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Published January 30, 2013, 11:39 PM

Thursday review: Boxed lunch options lack advertised appeal

As someone who is often stuck at a desk for eight or nine hours straight, eating a healthy, non-takeout lunch isn’t always an easy option. So this month, I decided to add a couple new items to my brown bag repertoire: Lean Cuisine Salad Additions and GoPicnic Ready-to-Eat Meals.

By: Heidi Shaffer, INFORUM

As someone who is often stuck at a desk for eight or nine hours straight, eating a healthy, non-takeout lunch isn’t always an easy option.

So this month, I decided to add a couple new items to my brown bag repertoire: Lean Cuisine Salad Additions and GoPicnic Ready-to-Eat Meals.

Lean Cuisine, the company that brought us preservative-free frozen meals that leave diners largely unsatisfied, released a new line of salad toppers this year.

Lean Cuisine Salad Additions come in four flavors: Asian-Style Chicken Salad with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette, Southwest-Style Chicken Salad with Chipotle Ranch Dressing, Cranberry & Chicken Salad with Raspberry Cabernet, and Bistro Chicken Salad with Sweet & Tangy Vinaigrette with Bacon.

Like conventional Lean Cuisines, these frozen, boxed meals need to be microwaved for a few minutes. Each contains three separate packets of meat and vegetables, dressing, and a crunchy topper.

After microwaving the meat and vegetables, you add the steaming contents on a plate of greens purchased separately, and then top it off with the remaining two packets.

I tried the Asian-Style and Bistro Chicken salads. Both tasted as though I’d dumped a regular Lean Cuisine atop a pile of lettuce. The “steamed” vegetables tended more toward mushy, and the dressing tasted like every other sauce I’ve had in a Lean Cuisine meal. The “crunchy” toppings were more of a stale afterthought.

I used baby mixed greens for the 260-calorie Asian-style salad and romaine for the 240-calorie bistro variety. I would recommend greens with more of a crunch, as it’s the only texture you’ll get out of this otherwise squishy salad.

Bottom line: For the $4 Lean Cuisine in addition to what you’ll pay for fresh lettuce, I’d much rather drive-thru salad.

My second lunch option lured me in on its appealing packaging and tempting photos. What came inside GoPicnic’s Ready-to-Eat Meal, however, disappointed in its taste, size and likeness to what was advertised on the box.

The Turkey Pepperoni & Cheese boxed lunch comes with a small packet of turkey pepperoni, container of spreadable cheese, dried fruit, crackers and a toffee for dessert. I pictured it as a grownup Lunchable.

My gluten-free, 300-calorie meal, packed with 12 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber, left me wanting a second lunch.

The meat was greasy; the cheese was over processed; the dried fruit was tasteless; and the toffee was squashed.

Bottom line: Available at Target for about $4, this is the kind of lunch that would have me opting to go hungry until dinner or raiding the snack machine.

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