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New Foods - It's Time To Play The Rating Game

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

What do you get when you cross a Game Show Network program with a Food Network offering? Why, you get The Rating Game, of course. The only losers in this game are some of the many products lining the shelves of your local grocery store or supersized supermarket. Seriously, at last count there were more than 30,000 items crowding the aisles of your favorite food shop. Who has the time to taste-test each and every one of these... let alone decided whether the products are good, bad or ugly for your diet?

Not you... and surely not me. Time is money -- a precious commodity we just can't get enough of. And that is why I once again turn to the expert eye (and taste buds) of Becky Billingsley, the guest columnist we've grown to love as The Check-Out Chick.

Once again, Becky and family have reviewed six food products -- heavily hyped items we've been tempted to toss into our carts during one of our squeezed-in excursions to the market.

It's time to turn the forum over to The Check-Out Chick as we play the home version of The Rating Game...

Special for eDiets
by Becky "The Check-Out Chick" Billingsley

With the busy lives people lead nowadays, convenience foods are flying off grocery store shelves. But are consumers paying too high a price, in terms of money and health, for quick and easy food? Here, every month or so, we check out grocery products and let you know if they’re worth your money.

Awful Start
Hubby accused me of attempted murder. My weapon? Fat grams. All I did was hand him a Swanson Great Starts sausage, egg and cheese croissant sandwich. He was in a hurry to get to work, so I cooked one in the microwave for three minutes, wrapped it in a paper towel, gave him a kiss and sent him on his way. Later when I asked him how the breakfast sandwich tasted, he said it was bland and the croissant was hard. Then I made the mistake of telling him the nutrition info.

One sandwich, which costs about $1.50, has 470 calories, 33 grams of fat (12 saturated, which is 61 percent of the daily allowance), 100 milligrams cholesterol, 840 milligrams sodium, 27 grams carbohydrate (1 fiber, 5 sugars) and 17 grams protein. Hubby forgave me, but asked that I not buy any more pre-cooked breakfast sandwiches.

Trying Again
But Hubby didnt say anything about not buying pre-cooked breakfast bowls.

I spent about $3 each on two of Uncle Ben’s new Breakfast Bowls. This time, though, I showed my love the nutrition info for the Bacon, Egg & Potatoes version before serving it to him. While the fat content is lower than the breakfast sandwich at 13 grams (6 saturated), the cholesterol count is significantly higher, with a startling 220 milligrams (73 percent of the daily allowance). It also has 290 calories, 790 milligrams sodium, 26 grams carbohydrate (2 fiber, 2 sugars) and 17 grams protein.

To prove that I was willing to make the greater fat sacrifice, I ate the French Toast and Sausage bowl, with 420 calories, 22 grams of fat (7 saturated), 90 milligrams cholesterol, 620 milligrams sodium, 45 grams carbohydrate (3 fiber, 25 sugars) and 11 grams protein.

The breakfasts are simple to prepare by microwaving them for two to three minutes. We were surprised they actually tasted good. But the portions are small. Hubby’s was an 8.25-ounce serving -- that's barely more than a cup. Mine had nine 1-bite pieces of sausage and two 6-bite pieces of French toast that swam in syrup. If I’m going to blow 34 percent of my daily fat allowance on one meal, I want a lot more food.

We didn’t think the bowls were worth $3.

Went Too Fast
The Lance corporation, veteran of peanut butter crackers and other vending machine classics, has a new line of snack food called Poppers, which are round, bite-size cracker sandwiches. We paid about $2 for a 7-ounce reclosable bag of the SMores flavor, with chocolatey marshmallow filling in a hard cookie sandwich. I tried one and thought it was awful. Too sweet. Yuck. The boys and a friend polished off the bag in a day and a half. But while they liked the snack, the older son complained we didnt get much for our money; the bag was only half full before it was even opened.

