Budget Brand Christmas: Turkey TV dinners

Back in my twenties I often indulged in a ready meal as a) I couldn’t cook and b) I was often too lazy to try once I’d got home from work or a night out. But DJ, who prefers his own cooking and is fussy about the quality of his grub, has long since weaned me off them.

However, I’ve been trying out a few microwaveable roast turkey or chicken TV dinners on offer in the supermarkets this week to see if they might provide a frugal possibility for Christmas dinner. They might not impress the likes of Gordon Ramsay, but they are cheap.

First up was the Birds Eye roast turkey dinner, costing £2.24 from Asda (315 calories). It’s part of the ‘Great British Menu’ Birds Eye range, supposedly inspired by ‘the nation’s favourite recipes’. The packaging was certainly attractive. “Why not serve with cranberry sauce?” read the ‘chef’s tip’ on the back of the packet. Unfortunately I only had marmalade in my cupboard which I didn’t think would add much to the meal. I felt some trepidation after cooking it for six minutes in the microwave but was pleasantly surprised. OK, so the turkey roll made from lean turkey breast was nothing at all like the real thing, but it wasn’t bad. The small sausage and ball of stuffing were also quite tasty and the roast potatoes were ok. The peas were alright, but the carrots were a bit hard and the gravy left a bit of an aftertaste in my mouth. But not bad at all.

Next I sampled Lidl’s Newgate roast turkey platter, costing just £1.69 (401 calories). When I saw it included Brussel sprouts, which I’m not a big fan of, I was a bit dubious and the smell of it cooking was strongly reminiscent of horrible school dinners of my youth. On the packaging it suggested leaving the meal to stand for a minute to allow the food to ‘regain its rigid state’, which left me with the impression that I was about to eat plastic food. However, it didn’t actually taste that bad. In fact the turkey breast was tastier than the Birds Eye version and the carrots and sprouts not bad, although the sausage and stuffing weren’t as nice. But when I checked the ingredients list, I wondered if in fact it was the flavour enhancers and monosodium glutamate which made the difference. In comparison Bird Eye’s offering included natural flavourings and no MSG. Lidl’s platter also had twice as much sodium (0.4g per 100g – Birds Eye’s was 0.23g of sodium per 100g). So this was a little off-putting.

Lastly I tried the Asda Smart Price chicken dinner. I know it’s a chicken rather than turkey meal, but I couldn’t resist giving it a go as it was only 99p (304 calories). I didn’t have great hopes for it I must admit, given it was so cheap, and I wasn’t disappointed. It included chicken ‘pieces’ rather than chicken breast, and the ingredients listing ‘chicken breast meat’ suggested it may be reconstituted. And it was presented in gravy with sautéd potato slices, peas, carrots and a stuffing ball. When I peeled back the plastic film, the stuffing looked grey and soggy floating in the gravy, and the vegetables a bit sorry for themselves. The gravy wasn’t bad but the chicken tasted dry and salty. The stuffing ball was also very salty and mushy, despite the packaging stating that sodium levels were 0.23g per 100g, so on par with the Birds Eye one. The carrots and peas were the best bit really.

Final scores:

Birds Eye roast turkey dinner £2.24 – 6/10

Verdict: If you must go for a Christmas ready meal, this is the best quality and healthiest of the bunch.

Lidl roast turkey platter £1.69 – 5/10

Verdict: Not bad, the turkey breast was tastier than the Bird’s Eye, but it contains more salt plus MSG.

Asda Smart Price chicken dinner 99p – 3/10

Verdict: You can’t beat the terrific price but this was the poorest quality of the three.

Would you eat a roast turkey ready meal for Christmas dinner?

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6 Responses to Budget Brand Christmas: Turkey TV dinners

  1. Christine says:

    I couldn\’t cook when I left home either but with a family it was never cheap to use ready meals. Now that there is only me, I can\’t stand ready meals so always cook from fresh. I don\’t like cooking but I can do it and I do like to eat well. Even if it\’s only a jacket spud with beans or a stir fry, it will be fresh food over the holidays. You just learn to cook differently for one. There will be some older folks who will no doubt use a ready meal if they are on their own – but you don\’t make the ready meals in the packet sound either nutritious or tasty. It\’s not something I\’d wish on anyone who feels like celebrating Christmas.

  2. piper says:

    Good for you, Christine. I think I\’d rather have a jacket potato for Christmas dinner than one of these, or even a pizza.

  3. Kerri says:

    I hope I am never in a situation where I am on my own with one of these dinners on Xmas day (unless I am feeling particually bah humbug one year). But the sad reality is, that there are elderly people, or just people on their own whose only option is one of these pre-packed dinners for xmas day. IMO, this highlights a wider social issue – community. It seems fewer and fewer people know their neighbours leading to greater isolation of those most vunerable. Perhaps these pre-packed, cadboard consumables should serve as a reminder that their are people out there who just need a little of our time to enhance their quality of life no end. How many of these people will be eating one of these dinners alone whilst the house next door is busy perparing enough food for a small army. In all honesty, most people cook more than needed for Xmas dinner, think what a difference it could make to someone on their own to be invited to join in – is it really much more effort to set just one more seat at the table? Isn\’t that what the true spirit of Christmas is really about?

  4. Tim says:

    I absolutely LOVE the ASDA smart price chicken dinner – I\’ve just finished one a few minutes ago. I earn a very good income and regularly spend £200+ on a good restaurant, but just can\’t resist the 99p ADASA smart price chicken dinner. The chicken pieces are real (not re-manufactured), and the veg (baby carrots and peas) are fantastic, even microwaved. I must have gone through at least 50 of these this year as a special treat. Last week I tried the M&S chicken dinner for £1.99 (twice the price) and I would say it was at most 20% better than the ASDA equivilent at half the price. I think the M&S stuffing was the only ingredient that was clearly superior to ASDA. I suspect that ASDA are doing a favour to the OAP brigade, so let\’s keep this our little secret.

  5. piper says:

    I\’m amazed, Tim, as I wasn\’t a fan but we all have different tastebuds. Why not indulge if you enjoy it. I still can\’t wean myself off prawn crackers even though they look and taste like they\’re made from plastic. Disappointing that the M&S offering wasn\’t better.

  6. Bill says:

    For 35 years I worked through almost every Xmas, & for the 9 years since I have been waiting to return to work, I normally stay in bed for the bank holiday, which all helps to save heat, light & water. It also saves on food. For 15 years I have only a micro-wave, a kettle, & a Primus for back-up. I could eat anything from a large poached salmon steak with veg & baked spud over the holiday, to a half can of beans, half a can of spaghetti, & a can of fish, or maybe just a cheese sarnau. I also love a bowl of poridge, with sultanas, cheese, or joghurt, for breakfast or desert. I also cook rice with my fresh fish. I normaly cook fresh veg, & wet fish.I only buy tv dinners at half price on the sell by date, when in a hurry, or feeling lazy. I have not eaten any poultry for at least 40 years, or celebrated Xmas since 1965. I doubt if anyone who has been inside a poutry factory will ever eat poultry again.Some of us prefer spending Xmas alone, a possible week, or even two, without the the misery of having to face the stupidity of the homo sapien. Even the civil service leave me in peace over Xmas. I do most shopping etc by night, in order to avoid the homo sapien as far as possible, they are normally non-compus-mentus by 03:00hrs. in a quiet corner somewhere.I do miss me dogs though. We used to go rabbiting at 04:00hrs over Xmas, great fun.

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