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Barilla Piccolini Miniature Pasta. Mini Farfalle, Mini Penne, Mini Wheels, Mini Fusilli, and Mini Ziti. $1.39 per 16-ounce box.

Bonnie: I've recommended Barilla pasta before, particularly Barilla Plus, a multigrain pasta with high protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids for those in need of extra nutrients. I also can recommend these adorable Barilla Piccolini Miniature Pasta shapes, which cook in just 7 minutes — though not wholeheartedly.

Why? Barilla made these mini shapes without the nutrient-rich whole grains we all need. In fact, the government recommends we get at least three full servings of them each day. My recommendation to Barilla: Make this cute, quick-cooking pasta with at least half a serving of whole grains in each serving of pasta, as many other companies, including DeCecco, Bionaturae and Gia Russa, are already doing.

Carolyn: Kids don't love Kraft Mac & Cheese for its Day-Glo color and bland taste alone. It's also because kids identify with its pint-sized pasta. This was obviously on the minds of the Barilla execs who OK'd this new line of miniature pasta. They include small farfalle, fiori and fusilli — bow ties, wheels and spirals, for you non-Italians.

Besides catering to kids' sense of self-esteem and importance (a good thing, within limits), these Piccolini pastas will also save parents up to five precious, busy weeknight dinnertime minutes over cooking the full-sized equivalents.

Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals. Toasted Wheat and Zesty Tomato Herb Wheat Crisps, Simply Pretzel and Savory Cheddar Pretzel Thins, and Artisan Cheese and Toasted Sesame Snack Sticks. $3.49 per 6-ounce to 8.5-ounce box.

Bonnie: A serving of these new Baked Naturals would be fine to eat with cheese, peanut butter or hummus. The Toasted Sesame Snack Sticks and the Savory Cheddar Pretzel Thins are my favorites in terms of taste. But I wouldn't recommend nibbling them as a snack, as Pepperidge Farm is suggesting.

All but the Simply Pretzel contain too many calories (120 to 140), too much fat (from 3 to 6 grams of total fat) and much too much sodium (240 to 600 grams) per serving for continual nibbling. Whole-wheat pretzels, with little to no fat, less sodium and actual servings of whole grains (which these are lacking), would be much better for that.

Carolyn: Pepperidge Farm's new Baked Naturals exist in that netherworld of foods between crackers and snack chips already inhabited by Wheat Thins and Cheez-Its. Actually, the best of these six new products, the Artisan Cheese Snack Sticks, is quite a bit like Cheez-Its, only in a longer shape and with a milder taste. It and its sister Toasted Sesame, which is kind of a fattened-up bread stick, are the only two Baked Naturals good enough to snack on without accompaniment.

The Zesty Tomato Herb Wheat Crisps taste like a highly artificial pizza chip. As for taste, both Wheat Thins and Stoned Wheat Thins crackers put the plain Toasted Wheat to shame. The Savory Cheddar Pretzel Thins taste more like salt than either cheese or pretzels. Their main attribute is crispiness.

So Pepperidge Farm's accomplishment here is in elevating the humble bread stick from an Italian restaurant stomach-filler into something to look forward to. Too bad the packaging (boxes with nonresealable foil bags) wasn't more snacking-friendly.


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