Hope it wasn't too obvious that I love these things from lacing the entire post with praise. These meals will remain a guilty pleasure, and I don't really expect too much out of them-- either in caloric content or nutrition.

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