Fast-to-fix tasty meals

FRESNO, Calif.

Consumer Reports evaluated 19 frozen convenience meals from brands such as Contessa, Birds Eye, and Stouffer's. All of them could be prepared in less than 20 minutes, either in a stovetop skillet or a microwave. Most of the meals testers looked at were complete, with chicken or shrimp, vegetables, and usually pasta or rice.

But are they meals you'd want to eat? Trained sensory panelists at Consumer Reports evaluated them for taste and nutrition. There were many good, healthful choices, but it's important to check the nutrition label because there were some meals that are high in fat and sodium. But don't despair. Consumer Reports found lots of quick, tasty options for the time-strapped or kitchen-challenged!

The Contessa Sesame Chicken is a Consumer Reports Best Buy for around $2.50 a serving. It scored very good for taste and nutrition, with fresh-tasting vegetables and tender chicken.

For even less, another good choice is Birds Eye Voila Chicken Florentine. It has firm penne pasta and fresh-tasting spinach and yellow squash. It costs just $1.28 per serving. Either would be a good alternative to takeout.

Consumer Reports' tests show that the quality of all-in-one meals can vary within a brand. For example, although the Contessa Sesame Chicken was top-rated, the Contessa MicroSteam Chicken Florentine was at the bottom of the Italian chicken dishes, and the Contessa Shrimp Primavera wasn't great either.

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