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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner for 1 :(

Frozen Turkey Dinners 1

I've got a 23-lb turkey brining in the refrigerator and a 10-lb sack of potatoes ready to be mashed and roasted. Lil' sis says she'll make three boxes of Stovetop stuffing. And by request, I've now added a Chicken Pot Pie to the menu. In exchange, the older '88 will make her famous pumpkin crunch dessert.

But what if you don't have an extensive family like I do? Or aren't one of my friends who secured a dinner invite? Or don't have any friends offering to feed you? I think I'm only feeding 20 people this year? Phew! Actually, that's a significant drop from last year. Hence, why I'm only making one instead of two turkeys. :P

So if you're a lonely soul, who still craves a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day, I'm gonna help you out a bit. No, no. You don't get invited to my house for dinner. But I did spend several weeks tasting frozen turkey dinners just for you.

After all, urban legend has it that 270 tons of leftover turkeys spawned the tv dinner back in the 1950s. For 98 cents, you got turkey, cornbread dressing and gravy, buttered peas, and sweet potatoes. Actually, the story of refrigerated trucks driving back and forth across the country carrying turkeys has since been proven a lie, but it's so prevalent in pop culture that I'm sure you knew what I was referencing.

On two recent shopping trips, I cruised the aisles and grabbed one of each type of frozen turkey dinner. My only requirements were that it be turkey and have mashed potatoes. I omitted Hungry-Man XXL, as it was just more of what was already in a regular Hungry-Man turkey dinner. That still resulted in nine (Yes, nine!) frozen turkey dinners for yours truly ranging from the original Swanson to Stouffer's Lean Cuisine to Marie Callender's to Banquet.

Man! The lengths I go to to amuse my readers... And yes, I've been grinning at my cleverness all week. Hmm. Or maybe you won't think this is so clever after all... Because all I can say after this experience is that I've never ingested so much sodium or been so parched as I've been for the past two weeks.

So here are my rankings in order of best to worst according to my sense of taste, overall value, and Thanksgiving "turkey dinnerness" if you will. I've also photographed the frozen dinner with the packaging so you can see for yourself how close or far the actual food is to the picture.

My preferred frozen turkey dinner? #1 was Marie Callender’s Turkey Breast with Stuffing for $2.87. The description reads: “At Marie Callender’s, our classic turkey medallions are served with savory stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, homestyle gravy, and slow-roasted green beans with sweet dried cranberries.”

Frozen Turkey Dinners 2

The 14 oz dinner included slices of white breast meat. The stuffing has small diced celery pieces and a hint of sage. The mashed potatoes were pretty thick and the gravy was plentiful. The green beans didn't taste too bad, but I didn't care for the taste of the dried and rehydrated cranberries. Overall though, the best in flavor and portion for the price.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 400
Fat 9 g
Cholesterol 65 mg
Sodium 1,230 mg, 51% of my daily value!
Total Carbohydrate 45 g

#2 was Stouffer's Lean Cuisine's Roasted Turkey Breast with gravy, stuffing, whipped potatoes, and green beans accented with cranberries for $3.32. This was the most expensive frozen dinner of the bunch.

Frozen Turkey Dinners 3

As for taste? At 12 oz, the portion was just about right for me. The turkey slices had a nice coating of gravy. The mashed potatoes were a little thin but not too bad when eaten with the gravy. The green beans had few cranberries so I tasted mainly veggie.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 290
Fat 7 g
Cholesterol 30 mg
Sodium 890 mg, 37% of my daily value.
Total Carbohydrate 38 g

#3 was Stouffer's Roast Turkey Breast which included "Turkey medallions served over a traditional dressing in a homestyle gravy with mashed potatoes and a green bean and cranberry medley" for $3.22, the second most expensive frozen dinner on the list. At 1-lb, that's 4 more ounces of food than Lean Cuisine.

Frozen Turkey Dinners 4

That meant a larger portion of turkey, potatoes, and green beans. The taste was slightly saltier, and the green beans had little flecks of onions, which I didn't care for. So if you're a little bit hungrier and not watching your weight or nutrition, get this instead of the Lean Cuisine version.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 390
Fat 13 g
Cholesterol 40 mg
Sodium 1,290 mg
Total Carbohydrate 48g

#4 was Healthy Choice's Traditional turkey breast with gravy and dressing, cherry crisp, vegetable medley for $3.08. Meets American Heart Association food criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy people over age 2. Weight Watchers Points = 6.

Frozen Turkey Dinners 5

There seemed to be an awful lot of stuffing compared to turkey pieces which I would think was not healthy. Everything was pretty bland, but that's because this frozen dinner had the least amount of sodium at 550 mg. The cherry "crisp" had bits of oatmeal but it was not crispy and was so achingly sweet I could not finish. But for a pseudo-turkey dinner, this was the healthiest option. And even though there was just 10.5 oz of food, I felt the variety made it seem pretty filling.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 300
Fat 4 g
Cholesterol 25 mg
Sodium 550 mg
Total Carbohydrate 42 g  

#5 was Boston Market's Turkey Breast Medallions - 15 oz of "tender cuts of turkey breast, homestyle mashed potatoes and gravy, with carrots and green beans" for $3.17.

