Bonnie: Mom's Best Naturals Cereal includes six varieties in large family-size boxes that are comparably priced or less expensive than their mainstream competitors. But these cereals contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, no hydrogenated oil and no high-fructose corn syrup.
I like all of that.
What I don't like is that in terms of nutrients, these contain many fewer vitamins and minerals (albeit added ones) than General Mills, Kellogg's or Post cereals. This is particularly noticeable and troublesome when comparing Toasty O's and Honey Nut Toasty O's to their Cheerios counterparts, as these cereals are staples for many picky little eaters who otherwise might not get all those nutrients.If your family generally eats a well-balanced diet, then do take advantage of these cereals and save up to 50 percent per ounce over other natural brands. Otherwise, stick to the mainstream vitamin- and mineral-enriched cereals.
Carolyn: Surely you're familiar with those copycat cereal companies whose legal but morally questionable raison d'etre is to make larger, cheaper versions of popular brand-name cereals such as Cheerios, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran and Froot Loops. Well, one of those me-too companies has just embarked on an all-natural, environmentally friendly variation on that rip-off scheme: Malt-O-Meal's new Mom's Best Naturals brand specializes in all-natural versions of the country's most popular cereals in big boxes that are much cheaper than Cascadian Farms and Kashi's all-natural copies of these classic breakfast grains.Although not quite as tasty as cereals unencumbered by health and environmental considerations, Mom's Best Naturals certainly taste as good as the big-brand natural competition. And healthy is much easier to swallow (even for junk foodies!) when you're not going into the poorhouse to achieve it.
McCormick Gourmet Collection Sea Salts. French Grey, Sicilian, Mediterranean Spiced, and Asian Style Spiced. $3.79 per 2.65-ounce to 3.66-ounce canister.
Bonnie: One of the hottest trends to recently filter down to the home kitchen is not a specific ethnic dish or technique, but a condiment: salt. Specifically, sea salt that's hand-harvested from evaporated seawater. Specialty food companies have been selling these for years, and now McCormick has joined Morton's in entering these lucrative brackish waters.
Sea salts are finishing salts meant to be sprinkled on foods just before serving to enhance their flavor. Most including these new McCormick ones are sourced from the Mediterranean. They vary in texture (the Sicilian is finer than the French), color (the Sicilian is white; the French, gray) with subtle flavor differences. I prefer the flavor of the French.Although I like the ingredients in McCormick's Mediterranean and Asian blended sea salts, I prefer adding my own mixture of seasonings during cooking, not after. I'd use the French Grey and the Sicilian at the recipe end point, where it may suggest adding salt to taste. But I will continue to use iodized salt in my everyday cooking of pasta, cereal or other grains to be certain to get the iodine I need. As I've mentioned before, iodine is a necessary nutrient that protects against goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland) and mental retardation (in babies born to women with iodine deficiency).
Carolyn: I searched McCormick's normally very helpful Web site in vain for recipes for these new Gourmet Collection Sea Salts. That's because, as company spokeswomanperson Laurie Harrsen explained, these salts are not designed for cooking but for sprinkling on dishes just before eating. So there are no recipes, only ideas. Hers include sprinkling them on meat, shrimp, veggies, pasta, salad greens, sliced tomatoes, eggs and olive oil bread dip.
Placed on top instead of cooked within, especially when the crystals are big like the ones in the French Grey, even a small pinch of salt can lend big flavor. And sea salt naturally contains less sodium than regular, which is why registered dietitian Bonnie didn't just dismiss these out-of-hand.Still, I find it much easier to justify the $1-per-ounce to $1.40-per-ounce price tag (compared to 3 cents an ounce for plain salt) in the case of the flavored salts essentially upscale, ethnic-specific seasoning salts than with the plain French Grey and Sicilian ones with their Bonnie-described "subtle" (read: indistinguishable from Morton) taste. Just make sure to use them in plain dishes. The Mediterranean got lost in an already highly flavored frozen Bertolli pasta dish, but the Asian turned a turkey burger from very boring to amazingly delicious.
Pacific Foods Organic Ready-to-Eat Soup. Beef Steak & Fusilli Pasta, Spicy Black Bean With Chicken Sausage, Minestrone With Beef Steak, Chicken & Penne Pasta, Savory Chicken & Wild Rice, Spicy Chicken Fajita, Split Pea With Ham & Swiss Cheese, and Savory White Bean With Smoked Bacon. $2.99 to $3.49 per 14.5-ounce can.
Bonnie: Doesn't the above long list of new organic soups from Pacific Foods sound delicious? The first one I tried, Spicy Black Bean With Chicken Sausage, is as good as it sounded. The Chicken & Penne Pasta and the Savory Chicken & Wild Rice were also good, especially when their flavor was brightened with a few drops of Tabasco. But the organic beef in the beef-based ones Beef Steak & Fusilli Pasta and Minestrone With Beef Steak was almost as tough as it is in other canned soups. I don't recommend beef-based soups from Pacific or anyone else.Nutritionally, these soups range from a low of 90 calories, 0.5 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber per 1-cup serving (in the Savory Chicken & Wild Rice) to a high of 250 calories, 10 grams of total fat and 11 grams of fiber (in the Split Pea With Ham & Swiss Cheese). The sodium ranges from 590 to 790 milligrams, or about par with all other soups except those called "healthy."
Carolyn: Is the first canned soup with organic meat any better than conventional kinds? Yes, when it comes to beef. To directly contradict my friend Bonnie: Though somewhat fatty, the beef in these soups from Pacific Foods is a lot more tender than the beef in Progresso and Campbell's soups. These soups also have more meat than mainstream brands. The ham in the split pea was darker than any I've ever seen and was oddly shaped but tasted fine. "Odd" is also a good word for that same soup's Swiss cheese and undercooked peas. And the Spicy Chicken Fajita was too spicy. But I loved the thyme-infused Savory White Bean With Smoked Bacon, the peppery Beef Steak & Fusilli Pasta, and the corny Chicken & Penne Pasta.Campbell's and Progresso also sell tasty ready-to-eat soups in increasingly interesting flavors, including split pea, black bean and white bean, not to mention multiple chicken pasta soups. The Chicken & Penne Pasta's broth is also a showcase for the clean, natural flavor that makes at least some of these worth their higher cost.
Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat" (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items. For previous columns, visit www.supermarketsampler.com. © Universal Press Syndicate