lunching it, frozen-style

I’m always on the lookout for lunch ideas for the office that are easy and nutritious. Unfortunately, in the past, those convenient microwave meals that are all the rage haven’t been an option for me. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve always been weird about meat in such mass-produced products. How do I know it’s really quality chicken? No offense to anyone who works in the food industry or at such companies, but I just can’t trust it. It’s not appetizing to me. Something in the back of my mind whispers to me as the culprit dangles from my fork: “There’s no way that’s chicken, Sarah.”

Fortunately, the Freeze-and-Serve Meal Giants have come up with some wonderful options that don’t just consist of plain macaroni and cheese or alfredo and broccoli (although they’re still available, too). Kudos to them as, let’s be frank: the vegetarian consumer isn’t exactly their most prominent customer and experimenting with any sort of unique flavor has to have some guy in a pinstripe tuxedo vehemently shaking his head. So, thanks to the executive who has my back.

LeanCuisine has created a new line of products under their VeggieCuisine line featuring Gardenin chick’n stripes. My absolute favorite is their Indian-Style Masala. I cannot tell you how many eyebrows are raised at me in the break room when I pull this out from the depths of the freezer. Tofu-type bits in a frozen meal? Ew. Their opinion changes after they smell the final product, though. The consistency of the chick’n is nothing like tofu to me, either.

I’ll be the first to admit that it might not initially sound appetizing to a carnivore but, at 290 calories, I can easily pair this with a side of grapes and I’m set to conquer the day. It’s definitely not too spicy, either. Try finding a manufacturer’s coupon in the 4-for-$ variety that are consistently available on the Internet. Be brave and you just might be surprised!

Recently, I wandered into the vegetarian aisle in the faaaar back of our local Target. In fact, had I not been so daring, I would have never discovered LightLife’s Amaz’n Asian Sesame Chik’n. It was tucked away on a frozen entrée shelf far above everything else; I had to stand on the edges of my toes to even see it. I’m sure I looked ridiculous.

What surprised me the most about this meal was, not only the taste, but the portion. For an average diet, a slop of noodles the size of a deck of cards on a plastic tray isn’t enough to satisfy until dinner. In this meal, veggie chik’n pieces are combined with water chestnuts, carrots, and snap peas in a sweet sesame sauce over a bunch of Asian-style noodles. I’m not one for snacking, so I always try to find something that will calm my appetite until after I’m home from work because it’s embarrassing to be the girl in the office whose stomach is grrrowling so loudly at her computer that her neighbor can hear it over their iPod. I honestly felt as if I didn’t need any side of fruit with this meal. It was impressive… particularly at 260 calories! For my taste buds, it needed some salt and pepper to spice it up a bit, but it was impressive… particularly at 260 calories!

Finally, something that came as a bit of a surprise to me was MorningStar Farms’ Spicy Black Bean Burger. I know what you’re thinking. Why in the world would I eat a meatless burger that pretends to taste like meat if I don’t have to? I think this is a fair question to ask, particularly if you’re not a vegetarian. Why would you try this product if you have no problem consuming hamburger?

Well, for one, they’re extremely convenient to prepare without worrying about raw meat. Sure, you could buy a pre-cooked hamburger or turkey patty and get similar results, but I’ve found that most do not have such a wide array of flavors. I actually enjoy the taste of these over meat when it comes to topping them on lunch salads or heating one up and eating it plain with a bit of salsa on it (tip: the 120 calorie a pop Spicy Black Bean flavor is already a firecracker on its own). With several different flavors to choose from (asian, turkey-inspired, tomato and basil, etc), my “kitchen sink” salads have certainly seen refreshed days. I should mention that do not easily fall prey to freezer burn… you know, if you actually leave the package wide open in the freezer for several days. Just saying.

These are my own opinions and I wasn’t compensated in any way to sing the praises of these products. They’re just that tasty to me and, hopefully, you’ll not absent-mindedly walk past them the next time you come across the frozen food aisle if you’re interested in jazzing up your lunch routine.

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