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I think the tomato and basil one was my favorite.

Pros: Simple, flavorful pasta and sauces; reasonable price; little to no cleanup; no preservatives; short ingredient list

Cons: Not organic; plastics — even polypropylene (notated as recycle symbol 5) — can leach chemicals into food.

Cost: $3.29 per package

I got an email from Barilla’s PR woman asking if I’d like to learn more about the company’s newest line, Microwaveable Meals. Curious, I told her to send whatever she had along to me. I was pleasantly surprised to get a box on my doorstep a few days later. Inside, I found five pasta meals — one of each of the available options:

  • Mezze Penne with Tomato and Basil Sauce
  • Mezze Penne with Traditional Marinara Sauce
  • Mezze Penne with Spicy Marinara Sauce
  • Whole Grain Fusilli with Vegetabel Marinara Sauce
  • Whole Grain Mezze Penne with Tomato and Basil Sauce

While they are not organic, they impressed me because they don’t have any preservatives or unpronounceable ingredients. Everything is real food, and they are all under 320 calories. It was lunchtime, so I opened up one of the whole wheat offerings (Mezze Penne with Tomato and Basil Sauce) right away.

Now, since I am in the no-plastic-in-the-microwave camp — who am I kidding, I am in the no-plastic-at-all camp — I did not review them in the manner that the company would have liked, I’m sure. I did not make use of the convenient “quick and simple preparation” method of heating it in its “revolutionary packaging that separates the pasta from the pourable sauce cup to maintain the taste.” No, I took the pasta and sauce and poured it into a glass bowl. I did follow the cooking time, but realized that I needed to add an extra 30 to 45 seconds to the one minute recommended cooking time.

Once it was warm I sat down, adding a little grated cheese to my meal. The pasta itself was al dente — not chewy. I liked the tangy sauce, and there was just enough to coat every penne without making it too sloppy. My biggest issue with the meal was its sodium content: It had 29 percent of my recommended daily allowance of sodium. That’s a LOT. I don’t do a lot of packaged, processed foods, so it really wasn’t a big issue for me, but for someone who does, well, this could be a problem.

My husband got home late that night and the first thing he saw was the packages sitting on the counter. He loves pasta, so he decided to give one (Mezze Penne with Spicy Marinara Sauce) a try. One of his typical dinners entails mixing chopped beef from Whole Foods with a frozen penne with spicy sauce from Trader Joe’s, so he decided to do the same thing with the Barilla offering. He cooked up the meat in a frying pan, microwaved the penne and sauce, and mixed them together on the plate. (He also poured the pasta and sauce into a separate bowl while cooking.) He agreed that the penne had a great texture and the sauce was comparable to the one he buys at Trader Joe’s. I loved that it was a good portion. He usually eats an entire bag of the TJ’s stuff, which is more like three servings.

Since getting the five samples I have eaten two more. I like a lot more vegetables in my pasta so I added about a cup of frozen broccoli to the bowl during cooking. It added more fiber and vitamins, and made it much more filling without adding additional calories. It already had a nice fiber content — the whole wheat offering has a whopping 11 grams of fiber, which equates to about 44 percent of your daily allowance — but I really love veggies.

So, what was my final verdict? I would not buy and serve this to my family for dinner, but I don’t really think that’s Barilla’s target audience anyway. After all, for $3.99 I can buy an entire box of organic pasta and a jar of organic pasta sauce and serve my entire family. That said, I think this is a very viable and smart alternative for someone who works or goes to school and is trying to eat a healthier lunch. You can’t get more basic than pasta and sauce, and having one that tastes good and travels easy is a real plus. I would, however, strongly caution against heating it up in the plastic container, though, since plastic and microwaves should not mix. Here’s a great story from Good Housekeeping that explains why. It doesn’t take much to throw this in a large mug or bowl before heating, and it’s probably a studier way to eat it anyway.

FYI: I did reach out to the folks at Barilla asking them about whether or not the packaging was BPA-free, and they said it is! I also asked what their stance was on GMO — was it or wasn’t it made with GMO ingredients. The good news: None of the ingredients are GMO! That’s really impressive!

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