Lean Cuisine struck frozen-entree gold last year with the introduction of their line of panini sandwiches. The products generated a large buzz in weight loss forums and stores found it hard to keep them in stock. Not to be outdone, rival brand Healthy Choice unveiled its own line of panini sandwiches this year, which begs the question– which panini wins the sandwich fight? I decided to do a comparison of both the taste and nutritional value of the competing brands. In one corner, we have the champ, Lean Cuisine Southwest Style Chicken Panini. In the other corner, the challenger, Healthy Choice Smoked Chicken Panini. Nutritionally, there are some differences in the products. Lean Cuisine’s Panini weighs in with 280 calories versus Healthy Choice’s 310 calories. Healthy Choice wins the fat grams battle with 4.5 grams to Lean Cuisine’s 7 grams. So both are low calorie and low in fat, but both are high in sodium. The Healthy Choice Panini has 580 mg of sodium- 24 per cent of the daily recommended amount, and the Lean Cuisine Panini has a whopping 730 mg- a full 30 per cent of your daily sodium intake. Lean Cuisine has an impressive 20 grams of protein, but Healthy Choice tops it with 25 grams of protein. With less fat and sodium and more protein, Healthy Choice is the better choice nutritionally.
When the paninis are taken out of the boxes, there are two readily discernible differences. The Lean Cuisine Panini is mounded high with chicken, cheese and vegetables, while the meat and cheese portions on the Health Choice Panini looked skimpy by comparison. The second difference is the grilling tray. Each panini comes with a silver reflective tray to brown and crisp the bread. Lean Cuisine’s tray has strips cut out so that the bread will have “grill” marks when the sandwich is cooked in the microwave. Healthy Choice has a solid tray, so presumably there won’t be any grill marks.
The sandwiches are cooked open face in the microwave for around three minutes. Both smelled wonderful as they were cooked. I assembled the Lean Cuisine Panini and noticed that the grill marks were very light, but the bread was crispy and not at all soggy. A longer cooking time might produce more noticible grill marks, but it could also make the edges of the bread tough. I assembled the Healthy Choice Panini and was surprised to see dramatic grill marks. These are apparently pre-grilled before being frozen, or the marks are painted on with food coloring. The bread, like the Lean Cuisine, was crispy and brown. The similarities ended at the toasted bread, however.
The Lean Cuisine Panini was slightly spicy with lots of cheese. The panini was a little messy, with cheese dripping onto the plate. Make sure you have napkins! The chicken was tender and plump. Overall, the panini was excellent. The Health Choice Panini didn’t fare as well. There was very little cheese and the chicken had an artificial starchy taste. The sandwich was very bland except for the barbecue sauce, which was not smoky or spicy, only very sweet. The panini was also very thin and overall unsatisfying.
The Lean Cuisine Southwest Style Chicken Panini was the clear taste winner over Healthy Choice Smoked Chicken Panini. Both retail for around $2.85, although you can find a maker here: panini press walmart.