Sometimes even the most inspired of Gluten Free chefs needs to take a break from slaving over a hot stove. There are various different fast meals, like Tasty Bite Indian meals in a pouch, Thai Kitchen instant rice noodles, or Taste of Thai Red Curry Noodles. However, while some of these meals are tasty, many of them are high in sodium and desperately need fresh veggies added to them for real flavor and nutrition. (Less so with the Tasty Bites, which are tasty as is.) But a busy woman (or man) cannot live on rice noodles and rice and dal alone. Luckily for those of us who have fickle palates and crave variety even when we are incredibly busy, Amy’s Kitchen has a wide variety of about 60 gluten free frozen items and soups that are available in most grocery stores. You will find better selection in health food stores like Whole Foods, but even chains like Safeway and Albertsons tend to have Amy’s gluten free corn enchiladas in their freezer case. So, enjoy, and let me introduce you to a few of my favorite gluten free frozen meals in part one of a three part installment.
Part One: My top four Amy’s GF Meals for Kids or the Young at Heart
After years of hearing Glutenoid vegetarians raving about Amy’s frozen pizzas, I was pretty excited when Amy’s Kitchen came out with a plain frozen Rice Crust Pizza. Although I got a huge thrill out of trying my first frozen gluten free pizza, I was a little disappointed with the pizza itself. It was just a little bit plain, and felt lacking in veggie goodness. Oddly enough, it also wasn’t vegan, which, although not a problem for me, was undoubtedly disappointing for Gluten Free vegans or those who are gluten free and dairy intolerant. Luckily, Amy’s stepped up to the plate with a new gluten free pizza not long ago- a delicious, dairy free Spinach rice crust pizza with tasty tasty vegan soy cheese. The spinach added the flavors of veggie goodness and the vegan cheese was one of the best I’d had- I actually liked it BETTER than the real cheese. I’d give this bad boy a 8/10, and if Amy’s comes out with a single serving variety I bet it could get an even higher score. The best frozen gluten free pizza on the market, hands down.
I’m actually a little embarrassed by how much I enjoy this new Kids Meal from Amy’s. Yes, it’s marketed for the younger set. Yes, it comes with a sticker/decal that would no doubt thrill a three year old but doesn’t exactly set my pulse racing. But let me tell you about this lovely, low calorie delight perfect for a light lunch. Gluten free ziti pasta topped with dairy free cheese, little bitty baby broccoli cut just so with sauce, sweet and light rice focaccia, and apple crisp, YES, APPLE CRISP complete this sweet little bite sized meal, and I’m totally loving it. At 360 calories I can enjoy it without writhing in calorific guilt, and with all those itty bitty servings I am reveling in the variety of the meal, let me tell you. And it’s the best darned rice focaccia I think I may have ever had! I’d give this little darling a 9/10, but I might be persuaded to give it a higher review if Amy’s put different stickers in there once in a while. And maybe unicorns- I’m big on unicorns, especially if sparkle is involved. (Kidding, um, mostly…) Kitty cats also rate high with me. (again, I joke. really. mostly.)
And what kid friendly menu is complete without some yummy mac n’ cheese, I ask you. Admittedly, this puppy is not exactly winning any contests for nutritional content, organic pasta or no. But it IS winning major points with me for being a simple, cheesy, oh so decadent yet frozen mac and cheese that actually tastes good. Great for after a long, stressful day when all you want is a mild carb and cheese fest but don’t exactly feel like grating the asiago and gouda by hand, much less boiling pasta. Heavens, no. I have to admit I don’t eat it straight- I grate on some coarse black pepper (guess I just can’t escape using the grater after all), add a healthy handful of fresh cut tomatoes and/or diced red pepper and add liberal amounts of vietnamese red chili sauce- oh so good! And the veggies make it possible for me to pretend that I’m not being all that bad, really. Without doctoring, I’d give it an 7 or an 8. With my special toppings, I give this baby a 9/10. It’s also very economically priced, unlike the pizza, which is *cough cough* expensive. Call me crazy, but I like to have one in my freezer at all times just so I know it’s there if I need it.
After much internal anguish and soul searching, the last product on my list today is Amy’s Gluten Free Garden Vegetable Lasagna. The first time I saw this in the freezer case (it was at a special Gluten Free store in Milwaukee, Wi) I almost cried. Frozen lasagna for me? Really??? Yes, really. This lasagna is light and fresh tasting, with mild lasagna noodles with great texture and a very pleasing tomato sauce. I like it, and I’m absolutely thrilled Amy’s offers it. It doesn’t have me swooning with every bite, but it’s a good dish, and quite respectable as a frozen lasagna. It’s definitely one of those things I’m always happy to find in my freezer (yes, it’s like a treasure hunt in there sometimes). If you haven’t tried it, you really should- can’t beat a gluten free lasagna you don’t have to make yourself that is ready in 5 short minutes. I’d give it a 7/10, with admitted higher points for novelty than flavor.
So those are some of my rave reviews for various frozen Amy’s products… But are there any lemons on Amy’s gluten free meal lineup? It’s hard to say because individual taste varies, and what is a lemon to one person might be the ingredients for lemonade for another. But, from my very subjective tastebuds, I probably won’t be buying this product again.
It sounds like a real winner- and is probably even good for you. Amy’s Shepard’s Pie contains all kinds of vegetables and is topped with some rather (dry) mashed potatoes. But what veggies, you ask? Well, on the label it lists : POTATOES, ORGANIC TOMATOES, ORGANIC GARBANZO BEANS, MUSHROOMS, ORGANIC CELERY, ORGANIC ONIONS, ORGANIC LEEKS, ORGANIC CARROTS, PARSNIPS… In theory, I like all of those vegetables (with the exception of celery). But somehow in this preparation, they are just rather bland. No single vegetable or flavor stands out or delights the mouth with a fun little party. I love the idea of a vegan shepard’s pie, but somehow I want more. And if that more involves dairy or some of that dairy free cheese, I think I’d be ok with that… I”d give this dish a 5/10. Not terrible, but not something I would rush out and buy, even if it was on sale. Doh. Luckily I have about 59 other things to choose from…
But what about Amy’s manufacturing conditions? This is a question that comes up a lot on gluten free message boards, due to the fact that Amy’s doesn’t have a dedicated gluten free facility and produces gluten things as well. Well, here’s what they have to say about this:
Amyâ€™s has always had strict Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to avoid cross-contact of our non-gluten products with gluten and we continue to strengthen these practices. The GMPs include strict raw material control, sanitation practices and employee training. We are constantly improving our practices to include more separation, a higher degree of testing and more in process checks. In the last year, we have increased our screening of critical ingredients to verify they are â€œgluten freeâ€ when they arrive at our plant. We continue to make efforts to minimize gluten in areas where gluten free items are processed. We have instituted a screening program to verify that equipment has been thoroughly cleaned between manufacturing runs. In addition, we now have an in-house lab so that we are able to quickly screen more ingredients and finished products to verify they meet our â€œgluten freeâ€ standards. (These standards being the FDA suggested guideline of less than 20 ppm of gluten.)
Personally, I’ve had good experiences with Amy’s products and I think they have reasonably good practices and are at least aware of the problem of gluten, unlike many mainstream companies. But, of course, like any gluten free product not produced in a dedicated facility, there are some risks, and it is up to you whether you choose to take those risks or not. For me, it’s worth it. Now excuse me, I’m going to go have another slice of dairy free gluten free spinach pizza. Mmmm, tasty.