It is a busy time of year for Derbyshire-based Slimming World as people get serious about losing weight and getting fit after the excesses of the festive season.
Derbyshire Live regularly publishes stories about people who have lost weight at Slimming World groups but the Alfreton firm also has a deal with supermarket Iceland to produce a range of frozen ready meals for slimmers who struggle to find the time to cook from fresh.
Central to losing weight with Slimming World is cooking from fresh but the company’s frozen ready meals are a fall-back position and a quick alternative to the takeaways that can seriously slow people’s weight-loss journeys.
With this in mind, we spent a week trying out these meals, only available at Iceland.
Unlike other diets, you don’t have to calorie count on Slimming World, instead foods are divided into different categories including ‘free’ foods of which you can eat unlimited amounts, and daily measured portions of ‘Healthy Extra A’ (HEA) and ‘Healthy Extra B’ (HEB).
It has proved to be a popular plan for those who love their carbs, as among those ‘free’ foods are things like pasta, rice and noodles so you can eat unlimited amounts and still lose weight, although you need to make sure you’re not adding any extras like fats and sugars which are limited to a number of ‘syns’ each day.
But sometimes you just don’t want the faff of creating a syn-free lasagne or chicken curry from scratch.
Which is where Slimming World’s range of ready meals handily step in – for those who want the convenience of a micro-meal, without having to worry how many syns are in it.
The frozen meals are only available at Iceland, and all of them are ‘free’ foods on the Slimming World plan – so SW devotees know, in theory, when you’re eating them you’re sticking religiously to the regime, reports the MEN.
For the new year, Iceland and Slimming World have expanded the range with some new dishes and new recipes of old favourites – and sent me a massive box of them all to try.
I am currently following the Slimming World plan myself (with around a stone and a half left to lose to hit my personal target).
So I thought what better way to taste test the range – and check if they actually work in helping you to lose weight – than to eat them all over the course of a week and then head to weigh in at the end of it?
Here’s how I got on.
Chicken tikka and rice lunch bowl – £2.75
A great way to kick off the week of taste tests – with one of the lunch bowl meals – designed, as the title suggests, as a lighter daytime option.
This is a new one to the range and I enjoyed what was a satisfying mix of crunchy vegetables, rice and tasty tikka-coated chicken pieces which was also pretty filling.
Chicken carbonara – £3.50
I was not holding out much hope for this one as it smelt slightly unpleasant as it cooked away in the microwave.
Billed as a ‘comforting pasta dish with seared chicken, smoky pork strips, mushroom and spinach in a white sauce’ it did not look all that inspiring or comforting when I poured it into my dish.
There were around eight pieces of chicken and a few strips of pork, and my first thought was that it seemed to taste very salty and the consistency was a bit gloopy.
For me, I think I’d rather stick with making my own carbonara – as the Slimming World version (with ham and egg both ‘free’ foods) is a fairly simple and much cheaper recipe to make from scratch.
Cauliflower and chick pea dahl – £3.25
This can be eaten on its own or as a side dish. It probably would have been better as a side dish if I’m honest as I found it a bit unfulfilling as a lunch dish.
It had a pleasant curry hit though and I like the crunch of the cauliflower with the chick peas.
Chilli Con Carne – £3.50
A really hearty dish with large chunks of meat in a rich sauce and the rice was nicely herbed up.
If you weren’t doing Slimming World you’d think this was just a regular chilli ready meal, which is probably the best compliment I can give it.
Indeed, my friend’s strapping 16-year-old lad ‘accidentally’ microwaved himself one of these and gave it a big thumbs up as well, so it’s definitely good in the ‘generous portion’ stakes.
Cowboy hotpot – £3.50
It’s safe to say this was the dish I was most looking forward to.
I mean, it has cowboy in its title and sausages and potato in it so what’s not to love? Well, unfortunately the dish itself was what I could not learn to love.
It said on the packet it was best cooked in the oven and I followed the cooking times to the tee, but it came out very dry and stodgy. It just did nothing for me at all – the sausages were firm and dry and the potatoes also had a powdery consistency on top.
So disappointed with this one, definitely not a yee-ha moment from me.
Beef vindaloo – £3.75
However, tea time well and truly gave me one of the highlights of the week – in the new beef vindaloo dish.
This was a real treat. A really brilliant hit of spices in a rich tomato sauce with flavoursome lumps of beef.
Moroccan style chicken soup – £2.25
Again, a very off-putting smell from the microwave, but once cooked this one was pretty delicious.
A really interesting spice mix with a decent amount of heat, and lots of pulled chicken which made this one a warming and filling soup dish that I would definitely buy again.
Beef Lasagne – £3.50
This one has been a favourite of many SW-ers for a while now, but they’ve just introduced a new recipe. So it is as good as the old one?
Well, I was pretty excited about this one – because it’s even better. The new recipe has finally nailed the elusive creamy cheesy aspect of the lasagne that is not easy to do without using up all your HEA for the day.
