South Beach Living Packaged Meals (and More from Kraft)

This post is part of a series on low-cal packaged meals. For more, check out last week's entry on Lean Cuisine.

Not long ago, Kraft changed the name for its line of packaged foods based on the popular South Beach Diet to "South Beach Living." The change reflects the growing awareness among Americans that weight loss and better health require a permanent lifestyle change, not a quick-fix "diet." For example, Weight Watchers (another brand we'll check out in this series) is trumpeting their anti-diet approach to weight loss in their latest advertising campaign. Additionally, Jenny Craig has expanded its message to include an emphasis on learning healthy eating habits through hiring Queen Latifah, a famously curvy celebrity, to shed pounds to reduce her diabetes risk. The idea of the diet, thankfully, is on the way out.

So here's to South Beach Living. This brand reaches way beyond the freezer case. It's a lucky thing, as the few South Beach frozen meals I tried back in my teaching days were abysmal. Having checked the latest product listings, I imagine I wasn't alone in that opinion, as a lot of those frozen dinners have changed or disappeared. I won't condemn the new varieties outright, but still, I'd taste-test that funky chicken before heavily investing.

Regardless, South Beach's products outside the deep chill have much tasty goodness to offer. Regrettably, the portions for their refrigerated meals are as small as with other low-cal lines. Plan on bringing along some fruit or other healthy supplement.

South Beach Living

From Sesame Chicken Wrap Sandwich Kit
How good is this refrigerated meal kit? I was so obsessed that I actually bought the ingredients separately and started making these wraps myself. I had to resort to desperate measures considering my supermarket's perpetual shortage. I'd approach the cooler case, note the label on the shelf, and stare into the gaping hole where my Asian-inspired goodness should be. Then I'd stick my hand back there, just in case.

These Lunchable-like kits contain two whole-wheat mini tortillas, cooked (and non-funky) chicken pieces, whole-wheat crunchy noodles, and yummy mandarin orange and sesame dressing, alongside an itty-bitty cup of sugar-free gelatin for dessert.

Incidentally, that dressing introduced me to the low-calorie wonders of soy sauce-based vinaigrettes. Check out the wide variety of bottled versions in the salad-dressing aisle should you ever want to make a homemade version of this lunch. I fill a whole-wheat tortilla with cooked chicken, mandarin orange wedges, brown rice, and a sprinkling of chow mein noodles, drizzled with an Asian-style dressing.

On the downside, this 220-calorie pack almost absurdly paltry. You get two wraps, true, but they are tiny. Without that supplemental food I mentioned before, you honestly will faint before you leave work. Even when my mom would pack me those old-school cheese-and-cracker Lunchables as a kid, she supplemented them with other healthy foods.

Speaking of Lunchables . . .

Kraft produces Oscar Mayer's Lunchables line as well. I suppose they're where the idea for refrigerated South Beach meals came from. Today's Lunchables are far heftier than in years past, and when approached correctly, they can provide a decent lunch (or lunch inspiration) for an adult.

An advantage to brown-bagging a refrigerated lunch kit is reduced prep time. Some frozen meals require 10 minutes or more in the microwave, forcing you to shovel food into your mouth in what little time remains for your break. Worse, some schools and workplaces (gasp!) don't even offer a microwave.

From Lunchables Maxed Out Chicken Strips
Though I find Lunchables' packaging somewhat obnoxious these days, the food selection has evolved in ways both good and bad since your options were either perfectly round turkey or ham with your cheese and crackers.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed cold chicken fingers. If convenience isn't your priority when choosing a healthy lunch, I'd strongly recommend making your own baked nuggets for your brown bag.

Unfortunately, as you might expect from fried chicken, this box weighs in at substantial 490 calories. Still, if you ditch the sugary Kool-Aid packet and the candy, it's probably not so bad. Again -- bring a healthy supplement to ward off hunger pangs.

From Kraftfoods.comLunchables Mini Tacos
You might have let me slide on the cold chicken fingers thing but . . . cold beef taco filling?!

Give it a chance, that's all I can say. It might look like dog food, but the beefy paste has a yummy, spicy flavor. And hey, they're cute!

If you can't stomach the thought of cold, processed beef that squirts out of a pouch but somehow still are intrigued at the thought of chilled burritos, check out this promising recipe. These homemade burritos, which can be stockpiled in advance, only pack in about 204 calories each.

The same can't be said for our Lunchable. Kraft labels this box as a "Sensible Solution." I think it would be more sensible if you pawned the candy off on a little kid to knock off a few of those 410 calories, but it beats a Taco Bell run. Finally, should you still need reminding, remember that these mini tacos. As in not filling on their own.

Lest We Be Forgetting the Adults in the Room

Kraft doesn't market the last two products in this roundup as suitable for healthy eaters, but we're living, not dieting, now, right?

From Kraftfoods.comOscar Mayer Deli Creations Steakhouse Cheddar
Kraft rewarded me for taking surveys with a coupon good for a free Deli Creations sandwich. Take that disclosure as you will.

I chose to try the Steakhouse Cheddar. Oscar Mayer also offers ham and turkey variations, but here's my dirty little secret: I don't like lunchmeat. I find cold cuts slimy and gross. Roast beef, though, I can deal with as I can tell myself it's just like leftovers. Likely, you will not share my issues and might enjoy a nice turkey sandwich.

Onward. The sandwich provides a much more satisfying portion than any of the other meals on this page, as it ought to be for 430 calories. I'd recommend leaving off the mayonnaise to slim it down. Much as I love mayo, it's not needed here; the box comes with a packet of tangy steak sauce that provides more than enough flavor.

Obviously, you could easily replicate this sandwich on your own with some deli meat, a slice of cheddar, and Heinz 57 sauce. Whichever way you go, it's worth tasting.

From Kraftfoods.comOscar Mayer Beef Fast Franks
Oscar Mayer has figured out how to microwave bread without it turning into a rock, as shown by both the Deli Creations sandwiches and these Fast Franks.

This one's just a hot dog on a bun. That's it. Honestly, you could accomplish the same thing by packing any hot dog and bun in your lunchbox. Still, if you can't bear any prep work, Fast Franks a hot, convenient, and satisfying meal for only 300 calories.

I always top mine with low-cal brown mustard, relish, a dill pickle wedge, and chopped onions. Mmm . . . By the way, if you prefer regular Oscar Mayer wieners, you can also get these in the usual mishmash of chicken, turkey, and pork. You won't save more than 10 calories, though.

That ends our whirlwind tour of the Kraft brands. Coming up, we'll check out ready-made meals from other labels, including Michelina's Lean Gourmet and Gardenburger. Happy lunching!

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