Tuesday, 22 November 2011

RIP Microwave Meal; all aboard the 'Lunch Pot' bandwagon...

Packed lunches. Erh. What a chore!

Even for someone who loves eating as much as yours truly, the thought of assembling sandwiches, chopping fruit, and rifling through Tupperware after a gruelling day at the office, fills me with unquantifiable dread.

In light of this irrational loathing, I’m always looking for an out. But despite the abundance of aisles devoted to microwave meals, pre-packed sarnies, or ironically coined ‘pasta salads,’ most foods of convenience within our supermarkets, are also foods of additives, fats and incredulous calorie counts.

As a result of this realisation, an insalubrious obsession with the ‘micro-lunch’ has worked its way onto my radar, and scouring supermarket shelves for healthy, expedient yet stimulating luncheons, a standing item on my weekly agenda.

In light of this irrational hobby, I have been privy to observing a number of emerging trends in the ready-meal market; (sweet Jesus, what’s happened to me!?) and interestingly (or not) I have noted a sudden insurgence of microwave meals masquerading behind a much less stigmatic title.

Ladies and Gentleman, may I introduce to you - the ‘Lunch Pot;’ a vegetable-centric one-pot meal, purporting to provide healthy, fresh and nutritious food of convenience, in a handy little tub.

No typical meat and two veg variations here, no school dinner-esk trays dividing potato gloop from gelatinous stew in sight. Just well-presented and eye-catchingly colourful chillies, curries, and casseroles - free from soggy cardboard sleeves and ‘piercable’ film lids.

But where an earth did the Lunch Pot come from, and who’s driving this long awaited bandwagon?

Oh who cares… let’s see how the main contenders fair…. It’s scoffing time!

Innocent 'Veg Pot'

Ah Innocent. Saintly food, at sinful prices. You gotta love the dichotomy.

Unsurprisingly Innocent’s latest innovation, ‘Veg Pots,’ create no exception to this paradox, and despite offering a wide variety of beautifully presented, innovatively flavoured lunches, do so at characteristically ugly prices.

But alas, if you’re willing to fork out (get it?) £3.79 for just one Veggie Tuppa, I wager you will not be disappointed.

Having sampled Roasted Aubergine Moussaka and Bombay Butternut, I am for once, without further critique. Perfectly portioned, defiantly flavoured, and exquisitely convenient to prepare; these babies were the talk of the office come lunch time and yours truly the envy of them all. Hmmm, delicious, nutritious and a status symbol to boot... Perhaps £3.79 is pretty reasonable after all.

Tesco's 'Veg + Meat Pot'
Although spookily similar in appearance to the Innocent ‘Veg Pot,’ (did someone say lawsuit?) Tesco seem to have capitalised on the former’s omission, in providing the ready-meal-monger with an omnivorous selection.

From Spicy Meatball Chilli to Smokey Chicken and Prawn Gumbo, Tesco’s ‘Meat and Veg Pots’ will appeal not only to the meat-loving luncher, but also to the more frugal amongst us.

Yes… I agree, £3 still seems like a fair whack for a microwave meal, but alas we forget – this is no ordinary microwave meal… this is a lunch… which you just so happen to microwave.

Sarcasm aside, Tesco’s offerings were comparably portioned and equally as convenient as the Innocent pots (somewhat expected since the manufacture was most likely the same.)
Nonetheless in terms of taste, they fell just shy of the mark; and although both the Thai Curry and Gumbo options were pretty darn good, I couldn’t help but feel like I was sampling a knocked off imitation.

Although the ingredients tasted fresh, and the meat retained its juiciness, the sauce just seemed a little too over-kill for my liking, and lacked the subtlety of the Innocent Veg Pots.

Good try Tesco… maybe next time you should go the whole hog… you’re rich enough to withstand the litigation after all!

Sainsburys 'Lunch Pot'

Despite having a reputation for being a slightly more upmarket proprietor, Sainsbury’s lunch pots look remarkably plain in comparison to the other potty partakers.
No over-the-top descriptive, no eye-catching packaging, and no gimmick… I know what you’re thinking; no appeal right? Well actually, that’s where you’re… spot on. And if it hadn’t have been for this particular blog, I certainly wouldn’t have looked twice at their Smokey Bean Chilli, Chow Mein, or Chickpea and Spinach pots.

Nonetheless, the proof is of course in the pudding, and as the old adage goes, you should never judge a book by its cover.

Or perhaps you should – since actually, the Chicken Chow Mein tasted even worse than it looked, and felt more like a Pot Noodle than a Lunch Pot (minus the calories and the iconic little sachet of weird tasting ketchup).

I suppose the Smokey Bean Chilli wasn’t too bad – however I’m guessing that by this point my taste buds had gone into ‘shock’ and activated their auto-shutdown defence mechanism.

Epic Fail Mr S. Epic fail.

Weight Watchers 'Ideal Lunch' Pots

OMG Weight Watchers… WTF??? I’m so gob smacked I’ve resorted to text speak!!!

Perhaps it’s my fault; perhaps I’m just being greedy? Perhaps I missed the small print on the pack reading ‘not suitable for anyone with any form of appetite whatsoever.’

Or perhaps I’m being sarcastic, and am shocked and appalled at your lunch pots, daring to stake claim to being anything other than a four spooned snack.

Okay. So in terms of taste – I really can’t complain – and the Chicken and Butternut Curry was simply delightful, as was the Penne Meatball. 

But seriously, you’re supposed to be setting the standard here, and encouraging ‘dieters’ to lunch like malnutritioned squirrels, is really unacceptable.

Enough said Weight Watchers. Red Card for you.

The Scoffing Cow, she say....

Well done Innocent; hand's down winner. There really is (as of yet) no real comparison to your veracious 'Veg Pots,'

But you know, I have to admit... this pill is kind of hard to swallow, since I had vowed never to 'talk' to Innocent ever again.

At University, we were for a time, the best of friends.

I, the perpetually hungover student, struggling to stomach solids prior to the second instalment of Neighbours, and it, the reasonably priced liquid breakfast, providing convenience, sustenance and 3 of your 5 a day, in one pleasurable glug.
But as the country’s fascination with fruit smoothies escalated beyond all reasonable expectations, so did the price of my daily staple. As a result, I did what every sensible 20 year old might have done in a similar state of financial disarray… skipped breakfast.

Several Two years later on, I have of course matured, and no longer consider a weekly food budget of £7.50 a sustainable amount.

In light of this new found maturity, it is with great pleasure that I reunite with a much loved friend, and feel able to hand Innocent the revered (or soon to be) Lunch Pot of the year award.

Yes, yes.. they’re still expensive and indeed £3.79 for a ‘Tuppa’ of veg, is just shy of daylight robbery. Nonetheless, with cheaper alternatives sacrificing either taste, portion size, or both, in my eye there really is little comparison to be had.

Well done Innocent…. And sorry for that whole ‘hate mail’ episode. I had a lot of time on my hands.

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