Each bag contains about seven 8-cookie servings, and each serving has 7 grams of fat (2 saturated), zero cholesterol, 80 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate (less than 1 fiber, 9 sugars) and 1 gram protein.

We also sampled a bag of the peanut butter cracker Poppers called Toast Chee, which also goes for $2. I think the orange cheese cracker part is too dry, but the 8-year-old neighbor boy said he likes them just fine. My younger son said the peanut butter tastes too greasy.

Our consensus: We like Ritz Bitz much better.

A 7-ounce bag has about seven 10-cracker servings, and each serving has 150 calories, 8 grams of fat (1.5 saturated), zero cholesterol, 280 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrate (1 fiber, 2 sugars) and 3 grams protein.

Check The Fine Print
Its another case of unrealistic portion sizes. I paid about $2.50 for an 8-ounce bag of Pop-Secret Caramel Nut Clusters with popcorn, almonds and cashews. The plan was to have this on hand as a special surprise for Hubby while he watched the NASCAR race, but our 12-year-old son got into it first. Since it was already open, I tried a handful. And another. And another. Before we knew it, the bag was empty. Oops.

Each reclosable bag is supposed to have eight 3/4-cup servings, but our half-bag serving size had 600 calories, 32 grams of fat (12 saturated, or 64 percent of the daily allowance), 40 milligrams cholesterol, 1,080 milligrams sodium (44 percent of the daily allowance), 72 milligrams carbohydrate (4 fiber, 44 sugars) and 8 grams protein.

Yes, I’m ashamed of myself. No, I’m not going to buy this again - too tempting.

Deli Flavor, Deli Fat
Our usual hot dog purchase is the lite variety, with reduced fat. But when I saw Oscar Mayer has new XXL Deli Style Beef Franks and XXL Original Smoked Hot Dogs, I bit.

The XXL refers to their size -- one of these dogs fills up a bun. They also do a good job of stacking up the daily saturated fat and sodium allowances.

Each package of six wieners costs about $3.50. A serving is one dog, and has 230-240 calories, 22-23 grams of fat (9 saturated, which is 45 percent of the daily allowance), 45-50 milligrams cholesterol, 680-740 milligrams sodium, less than 1 gram carbohydrate and 9 grams protein.

As far as taste goes, Hubby and I thought they weren’t too bad. The beef franks remind us of Sabrett hot dogs. The boys didn’t care for their taste or their size, and were emphatic about their preference for their usual lite hot dogs.

A week after first sampling the hot dogs we still have five left, and I doubt we’ll finish them. So, in our house, they definitely aren’t worth the money or the nutritional sacrifice.

Sounds Innocent
A reader wanted me to try one of Lawrys new fruit marinades and, always eager to please, I paid about $2.80 for a 12-ounce bottle of the new Havana Garlic and Lime marinade for chicken, meat and fish. Before putting the marinade on chicken breasts (youre supposed to pierce the meat and let it marinate for 30 minutes before grilling), I stuck my finger in the bottle and had a taste. Its saltiness was almost overpowering. I looked at the sodium content and, sure enough, it was sky high. Each 12-ounce bottle is supposed to have 24 one-tablespoon servings, and each serving has 350 milligrams sodium -- 14 percent of the daily allowance. The marinade has no fat or protein, and 2 grams carbohydrate.

Now I don’t know about you, but a tablespoon of marinade on a whole chicken breast isn’t going to cut it for me. I’m more likely to pour half the bottle on two large breasts, which is exactly what I did for this meal.

After grilling the salty flavor wasn’t so noticeable, but neither was the lime flavor. Hubby and I would much prefer a marinade of fresh lime juice, garlic and cilantro, which would taste better and cost much less.

Becky Billingsley, a.k.a. The Check-Out Chick, is the mother of two, a wife for 20 years and a food writer. Like most busy moms, she often relies on convenience foods to get meals on the table in a hurry. She worries about whether these items provide proper nutrition and if she sacrifices too much of her grocery budget in exchange for ease of preparation.


