I tend to swing by Loblaws during my break or after work as it's the supermarket nearest my apartment in the West End of Toronto (I know No Frills is cheaper, but sometimes it's just nice to stroll through a fancy-ish store) and I've been eyeing a few of their prepared dishes.
I decided to pick up Szechuan beef with noodles, penne alfredo with chicken, butter chicken with rice and quinoa tabbouleh salad.
I had a preconceived idea in my head that the ready-made meals wouldn't be tasty, and while they weren't all total hits, they were all pretty good and two were seriously yummy.
Here's how I got on with all the food and what I'd rate them all out of 5.
Butter chicken with rice
450 grams of ready-made butter chicken with rice from Loblaws for $8.
I love Indian food but am garbage at cooking it, so I was excited to pick up this dish that looks very impressively like the entree I usually order while I'm dining out.
Unfortunately, while this dish was tasty, it in no way tasted like butter chicken!
It was definitely creamy like the dish is supposed to be, but it lacked the sweetness that butter chicken usually has and the curry flavour was non-existent.
As well, the rice was a little clumpy, which is to be expected with rice that isn't freshly cooked and served immediately, but there didn't seem to be enough of the sauce to coat everything, so the individual grains didn't all rehydrate when we warmed it up.
That being said, we did enjoy this as a chicken dish and it was perfectly pleasant to eat — the only reason it's getting a lower rating is because it didn't taste like the butter chicken I was craving and expecting.
This could feed me twice, so for $4 a portion, I'm not mad at it.
Price: $8 for 450 grams
Price per 100 grams: $1.78
Quinoa tabbouleh salad
600 grams of ready-made quinoa tabbouleh salad from Loblaws for $10.
This may be a controversial statement, but I'm not sure people are meant to love quinoa tabbouleh salad (or at least I don't).
To me, this dish serves a purpose — it's a filling, hearty and nutritious side dish to bolster your main dish, an easy thing to take for lunch that'll keep you energized without dragging you down, or it's a good vehicle to throw whatever leftover veg or protein you have hanging around in your fridge.
This salad is tasty, and while it's not something I think I'd crave, it's doing its job and I appreciate that.
Price: $10 for 600 grams
Price per 100 grams: $1.67
Szechuan beef with noodles
402 grams of ready-made Szechuan beef with noodles from Loblaws.
This tasty dish could be a dupe for the Szechuan beef I usually order from my favourite Chinese restaurant, and it's literally half the price.
I think I was expecting this to be a little bland, but it was spicier and sweeter than I expected in a really pleasant way with a very forward and zippy black pepper flavour. The veggies still had a nice amount of crunch in them, the noodles were perfectly cooked, and there was a good amount of sauce to coat everything.
This totally works as a cheaper alternative to take out for Chinese, and I'm glad I've found something that does the job at a fraction of the cost.
Price: $8 for 402 grams
Price per 100 grams: $1.99
Penne alfredo with chicken
610 grams of ready-made penne Alfredo with chicken from Loblaws.
And finally, we have the dish I was most skeptical about that turned out to be my absolute favourite.
I think I expected this penne alfredo to be thick and gloopy with the chicken more rubbery than protein-like, but again, I was so very, very wrong.
The sauce on this is rich, creamy and delicious, the chicken is impressively moist given that it's being reheated and the extra crumbled cheese on top gives you that perfect chef's kiss moment of a cheese pull. It genuinely tastes like something from a restaurant, and I'm seriously impressed.
This is comfort food at its finest, and it also happens to be the cheapest meal per 100 grams that I picked up. Because it has a larger serving size than the other items and because it's so rich, the penne alfredo lasted for four portions between me and my partner, which works out to $2 per serving.
In this economy, that's a steal!
Price: $8 for 610 grams
Price per 100 grams: $1.31
Again, all of the four items I picked up are totally good and edible, but in terms of repurchasing, I will 100% be picking up the Szechuan beef with noodles or the Penne alfredo with chicken, depending on my mood (or both, if I truly don't want to cook).
For $8 each, they're delicious and a time-saver if It's my turn to cook and I also want to make it to the gym for my class at 6:30 but don't want to serve my partner a garbage dinner.
They genuinely taste like restaurant or take-out quality meals, and my partner has already requested we buy the alfredo again for next week as it's the perfect comfort food now that the temperatures are starting to dip.
We were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of everything, and I'm excited to test out even more items to see what we can add to our meal rotation to make things more interesting and easy.
So, if like me you have some preconceived notions about what grocery store ready-made meals would taste like, it might be time to challenge yourself — the results could just be your new favourite comfort food!
These prices are confirmed at the time of publishing, but they can change at any time. Taxes and fees may not be included.