Penny Pinching Platter Preview

Andreas Loretan, Staff Writer

Whether it’s because you’re broke or you’re too busy with schoolwork to sit down and cook, college is a good time to adopt a pretty unhealthy diet. Ready-made food, from instant ramen noodle cups to dollar menu burgers, is right there, hot and waiting for you. TV dinners are a good example of that. You know, the packaged-up in a cardboard, pre-prepared meals ready to stick in the microwave for a minute-and-a-half, and consumed while catching up on the 20 executive orders Donald Trump signed in the last day or so. It’s like something out of the Jetsons.

That’s why they’re great for college kids. It’s cheap food made to eat while doing something else so you don’t have to worry about taking time out of your day to buckle up and spend an essay’s worth of time making a beef wellington or whatever else. Now here, for those interested in only the finer tasting TV dinners, is a brief rundown of a few select meals where the entree is a slab of meat. I filter through the filler so you don’t have to.

First up was a Banquet brand “cheese patty with mashed potatoes” meal. The enigmatic title of “cheese patty” should be a dead giveaway that this would be complete garbage but it actually was not bad. A cheese patty according to the Banquet brand is a mystery meat patty akin to your average fast food burger patty except completely engulfed in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce. According to the packaging, the patty consisted of chicken and pork, but the taste was pretty close to a Swedish meatball. That Scandinavian subtlety however is mostly overshadowed by the saltiness.

If you’re not a big fan of salty dishes, then you should avoid this one. I didn’t mind the saltiness, and if you’re looking for something that is obviously junk food then give it a shot. The side dish here is a small portion of mashed potatoes and they are surprisingly decent. It’s pretty strange because when you take a bite, the texture is pretty close to air. These mashed potatoes are almost tricking you into thinking these are actual potatoes and not just potato-flavored air. Again though, they aren’t bad at all. Pretty close to good actually.

The next TV dinner I tried out was the Lean Cuisine brand Salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese meal. Before eating this, I never actually knew what Salisbury steak was. Considering the very English-sounding name, I already assumed it was going to be bland. I also assumed that it was just something that an elderly person would probably order off the low-calorie menu at Denny’s. Apparently, it’s not really even a steak at all, but a patty of ground beef shaped to resemble a steak. It was trash.

The steak patty tasted very hearty, like it belonged in a stew. It was a lot like horse meat actually, and I’ve tasted horse meat. The mushroom gravy covering this “steak” was basically brown water, and I didn’t taste any semblance of mushroom at all. I wanted to get this vile taste out of my mouth pretty quickly so I reached for a bite of the mac ‘n’ cheese side dish. Good on Lean Cuisine for pairing an entree of trash with more trash. The macaroni is mush and the cheese is about 1 percent cheddar 99 percent food dye as far as taste goes. This dish does not go recommended one single bit.

Concluding this mini-series of microwavable meats was Stouffer’s brand meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I was birthed to two immigrant parents, so growing up I always saw meatloaf as something very American since it was never served in my house but always talked about on television.

I don’t think I ever tried meatloaf before this TV dinner experiment, but I should have. This was way more delicious than a meal you cook in the microwave should be. Also, my assumption of meatloaf being a very American food tasted about right. The loaf was halfway bathing in a pool of gravy that was reminiscent of a vague Thanksgiving taste. The gravy and potatoes had very herby undertones that were very comforting. This was definitely the best meal of the three even though it remained as much of a “mystery meat”  as the other two. In short, this concoction is definitely recommended for those on a busy schedule and tight budget.

If you have the time to sit down and prepare a meal, you should. It’s healthy and rewarding. Unfortunately, if you’re reading this, you’re probably in college so you don’t actually have the aforementioned time. Until then, these reviews are here for a very limited guide through your local supermarket’s frozen section.