I wanted to add to what the author of the buffet article (EDITOR'S NOTE: you have to scroll down past the main Pizza Feature) said about it being his Father's fault... When I was young, my Dad would always stop (on road trips) about 10 or 10:30 a.m. at a Big Boy or similar restaurant with a breakfast buffet. He would literally tell us kids to "eat all you can, because we're not stopping to eat again today." He'd encourage us to eat at least three full plates of food. And he meant it when he said he would not stop again that day for food, so we learned fast to go ahead and eat ALL WE COULD at the buffet. I believe, firmly, that this style of eating was extremely detrimental to our developing metabolisms (not to mention the many other poor eating choices we made as a family in most situations.) I still think some of my weight problem has to do with these early binges and their effect on my ability to consume far more than I should with relative ease. But I will add that my Dad DID pass down one good food habit. He was the one who taught me to always skip the saltshaker. As he rightly pointed out, there is always PLENTY of salt in almost any food, in fact more than is healthy most of the time, so that adding more is simply ridiculous.
Emily Allyn

The way these Market Fresh sandwiches are portrayed in Arby's ads gave me the impression that they are very diet and health conscious meal choices! If it had not been for your extremely informative article, I would never have imagined that these sandwiches are such diet disasters. Ditto the new bowl meal from Taco Bell. I had considered trying it until I read your column and I was totally aghast when I read how much fat, sodium and calories are in their bowl meals! At any rate, my point is this: There are so many diet hazards lurking out there, (without the nutrition information labels, which I frequently read before I purchase a particular food -- these should be available for diet-conscious consumers on all foods, or, at the very least, on a readily available menu or fact sheet), that I am glad that you alert us to so many of the unhealthy choices out there! I like to watch what I eat, and the restaurants and fast food places do not always make that very easy, so you do, in fact, perform a valuable service for those of us who want to eat a healthier diet! Even if we exercise more, we cannot eat high fat foods and stay healthy!
Susan Currie

I think you are correct that most people do not realize how fattening some of the new coffee drinks really are (although I suspected, and besides didn't like them anyway). But, I need to tell you: suggesting fat free milk instead of some fat- rich or sugar-laden drink will never work either. Mention it as an alternative, but fat-free milk is not tasty at all. I happen to drink my coffee black, but when I do have milk on occasion, if it is fat free I feel like I'm drinking dishwater or something. If it is impossible for someone to drink milk with any fat, then skim milk is the only alternative. But believe me, even 1% milk is OK. And if you're suggesting someone NOT have those calorie heavy drinks with sugar and fat, why not just regular milk? Maybe it's only where I live (NYC) but in an ice coffee, you never get a full cup of milk, low fat, no fat, or whole. One gets about 3-4 oz. In an 8 oz. cup of hot coffee, one adds about 2 oz. of milk. Yes, this will add up, but people who like those strange Coolattas (ugly taste if you ask me), would never be satisfied with a no-fat Sweet'n Low ice coffee instead. Thanks for reading my opinion.


And finally, reader Phyllis Reed shares this cute memory...

Here is one of my favorite funnies about my now adult son. He was round 5 or six at the time. One Sunday after church, my grandmother, my son and I paid my one of my brothers a visit. However, no one was home. My son began staring at the lock which was made by YALE. He turned, looked at me and asked, "Mom, if uncle Gerald doesn't come to the door, does this mean we have to YALE for him?" My mom and I could hardly stand up from laughing so hard!

BONUS GAG (with the emphasis on GAG!)

A man visits his aunt in the nursing home. It turns out that she is taking a nap, so he just sits down in a chair in her room, flips through a few magazines, and munches on some peanuts sitting in a bowl on the table. Eventually, the aunt wakes up, and her nephew realizes he's absentmindedly finished the entire bowl. "I'm so sorry, auntie, I've eaten all of your peanuts!"

"That's okay, dearie," the aunt replied. "After I've sucked the chocolate off, I don't care for them anyway."


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