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Hormel Compleats. Sesame Chicken, Beef Steak & Peppers, Santa Fe Style Chicken, and Homestyle Beef. $2.69 per 9-ounce container.

Bonnie: I've yet to meet a shelf-stable meal that I'd eat anytime other than for this column. And that includes these new Hormel Compleats.

I don't like Compleats' soft texture, I don't like their taste, and I don't like many of the additives used to improve the flavor (unsuccessfully, to my mind).

The only way these are not bad is nutritionally, as they provide 210 to 320 calories, 4 to 8 grams of total fat (of which 1 to 2.5 grams are saturated), 2 to 4 grams of fiber, and only a slightly high 550 to 600 milligrams of sodium.

Carolyn: While I don't harbor the blanket prejudice that Bonnie has against shelf-stable meals, I also don't expect them to be as good as frozen.

That's why Hormel Compleats Santa Fe Style Chicken was such a pleasant surprise. Not only does it have great flavor and good-quality chicken, it also has fresh-seeming corn kernels and tomato chunks. In fact, it's better-tasting than the wonderful and similar Lean Cuisine Southern Beef Tips and Santa Fe Style Rice & Beans, and much more convenient.

Instead of taking up valuable freezer space, Compleats can be stashed in a desk drawer or even a car's glove compartment for a day when you forgot to bring a frozen meal or don't have time to pick up lunch. And, as Bonnie just pointed out, the nutritionals are closer to Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice than Compleats' canned meal forebears.

If only the other flavors were as good. The Sesame Chicken is tasty but way too soupy. The Beef Steak & Peppers defies tradition for this dish because it features no rice and hardly any peppers. As you might expect from a meat company, the meat is very good in the Beef Steak & Peppers, as it is in all the Compleats dishes with meat.

The Pavlovian response to opening up the Homestyle Beef for anyone who ever saw one of those old Wendy's ads will be, "Where's the beef?" It's the only one of these that lived up to Bonnie's low expectations.

Keebler Fudge Shoppe Peanut Butter Sticks. $3.09 per 8.5-ounce package.

Bonnie: These new cookies contain peanut butter, which is both a good and bad thing. Good, because peanut butter is nutritious; bad, because it adds extra fat to an already fatty cookie.

Three thin wafer cookies contain 160 calories and a hefty 9 grams of total fat (of which 5 are saturated). My suggestion to Keebler: Pack these in 100-calorie packs, so consumers don't consume too much fat.

Carolyn: A light peanut butter and chocolate treat? If you're used to the candy and cookies made in the mold of the best-selling Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, that will hardly seem possible. But a light treat is exactly what Keebler's new Fudge Shoppe Peanut Butter Sticks are.

Think Nabisco's Biscos Sugar Wafers dipped in a thin layer of milk chocolate and filled with peanut butter mousse instead of vanilla creme. It's that rare thing: indulgent but not heavy. Fans of peanut butter, Little Debbie Nutty Bars, Kit Kats and Twix will want to get in the checkout line behind me.

Kraft Salad Dressings. Tuscan House Italian, Classic Caesar, Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Light Ranch. $1.69 per 8-ounce bottle, $2.99 per 16-ounce bottle, and $3.99 per 24-ounce bottle.

Bonnie: I just received an e-mail from Kraft reporting that it recently "purefected" its entire line of salad dressings by removing all artificial preservatives and adding good-quality ingredients. No more high-fructose corn syrup, either. Nice move, Kraft, I thought.

At least that was my reaction until I received four samples of the newly reformulated dressings and read their labels. The Tuscan House Italian and Balsamic Vinaigrette are as clean a list of ingredients as I've ever seen from Kraft.

The Classic Caesar and Light Ranch, however, are a different story. These don't contain artificial preservatives, but they do contain artificial colors, monosodium glutamate and a variety of other flavor enhancers, such as disodium inosinate.

So buy the Tuscan House Italian and Balsamic Vinaigrette, but read the labels of the other Kraft salad dressings to see if you can pronounce all their ingredients. If you can't, then grab something else.

Carolyn: Bonnie and I decided to try the four Kraft salad dressings that have been most affected by the line's recent reformulation and package redesign.

I don't really remember what Kraft's old Caesar dressing was like (I haven't bought it in a while). But I can tell you that the Classic Caesar in this new see-through plastic bottle with the flip top is redolent of Parmesan cheese and is not astringent. In short, it's much better than the upscale supermarket house brand of Sensational Caesar dressing that I was previously using.

Kraft's revamped Balsamic Vinaigrette is almost as good — you can taste the real wine it contains. The Tuscan House Italian, though, was nothing special, and the Light Ranch was even worse, tasting mainly of mayonnaise.


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, and for more food info and chances to win free products, visit www.biteofthebest.com. © Universal Press Syndicate