Frozen Food Lies: A Shiny, Gooshy Mess in a Box


SmartOnes Lasagna Florentine
Smart Ones Lasagna Florentine on the box
As The Stir learned from photographing fast food in real life, an artful food designer and good studio lighting work wonders on a couple of pieces of lettuce and some shredded chicken. Because those pretty pictures don't always live up to their promise, here's a similar experiment with frozen entrees.

How do the real TV dinners hold up to the ideal? I started with this Smart Ones Lasagna Florentine. Keep reading to see the real deal.




Lasagna Florentine in real life
Lasagna Florentine in real life
Okay, I tried to plate this so we could get a side view of the layers. As you can see, the lasagna gooshed all over the plate, as lasagna will. Actually, this looks somewhat homemade, minus the green sauce.








Lasagna Florentine in real lifeI do see layers in there. Sorta. Still, it's a lot shorter in real life, kind of like most male movie stars.








Healthy Choice Honey Ginger Chicken
Marie Callender's Fettuccini with Chicken & Broccoli on the box
Moving along with the pasta, here's Marie Callender's Fettuccini With Chicken and Broccoli. This photo makes the broccoli look fresh and perfectly cooked.







fettuccini with chicken & broccoli
Fettuccini in real life

After the lasagna debacle, I decided that I really don't do this food any favors when I plate it. I'm pleased to see the broccoli isn't overcooked to the point of going yellow. It's hard to see the chicken under all that sauce, but it's there. In real life it looks like everything is drowning in glue-like sauce. Stirring didn't make it look any better.



Healthy Choice Honey Ginger Chicken
Healthy Choice Honey Ginger Chicken on the box



Ever notice how shiny food always looks on frozen entree boxes? Cue Healthy Choice Honey Ginger Chicken.








Healthy Choice Honey Ginger Chicken
Honey Ginger Chicken in real life


I'm reminded of that Woody Allen quote: "'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible ... and such small portions!"








Lean Pockets Supreme Pizza
Lean Pockets Supreme Pizza on the box


"Seasoned Pizza Crust" -- oh Lean Pockets, there you go over-promising your Supreme Pizza. And look at the steam rising from the pocket. How do you Photoshop steam, I wonder? I decided to risk another cross-section shot.







Lean Pockets Supreme Pizza
Pizza Pocket in real life




Not even close! I don't see the sausage or the pepperoni, though they're probably there somewhere. I see less cheese, and the colors are completely the different. But hey, the crust really is seasoned.






Lean Cuisine Rosemary Chicken
Lean Cuisine Rosemary Chicken on the box



I just want to point out a few things here with Lean Cuisine's Rosemary Chicken. First, shiny again! Also, the "whole wheat pilaf" is orzo, but they don't think you'll know what orzo is so they put it in tiny print on the back. And speaking of tiny print, I think they include the wrong set of ingredients! There's no mention of rosemary; instead it lists ginger and lemon for flavoring.



Lean Cuisine Rosemary Chicken
Rosemary Chicken in real life




So yeah ... the chicken lacks that shellacked look, but maybe that's a good thing?






Can I say something here about the food styling on these boxes? Because the food in real life doesn't look great, but it doesn't look delicious on the boxes, either. Food photography has come a long way since 1985. Pick up any food magazine today and it all looks warm, real, homemade. But the food on these boxes looks fake. Why are food manufacturers trying to entice us with plastic-looking food?


What do you think frozen entrees should look like?

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sodapple sodapple

frozen food should look the way it will come out of the box. weird!!!

nonmember avatar ben

At least if it looks cold and like plastic on the box, people won't complain when they pull it out of the box.

nonmember avatar Eater

Because the writer, Adriana Velez, did not stir the dishes that would typically have been stirred, I don't trust this article. With some of these foods, the directions actually say to stir, so the process wasn't completed, I'm assuming, in order to make the food look as unappetizing as possible. For example, the Marie Callender's Fettuccini with Chicken and Broccoli, which I like, must be stirred, and then it looks like the picture.

Shame on you, Adriana Velez, and The Stir, for not stirring as directed!

Adria... AdrianaCooks

Awesome, that's the funniest comment ever. Thanks Eater!

mamac... mamacita69930

The smarts ones are so skimpy so they have to make it look good on the box. The best line is lean cuisine. The rest are so bland or so little that you end up eating a pound of salad afterwards. So just eat real food unless you have to lose a few temporarily or do not have time to eat on the run. I lost so much on Lean Cuisine...

Joi Lake Pfost

Frozen food is the perfect place to hide a ton of pureed veggies. It's too bad they haven't figured that out. It's such a mess and all the flavors blend together. I just don't think anyone would notice if the cheese sauce was filled with cauliflower. I also think they don't think we will eat our veggies since they skimp on them so much. Duh! We bought it with veggies in the photo. I will probably like them since I know what's in the box! Would love to get 3 or 4 servings of veggies in each meal since it is actually possible to do. And tomatoes are scientifically a fruit. Wish someone at the FDA would start caring about what the labels are saying in regard to the number of servings of veggies in the food, when what they are counting is tomatoes. Tomatoes are healthy, but they are not veggies. Also, I want the kids meals to be healthy. I am always shocked to see fried chicken, corn & a brownie as a kids meal. Stupid!

nonmember avatar Susan

Adriana, this article is hilarious - just what every rainy Monday morning needs! I'll never be able to look at frozen food again without laughing :)

Sally Wittbrod

Picture should show there are only 2-4 small pieces of chicken and 2 tbs of veggies, if I'm lucky. In addition package should show 3/4 rice and gravy as that is what is in the package.

Personally, I find Hot Pockets come closest to matching the picture.

Sylvia Brown

Actually, having studied a bit on advertising, these pictures are just that - fake! The hot lights in the studio would wilt any food, so they make it out of a plastic-like substance. Ever see the "food" display in front of a Chinese restaurant (just off the top of my head). It stays beautiful all day, because it's fake.

Carey... Carey2006

Food hardly evers looks like the picture on the box.....

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