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Lean Cuisine-inspired Apple Cranberry Tofu

Posted Apr 06 2010 10:19am



A week or so ago I saw a commercial for a Lean Cuisine, Apple Cranberry Chicken, meal. I found myself thinking that this could be a great vegetarian creation. The sweetness of the apple and cranberry would go just perfect with the comforting, warm and delicious taste of whole grain rice and tofu (in place of chicken).
Later that day, I made my own version of a Lean Cuisine Meal and let me tell ya', it was oh-so-good. Karel, who loves my vegetarian meals, was also a big fan of the combination of flavors. Definitely a creation worthy-enough to go on my "creation" page.

The next day I looked up the nutrition facts of the original Apple Cranberry Chicken recipe. Considering that the recipe was inspired from the Lean Cuisine company, I knew that this meal had to be "low" in calories and made from "wholesome" ingredients.
When I attended the 2009 American Dietetic Association Adult Weight Management 2 1/2 day certification course, I learned a lot about how people view food, specifically when it comes to diets. Whereas one person may choose meal replacement bars and frozen meals for convenience, another person may be seeking foods for weight loss or weight management. Although I am a huge proponent of natural and wholesome (little processing/few ingredient) foods, I am also a realist. If you are a person who never eats breakfast but you are trying to change habits to encourage a healthy lifestyle, I would suggest starting your day with a meal replacement bar (as well as limiting extra portions in the late evening) as opposed to suggesting a bowl of oatmeal w/ nuts, raisins and a sliced orange. If you are a person who is used to eating fast food for lunch every day because of a hectic work/life schedule and you feel strongly that you just can't prepare a meal at home before work, I would try to implement a mix of healthy and balanced frozen meals in place of fast foods as well as dedicated a day or two per week to preparing homemade meals. Obviously, we all start somewhere when we create healthy habits because we need to find what works for our life, based on our lifestyle, exercise routine and dietary choices.
Although prepackaged meals take the guessing away from calorie counting, portion control and meal planning, frozen meals (and bars) are not on my list for "maintainable" foods. My idea of eating is to be able to have a healthy relationship with food, in addition to a consistent and realistic exercise routine so that you can stay healthy (and maintain weight) at any age, anywhere in the world at any time of your life. Sure, pre-packed meals/snacks offer convenience and help control, calories, fat and portions but through building a diet rich in wholesome foods, you will find yourself adding more nutrients to your diet, without an excess of calories. If you are seeking ways to eat less, alongside fueling your exercise routine and keeping you energized, it is important to not be overly focused on calories. By adding healthy fats, complex carbs, lean/low fat protein and an abundance of fruits and veggies to your daily diet, you will find it a lot easier to lose weight and/or improve performance through focusing on nutrient timing w/ wholesome food. Also, by incorporating a variety of foods in your diet, you will slowly find exactly what works for you to keep you healthy, energized and happy.

So, let's look at the breakdown of Lean Cuisine Apple Cranberry Chicken*Taken from the Lean Cuisine Website
Nutritional Information
Serving Size: 1
Calories: 300
Calories From Fat: 35
Total Fat (g): 4
Saturated Fat (g): 2
Cholesterol (mg): 20
*BTW-on the Lean Cuisine site they spelled cholesterol incorrectly (not cholestorol)
Sodium (mg): 500
Potassium (mg): 430
Total Carbohydrate (g): 54
Dietary Fiber (g): 6
Sugars (g): 24
Protein (g): 14


You are probably thinking that 300 calories isn't a lot and you are correct, it isn't a lot for a meal. I suggest that people keep their meals around an average of 350-500 calories of a variety of heart-healthy foods, in an effort to include more snacks (150-200 calories) throughout the day to keep the blood sugar balanced and provide fuel for workouts, in addition to adding 100-200 extra calories per hour of daily exercise through recovery nutrition. In my opinion, if you focus on your daily exercise routine, in addition to exercise intensity and volume, you will find it so much easier to plan your meals and snacks in an effort to control how much or little you eat for the day. And on top of it all, we are always thinking about filling and satisfying foods to allow us to have a healthy relationship with food.

So, let's look at the ingredients in this 300-calorie mealIngredients:
BLANCHED WHOLE WHEAT ORZO PASTA (WATER, WHOLE DURUM WHEAT FLOUR), COOKED WHITE MEAT CHICKEN (WHITE MEAT CHICKEN, WATER, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH, CHICKEN FLAVOR (DRIED CHICKEN BROTH, CHICKEN POWDER, NATURAL FLAVOR), CARRAGEENAN, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SOYBEAN OIL, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT), WATER, CARROTS, GREEN BEANS, WHEAT BERRIES, APPLE JUICE CONCENTRATE, DRIED CRANBERRIES (CRANBERRIES, SUGAR, SUNFLOWER OIL), APPLES (APPLES, CITRIC ACID, SALT, WATER), 2% OR LESS OF SEA SALT, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, CHICKEN BROTH, ORANGE JUICE CONCENTRATE, APPLE CIDER VINEGAR, SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, GINGER PUREE (GINGER, WATER, CITRIC ACID), YEAST EXTRACT, SPICES, LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, CITRIC ACID.

Not sure what you are thinking, but that is a lot of ingredients for a 300 calorie meal. Furthermore, with all of those ingredients to make up a 300 calorie meal, I wonder how much grilled chicken in an apple reduction with cranberries, french cut green beans and whole wheat pilaf you get in 1 box? The description sure sounds appetizing but when it comes down to it, wouldn't you feel more satisfied with more food and less "ingredients".

Here's the nutrition breakdown of my recipe3/5 package container Firm Tofu (cubed): 240 calories
1 large red apple (chopped) : 116 calories
1/4 cup chopped onion: 12 calories
3 tbsp chives (chopped): 3 calories
1 ounce dried cranberries: 92 calories
1 cup whole grain brown rice: 170 calories
1 large tomatoes (chopped): 33 calories
2 tsp olive oil: 79 calories
Total: 640 calories
Guess what...you can easily feel satisfied with 1/2 of this entire recipe at a grand total of 320 calories!!! Does that mean you eat a 320 calorie meal? NO! You just get to eat more of other foods like a beautiful topical salad w/ dried coconut, grapefruit, pear, cranberries, feta, carrots and tomato on a bed of spinach


Here's the ingredient list for the foods used in my recipeWater, Organic Whole Soybeans, Magnesium Chloride (TOFU)
Apple (Apple)
Chives (Chives)
Long Grain Parboiled brown rice (Whole grain brown rice)
Roma Tomatoes (Roma Tomatoes)
Onion (Onion)
Olive oil (Olive oil)
Short and sweet :)
Enjoy my latest creation!

1. In a large pot drizzle olive oil and turn heat to medium.
2. Add apple, tomato and onion.
3. When apple begins to turn golden brown, add chives, cranberries and tofu.
4. Give a toss and cook until tofu begins to turn slightly golden brown.
5. While apple mixture is cooking, cook 5-minute brown rice in microwave.
6. Top 1/2 of apple mixture on 1/2 cup brown rice. Enjoy!


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