Someone should write a dictionary to translate ad copy for frozen diet meals into English. Take Healthy Choice’s Café Steamers General Tso’s chicken. The “authentic spicy brown sauce” in this chicken dinner is a deliberately ambiguous description.
Here’s what I hoped for: a slightly salty soy-based sauced laced with ginger and garlic.
Here’s what I got: cloyingly sweet and vinegary brown gloop.
From a truth in advertising standpoint, the sauce in the Healthy Choice Café Steamer’s General Tso’s Chicken is indeed brown. As for authentic, that just means real, and who knows how General Tso actually prepared his chicken sauce? Small wonder those crafty web-writers at Healthy Choice were so vague.
The sauce equivalent of mystery meat
In the world of frozen diet meals, it’s all about the sauce. Just as sofa pillows pull together a room’s decor, the sauce in a frozen dinner pulls together whatever random meat, starch and vegetables the food manufacturer has selected for that meal. Since chicken, rice, carrot cubettes and peas comprise General Tso’s Chicken dinner-a common food combination that varies only by what sauce is involved-you would think the culinary experts at Healthy Choice would have concocted a sauce with an addicting flavor that frozen diet meal consumers would crave and that would induce them to purchase this meal each time they wheeled their cart down the frozen food aisle. Instead, Healthy Choice resorted to the lowest trick in the low-fat foodisphere. They subsituted sweeteners for fat and created a gloopy mess that might serve better as an adhesive than flavoring agent.
Where’s the meat?
While some people might object to the relative lack of chicken in a dish that has chicken as part of its name, it was a typical amount for a frozen dinner and the quality was decent. Healthy Choice described the chicken pieces as “juicy cutlets of chicken tenderloin,” but I would not go quite that far in my praise. It was good, and I did not find any unchewable pieces-my basic litmus test for a meal of this sort.
Define “delicious vegetables”
By their very definition, frozen peas and carrots are not, nor could they ever be, “delicious.” They just don’t have the requisite DNA. As all home cooks know, these are convenient standbys that can be thrown into a meal to satisfy its vegetable requirement and to which no attention should be called.
‘F’ for Greenness
Although this is more of a taste review, I would be remiss if I did not mention the two-part plastic steamer tray that Con Agra uses in its Healthy Choice Café Steamer line. I felt guilty throwing it away after my meal and adding to the mountainous pile of plastic waste in our nation’s landfills.
On the Thrifty Fun website forum, an online bulletin board for frugal people, one woman mentioned she saves these plastic trays and uses them to steam her vegetables in the microwave at home. Another member instructed her not to do this after contacting Healthy Choice and receiving an email from the company that it does not recommend this practice since the type of plastic used is not intended for multiple use (most likely because unpleasant chemicals could leach out of the plastic over time).
Perhaps a better use for these Healthy Choice Café Steamers plastic trays came from a young mother whose children play with them in the bathtub, an activity that could be more enjoyable than the actual consumption of the meal originally contained therein.
To buy or not to buy?
While the chicken is edible, there is little else to recommend Healthy Choice Café Steamers General Tso’s Chicken. Therefore, when it comes to potential repurchase of this frozen convenience meal, I choose “no.”