Frozen Turkey Dinners 6

Garlic! It permeated the kitchen when I heated this in my microwave. The turkey wasn't memorable above any of the other frozen dinners, and the mashed potatoes were too gummy for my taste. I actually liked the generous side of carrots and green beans as that made me feel slightly healthier. I ranked this lower than Stouffer's though because it was only 30 calories less, but had 15 g more cholesterol and 300 mg more sodium. And that too-strong garlic smell. Ick!

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 360
Fat 14 g
Cholesterol 55 mg
Sodium 1,570 mg, 65% of my daily value!
Total Carbohydrate 35 g

Now we're just getting into "Is it even worth it?" territory.  

#6 was Banquet's Turkey meal of "mostly white meat, and gravy and dressing, mashed potatoes, and peas" for $.93. Hey! That's cheaper than the Swanson tv dinner that debuted in 1954! At 9.25 oz, this and Swanson's were the smallest portioned turkey dinners. Yet, both dinners had nearly double the sodium of Healthy Choice. Eeek!

Frozen Turkey Dinners 7

Basically you get two slices of white meat and one slice of dark meat on a bed of bread cubes (there'd have to be some flavor to call it dressing). The turkey was compressed meat, basically a thicker cut of deli meat. I did not care for the smell or taste of the mushy peas. The potatoes were completely bland. But hey, for less than $1, what do you really expect?

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 240
Fat 8g
Cholesterol 25 mg
Sodium 1,070 mg, 45% of my daily value!
Total Carbohydrate 27 g  

#7 was Hungry-Man's Roasted Carved Turkey of "mostly white meat," gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, and an apple-cranberry dessert for $2.93. This was the largest portioned turkey dinner at 18.7 oz. The packaging even touts that there is "over 1 lb of food." (Actually, if you're a grammarian, it should be "more than" since you can actually count the unit of measurement, but anyway...) Stouffer's was 1 lb, Boston Market 15 oz, and Marie Callender's 14 oz so that extra weight was really all stuffing. Of course, the Hungry-Man XXL would have been significantly more food but I am definitely NOT a "hungry man." I am an occasionally hungry woman. :P This dinner had the dubious distinction of having the most sodium at a whopping 2,130 mg, or 89% of my daily value! Needless to say I drank plenty of water and didn't eat much the rest of the day.

Frozen Turkey Dinners 8

But how did it taste you ask? If you read the really fine print on the bottom right corner on the back, you'll find that Hungry-Man and Swanson are both owned by Pinnacle Foods Corporation. So basically, I've paid double the price of a Swanson turkey dinner just to get two more deli slices of turkey meat and lots of bread cubes. There were four slices of the pressed and slightly thicker cut but essentially deli turkey (three of white, 1 dark meat, hence the "mostly white meat" labeling). Lots of stuffing. Like way, waaaay too much stuffing just to make it weigh more. And no, I didn't finish because eating moistened bread doesn't do it for me. The dessert was eh. Not as sweet as the Healthy Choice cherry crisp, but not really worth it either. Horribly overpriced when compared to the others.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 550
Fat 18g
Cholesterol 55 mg
Sodium 2,130 mg, 89% of my daily value!!!!!
Total Carbohydrate 72 g  

#8 was Weight Watcher's Smart Ones "Slow Roasted Turkey Breast with a classic pan gravy and garlic-herb mashed potatoes" for $2.50. This frozen dinner had the least amount of calories at 210, but that's mainly because it was the next-smallest portioned dinner at 10 oz.

Frozen Turkey Dinners 9

Looks sad doesn't it? The turkey was alright but the potatoes were runny with a garlicky aftertaste. Definitely not worth the price. Not even worth it to try and get a pseudo-turkey dinner feel because you won't get one. Weight Watchers Points = 4. I think you're much better off with Healthy Choice if you're watching your weight because this was only 1/2 oz smaller portion but 20 mg more cholesterol and 220 mg more sodium.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 210
Fat 7 g
Cholesterol 45 mg
Sodium 770 mg, 32% of my daily value.
Total Carbohydrate 18 g

#9 was Swanson's Classics Roasted Carved Turkey with stuffing and gravy, whipped potatoes, and corn for $1.67. Rather ironic that my least favorite turkey dinner was the original, eh?

Frozen Turkey Dinners 10

Only two slices of the deli-ish turkey, one white, one dark meat. Dry stuffing. Not enough gravy. Bland mashed potatoes. The packaging includes a picture of a tv with "The Original TV Dinner" trademarked. Umm, shouldn't that mean they put in more effort? Blech! I think the picture speaks for itself.

