I’m not sure if I just made up the term “convenience foods”, but you know what I’m talking about – meals out of a can, jar, or box. All the stuff my mother never allowed me to eat, which convinced me that Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-O’s must be some sort of delicious manna, if only because it was prohibited. When I first tried Chef Boyardee sometime in my early twenties – it reiterated a lesson I’d learned many times over: that when my mother enforced certain rules, it was not an arbitrary attempt to limit the joy and pleasure in my life, but because she actually knew what she was talking about.

Don't let the smile fool you. This "food" is all at once mushy, spongy, and chock-full of sodium, while still being oddly flavorless.

Hence, I have always avoided convenience foods as much as I can. However, now, in my middle-thirties, I find myself reaching for convenience foods more and more frequently. Which includes takeout – like the grilled chicken sandwich and smoothie place next door to my doggie day care. When I’m picking up my dog at 8PM and starving, the convenience of yet another grilled chicken or grilled veggie sandwich, or, occasionally, even a hamburger, is too appealing to pass up. Once I’m there, it’s so easy to also order a ginormous 20 oz fruit smoothie, or, perhaps, some waffle fries fresh out of the fryer. Unfortunately, too often, convenient = unhealthy.

As an alternative, I’ve tried stocking my freezer with some supposedly healthy frozen dinners. You know, those diet ones – weight watchers, smartones, and the like. But if you look at the ingredients and nutritional value, there’s tons of weird preservatives and sodium hidden in there. Not to mention, not tasty. Amy’s can be pretty good sometimes; but I don’t think the enchiladas (which are my favorite) are all that healthy either, even if they are organic. There’s a lot of cheese in the best of Amy’s…

However, I have made a new find that I’m here to share with anyone who needs to ever rely on a quick dinner. No more than 10 minutes in the microwave…which is actually the recommended method of heating these dinners. KASHI has a line of frozen dinners! You know, Kashi, of the creative multigrain breakfast cereals. GoLean, GoLean Crunch!, etc. When I’m in the breakfast cereal mood, many of these help fill that craving. GoLean Crunch! even provides enough sweetness to satisfy a sugary cereal craving, and, I think, ok, once in awhile. But I digress, I’m here to talk about a different meal here….

So far, I’ve tried, Tuscan Veggie Bake, Black Bean Mango, and Mayan Harvest Bake, all of which are vegan options. Unlike typical frozen dinners, these are filled with a variety of textures and flavors, with the Black Bean Mango dinner having a delightful spicy bite to it. Each dish also has some sort of sort of multi-grain pasta, or a mix of grains, including exotic healthy grains like quinoa and herbs like amaranth. A quick skim of the ingredients is NOT like reading a chem-lab inventory, although there was the occasional “guar gum” or “ascorbic acid” listed in there. While those are not your typical kitchen pantry ingredients, I know exactly what they are and what they are for, and know enough to know that they aren’t necessarily unhealthy for me. Also – no artificial flavorings of any kind listed in ingredients. Kashi also makes some chicken dinner options – I tired a Lemongrass Coconut Chicken, which was also pretty tasty, spice and flavoring-wise. I am not a huge fan of the texture of chicken from frozen dinners and was hesitant to try any of the Kashi dinners with chicken in them. The Kashi chicken had some of the same problems I find in other frozen dinners, tasting a bit like it had been reconstituted or injected with chicken broth – generally not a very fresh texture. But the flavor was at least like actual chicken, which I cannot say for the other brands I’ve tried.

Please don't shoot me you fresh ingredient cooks out there - but these actually taste somewhat "fresh made" despite coming out of the freezer and zapped in the microwave!

The cost is about the same as Amy’s Organic meals, a bit pricier for frozen dinners at about $5 to $6 per meal, including tax. Not cheap, but not more expensive than takeout. And much more satisfying than the times I scrounge random food from my pantry, freezer, or fridge, and end up with something like a bowl of microwave heated petite peas for dinner.

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