Taking a nosy at the recipe card on the inside, it appears to be a mixture of butternut squash, potato and the magic Quark that has created the delightful crispy cheesy topping here.
A word of warning on this one though – while it can be cooked in the microwave, it does say for best results stick in the oven. And, while it does take a mammoth 50 minutes, it tastes sooo much better this way to get that cheesy crunch.
Naked beef burrito – £2.75
A good amount of spice kick in this one, and it’s quite a satisfying lunch pot.
If you have your HEA of cheese available I feel like it would be nicer with this mixed in – I added some peppers and salad on the side.
Hunter’s chicken – £6.50
This one has to be cooked in the oven and is a large portion for two, so my Other Half got roped in to eating this one with me.
It had a long cooking time of over an hour this one – and I’m not sure if that’s why the chicken was a bit dry and chewy. And one’s thing for sure, it looked absolutely nothing like the glossy image on the packaging when it came out of my oven.
But the overall flavour was ok – although the barbecue sauce was a tad on the watery side. My feeling is this one would be much easier and better to simply recreate yourself at home – it’s just a rasher of bacon plonked on some chicken really.
Colcannon Mash – £2
Running a bit out of options at this stage, I decide to try the colcannon mash which I team with steamed broccoli and salmon.
The mash is, like a lot of the meals, a tad on the salty side but teams well with salmon and I like that you can taste the cabbage in the mash mix.
This is a convenient one to have in the freezer for those moments you can’t be bothered making your own mash.
Smoky meatball tray bake with potato wedges – £7
The meatballs were on the dry side, but had a decent flavour punch, and were extremely pleasant when mushed together with all the smoky tomato and chick pea sauce. There was a decent size portion for two of us, although we did add lots of vegetables for speed.
This was a really tasty one – but I’m afraid it can’t get full marks this one for the sheer faff factor. It took 1hr and 5mins to cook in the oven which comes in very low on the convenience factor – as does the vast size of the packet that I needed to try and wodge in my not very sizeable freezer.
It’s also pretty expensive for this style of dish.
Slimming World chips – £2.50
It’s the last day, so I’m going all out with the curry and chips on the menu. And there’s literally nothing else left to eat. So I bung some of the frozen chips in the oven and serve them with some baked beans.
Now with these frozen chips, people either love them or hate them from my experience at Slimming World group.
I have personally perfected a good flavour by sprinkling some syn-free spice on them and then spraying them with low-calorie spray.
They do have a slightly strange consistency, but they are a convenient option to have ready made in the freezer when you can’t face peeling and chopping up potatoes and cooking from scratch.
Chicken tikka rogan josh – £3.50
Ending the week on a high with this classic curry. The Slimming World chicken tikka masala has been a bit of a staple since the Iceland range was first launched, but this new rogan josh version might even trump it for me.
Loved the spice on this one, and the added lumps of tomato and pepper. You could almost be eating a “real” takeaway curry.
Did I actually lose any weight?
Well, this is the big question isn’t it?
After a whole week of eating the ready meals, and sticking 100 per cent to the Slimming World plan throughout the rest of the day, I’d have been gutted if I didn’t lose any weight.
But guess what? I did. I lost a whopping 3lbs.
Which just goes to show sticking to ‘free foods’ and the rest of the rules of the Slimming World plan does do the trick.
What else did I eat?
While the ready meals bulked out my lunch and dinners for the week, I stuck to plan for breakfasts and snacks throughout the rest of the day.
Breakfast for me on most days was fruit and fat-free yoghurts, and my HEA options were mostly milk or coffee through the day and for HEB either granola for breakfast, or saved to use on a cereal bar snack.
The really key thing throughout (as your Slimming World consultant will regularly tell you) is to ‘add lots of speed free vegetables’ to every dish that you’re eating to super-power your weight loss and give you lots of nutrients.
The good thing about this range is if you’re doing Slimming World, they offer ready meals that you can rely on to keep you 100 per cent on plan.
They also all include the full recipe on the packaging, to encourage you to save the recipes and make these at home to continue to stick to plan.
The highlights for me were dishes like the lasagne and beef vindaloos – recipes that I find difficult to recreate at home and can be time-consuming and costly, so the ready meal versions are a great option to have in the freezer.
But dishes that are easier and cheaper to make at home, like a carbonara or chow mein, mean for me, those ready meals are not something I’d personally want to buy again.
They’re also not exactly the cheapest of ready meals on the market, with the main meals priced at £3.50 and the tray bakes (for two people) up to a hefty £7.00.
You can often get them on offer at Iceland, and the current deal has the lunch bowls at 2 for £5.
But if I had bought all of the above meals, it would have come in at an eye-watering £50.25 for the week and that’s without the price of fresh/frozen vegetables on top.
Naturally, it’s unlikely you’d be eating ALL ready meals over the course of one week as I did for this taste test, but some of these are a great option to have in the freezer to help keep you on track if you’re following Slimming World.