Nutrition or lack thereof?
Calories 250
Fat 11 g
Cholesterol 25 mg
Sodium 1,100 mg, 46% of my daily value!
Total Carbohydrate 29 g

Umm, so what did I learn from all this? That I won't be eating frozen dinners for a long, long time! That sodium might preserve food but it sure doesn't guarantee taste. That medallions is frozen dinner-speak for small pieces of meat. That I don't like dried and rehydrated cranberries with green beans. And that boy am I glad I can cook!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

1 year ago today, Coq au Vin (French chicken in Wine), the meal I wished I had in Paris after my encounter with a Berber-Moroccan-Parisian who practiced Vietnamese martial arts.


  1. Sweetheart, you have way too much time on your hands to taste test frozen turkey dinners!!!



  2. This is too funny. Thanks for taking one for the team, WC! Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Very informative. This would have helped me out when I was in college. I went with Banquet because it was the cheapest. At least I know better now after reading your post. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. I stumbled onto your web site a couple days ago while googling for "sinh to bo" and found your blog rather amusing.

    Now I know which frozen dinner to buy =P

    Better yet, will you marry me? I need someone to cook for me =PPPPP hahaha

  5. haha.. looks like u got an online proposal ;p

    i'm amazed by the variety of frozen dinners u hv available in the States!

  6. One for the ages. Fun to read *AND* informative! Thanks WC!

  7. You're a real crusader. I love reviews like this - Great fun!

  8. Loved this posting. It certainly not only brought a smile to my face, but it also increased my frozen turkey knowledge. :)

  9. First time to visit your blog--loved the post---I will return :)

  10. Great post! You're one dedicated person to slough through all those dinners. And you still cooked a whole turkey on the day . . . amazing! : )

  11. Dang, the lengths you will go. :P

    I've never had a frozen dinner in my life! But if I ever find myself desperate, I'll now know what to try, hehe.

  12. thanks
    form time to time i think about doing a review like this
    but after the 1s dinner i get sick

    you are a better man than i am gunga din.

  13. Good heavens, girl. You have outdone yourself with service to your readers!

  14. hahaha nice...nice.

    I, too, dislike the cranberries and little flecks of onion in the Stouffer's turkey dinner. That's why it's still sitting in my freezer.

    This was a pretty amusing (and informative) post!

  15. ha ha ha ha ...what a sacrifice you did LOL..but anyways its for a good cause..at least this time we know which one is better and which one is not...Happy Thanksgiving day!!!really funny this post :-)

  16. Man! Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people! That must've been so much work. I hope you and your family had a really good Gobble Day!

    Good tips with the frozen turkey dinners. Next Thanksgiving my hubby says he doesn't want turkey and instead wants to do roast beef. I have to get my turkey fix be it frozen or fresh!

  17. Hey WC - what a hoot! And an online proposal to boot! ;o) I had to come back several times to read....I was feeling the effects of second-hand sodium!

  18. Awesome! I think Marie Calender frozen dinner is better than there restaurant. I need to stock up when it goes on sale again.

  19. I did not even have a chance to spend Thanksgiving this year :( ..so no turkey feasting, no shopping for me...not even frozen turkey dinner!

    Happy holidays!

  20. Jaden,
    It's not enough time that made me resort to frozen dinners. ;)

    Glad it was amusing!

    In college, Banquet and its cheapness would have been my choice too.

    Aww, my first blog proposal! Sweet! Hmm, before I give you an answer, do you do the dishes? ;)

    Oh, ho, maybe you're not the only one wedding plans coming up. Hehe. :)

    Hehe. We can't all eat well all the time. ;)

    Thanks! The initial idea and review was more fun than the actual eating! :(

    Heh, maybe it'll give you ideas in between all your eating outings. :)


    The turkey was the easy part!

    Whoa! Really!?

    Yeah, I had to space them out over the course of two weeks, but even then, I was getting mighty sick of them!

    I aim to please. ;)

    Well, all that was available at the grocery store at the time. :)

    I think the really informative part was how much sodium was in that Hungry Man dinner! Eeek!


    Gasp! You must have turkey on turkey day! Hehe, I can picture your hubby enjoying a nice roast beef while you eat a sad little turkey dinner...

    I think the sodium made me sluggish for two weeks!

    I don't think I've ever eaten at Marie Callender's restaurants even though there's one near me. The frozen dinners are on sale this week 5 for $10 though!

    Aww, so sorry. :( Happy holidays!

  21. Thank you so much for posting this, I am trying to show my mom how sick it is to constantly eat these frozen dinners - she works a 10 hour day and I need something to eat before I have work, shes not home so she buys this crap - so I wrote some facts about sodium and printed out your blog and im putting it on the fridge. Thank you!


  22. kat0x0,
    Ah, I grew up on frozen dinners so I know what it's like when your mom is busy. Perhaps you can make some quality meals and freeze them for later instead? Or just eat a sandwich I would think is better for you?

  23. Wow, I really appreciate all the hard work you did for this. I love it.

    Showing the package AND the dinner after cooking --- I think that's sheer genius, and shows a great concern and consideration for readers.

    Thanks so much. You're awesome!

    (Some commenters are saying this is funny. It seems like pretty straightforward information. Did I miss something?)

  24. Diana,
    The overall subject matter is what people find amusing. :)


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