Healthy Choice frozen dinners

My time is limited. I don’t often care to invest a huge amount of time preparing dinner for a party of one. But I’ve gone too far in the convenience food direction.

The package says: “Healthy Choice Grilled Turkey Breast in Cranberry Sauce with Green Beans and a blend of Roasted Red Skin Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes.

The package sports a larger-than-life color photo of large pieces of grilled turkey, mixed in with jumbo green beans and roasty-hot chunks of garnished potato. It certainly looks like a hearty meal for a discerning palate. Only 250 calories, too.

Sitting at the dining table, I poke at these pieces of microwaved food and push them around in the black plastic tray. A thin, watery syrup sloshes around, coating the turkey, potatoes, raisin droppings and everything. I ask: What is this stuff?

For starters, it might be pressed turkey, but it ain’t fresh turkey breast, and it’s tougher than your Aunt Minnie’s goat. Think “pressed generic protein byproducts”. In a blind taste test, no one would guess it was poultry, let alone turkey. The spuds are OK, but there aren’t enough of them. How can you screw up spuds? I fished the cardboard package out of the trash. Oh yes, those little yellow chunks – those are the sweet potatoes. The long thin yellow chunks are the carrots.

“Keep frozen; cook thoroughly.” Therein lies the modern Hobson’s choice: keep it frozen, and you won’t be disappointed. Cook thoroughly, and you’ll have to eat it.

I put down my Wallace Stegner book, always a fascinating read, and concentrated on this cardboard packaging. We read books for entertainment and personal growth. We read packaging for survival. Who makes this stuff? Finally, I found it: ConAgra. I thought they made the silage for the feedlots along Interstate 5.

The other day, I had another disappointing convenience food experience. I had a yen for chicken, but what am I going to do with a whole chicken? I picked up a box of frozen fried chicken. OK, not Julia Child, but I remember this stuff as filling and satisfying, and somewhat tasty. Yum!

I microwaved a large breast. Crap, I bought the “Hot and Spicy” by mistake, but that’s OK. The crust looked thick and smelled delicious. I cut into the thickest part. Once I sawed through the crust and skin, I hit bone. Sure, chicken breasts have bones, right? But where’s the meat? This poor bird must have come from Somalia or Zimbabwe. There was no meat, only a thin cartilagnious layer of matted brown fibers and dessicated tissues.

So who sells the Banquet brand? I fished that container out of the trash, too. That’s right, this has been a busy ConAgra week.

Who is ConAgra? I pulled this eye-opener from T. Rowe Price on Yahoo:

The company operates in three segments: Retail Products, Foodservice Products, and Food Ingredients. The Retail Products segment offers branded foods in the shelf-stable, frozen, and refrigerated temperature classes. Its shelf-stable include tomato products, cooking oils, popcorn, soup, puddings, meat snacks, canned beans, canned pasta, canned chili, cocoa mixes, and peanut butter for retail and deli customers; frozen products include dinners, pizzas, turkeys, entrees, snacks, desserts, ice cream, potato products, hand-held dough-based products, and seafood for retail and deli customers; and refrigerated products include hot dogs, bacon, ham, sausages, cold cuts, turkey products, ethnic foods, kosher products, meat alternative products, tablespreads, egg alternatives, and dessert toppings for retail and deli customers. The Foodservice Products segment provides branded and customized food products, including meals, entrees, prepared potatoes, meats, seafood, and sauces, as well as various custom-manufactured culinary products packaged for sale to restaurants and other foodservice establishments. The Food Ingredients segment offers certain branded and commodity food ingredients, such as milled grain ingredients, seasonings, blends, and flavorings.

Thinking about my recent trips to the food markets, about the only two aisles where these processed “foods” haven’t penetrated are Produce and the fresh Meats counter. Next trip to the store, I think I’ll buy some whole potatoes, a whole white onion, and a whole chicken. I’ll cut up and roast all of these in an uncovered casserole dish?(I’ve done this before) and it really is GOOD. If ConAgra can freeze their left-overs, I can freeze mine. I hope I’ve learned my lesson.

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