Cheap, Good Frozen Lasagne

Eggo Bake Shop Swirlz

By: Kellogg’s

I Paid: $2.93 for six 2.2-ounce pastries (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 4stars

“Baked not fried!” cries the packaging for Eggo’s new Bake Shop Swirlz. “Enjoy the warm goodness of a sweet breakfast you can feel good about,” it adds.

In a particularly gutsy move, Kellogg’s actually publishes a head-to-head comparison of the Swirlz’s nutrition stats and those of the Pillsbury Toaster Strudel. Swirlz are bigger (63g versus 54g), have fewer calories (150 versus 200), less total fat (3g versus 8g), and less trans fat (0g versus 1g). In the world of mass-produced sweet breakfasts, this surely counts as a victory, as well as a marketing coup. Swirlz also look appealing: They’re round little baked items with filling (cinnamon icing or strawberry jam plus icing) baked inside.

That said, the things have 40 to 50 different ingredients. High-fructose corn syrup sits in third place after water and enriched flour, followed closely by sugar, dextrose, and vegetable oil. Despite—no, scratch that, actually because of—the ongoing slew of pro-HFCS ads, I remain in the “skeptical” camp in terms of how much of this stuff we should cram into our bodies on a daily basis.

And then we come to the flavor problem. Far from having any of the rich flakiness one would expect from a similar-looking real-world breakfast item (for example: a classic kringle from Racine, Wisconsin), Bake Shop Swirlz are dry and starchy. The cinnamon variety particularly suffers from a dull bready quality that calls for—no, screams for—maple syrup. And once you’ve added syrup (something the packaging doesn’t suggest), you’ve blown the nutritional calculus completely.

The strawberry variety is slightly better, spicing up its drab breadiness with a bit of sticky jam flavor. But it’s as artificial-tasting as its cousin, and still a long way from a wholesome breakfast.

Easy Express Cheesy Garlic Lasagna with Meat & Sauce or Rigatoni with Chicken

By: Stouffer’s

I Paid: $6.59 for a 35-ounce lasagne box or a 28-ounce rigatoni box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 2stars

“Hey, America—how about a giant Stouffer’s pasta meal that you nuke in the microwave for a long, long time?” Not an appealing prospect, but the reality of Easy Express meals is considerably more appealing than that image. A sampling of two of the three varieties available—the Cheesy Garlic Lasagna and the Rigatoni with Chicken—reveals hearty, simply prepared, workaday meals that underpromise and overdeliver.

The lasagne, which takes 17 minutes to heat up in the microwave, is uncannily convincing. Although it’s arguably too heavy on garlic flavor and has relatively one-dimensional ground beef, it has a great sauce-to-cheese-to-meat ratio, which is a difficult balance to strike. Some actual browning on the cheese combined with visible bits of onion and flecks of herbs makes this a frozen lasagne that could pass for a freshly made, real dish. The rigatoni is less convincing, suffering from an advertised pesto flavoring that comes up a bit short on basil or garlic (to say nothing of pine nuts or olive oil). But the chicken is nicely browned and tender, and the sauce isn’t overly thick or creamy. Although the dish could use a little more chicken, it is, overall, a pleasant rendering of a simple Italian American–style entrée.

While neither of these entrées is going to fool a fan of lovingly prepared Italian American food, they’re pretty damned good value for the money: Each box will provide four servings at about $1.65 a pop.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow Chowhound on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

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