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Friday, February 20, 2015

Garden Lites Vegetarian Soufflés, Bakes and Muffins Review

With the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival right around the corner, I thought I would share with you Garden Lites, a New York based food company, that distributes vegetarian, gluten free, souffles, bakes and muffins that can be found in the frozen food section of your local supermarket.

I discovered them at the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo in Secaucus, NJ, and they were nice enough to send me some delicious samples which I am quite late on reviewing. I will note though, while many of their products are free of some allergens, some still contain milk, eggs or soy, but are clearly labeled free or not with an allergen warning. I tested positive for a soy allergy recently, so unfortunately, some of Garden Lites delicious products have been scratched off of my list. It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all...

There are a few great things about Garden Lites'. For one, I am very happy about the minimal list of ingredients, as well as the fact that they are real food ingredients. No weird preservatives, or FDA approved chemicals. The list is of all normal food and baking ingredients. Because there are no fillers and excess sodium to cover up the taste of fakeness like a lot of frozen dinners out there, Garden Lites actually tastes like REAL food. Of course, it does not compare to homemade, but as far as microwaveable meals go, Garden Lites are pretty great. 

The products being gluten free is definitely a plus. With more people becoming intolerant or allergic it seems, it is wonderful to have more options out there. If you have no known gluten issues, and are worried it might taste funny, no worries, there is not one difference I could taste. I also cannot say that I don't discourage reducing some gluten intake to soothe your digestive system a bit.

Chocolate Muffin with Zucchini and Carrot
One of the coolest things about Garden Lites products? The first one or two ingredients are always vegetables! The first two ingredients in the chocolate muffins? Yep, it's zucchini and carrot. Did them chocolate muffins taste like zucchini and carrots? Nope. It tasted like chocolate goodness. See the full ingredient chocolate muffin ingredient list HERE.

There is no heating needed for the Garden Lite muffins. They are moist and ready to eat after thawing at room temperature. That makes them great to pack into the kids lunch pack for school, or take with you on the go or work. If you want them immediately, they can go into the microwave for 10 seconds and endure THE TERRIBLE AGONY OF WAITING!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin with Zucchini
 I will not lie, I actually liked eating some of them partially frozen, especially on a hot day, though. Yes, I did discover that after being too impatient to let them thaw completely.

 The banana chocolate chip muffins were also good and also have zucchini as the first ingredient. See the full ingredient list HERE. I am really sensitive to sweetness these days, since I go out of my way to be minimal with it. Usually any outside food I eat is overpoweringly sweet. I didn't feel that the Garden Lites were too sweet at all. There really are so many products out there that are supposedly healthy, but still too sweet or salty. Garden Lites seem to have a just right taste. Although, I could always prefer less sweet and salty, but that's me!

The berry muffins were good too. The only muffin I tried that I was not crazy about, were the corn muffins.

Garden Lites Berry Muffins


It's not all just sweet treats over at Garden Lites, though. I also was able to try their Cheddar Broccoli Bake, which was pretty neat. I don't own a microwave, and using a conventional or toaster oven for small frozen items seem to take forever. I have my own method of heating things up in a frying pan.


Frozen Cheddar Broccoli Bake





I popped the bake out of the plastic tray, put it in my frying pan, and then covered it with a metal pot lid. It makes a little steam oven, and it's cooked a lot faster (about 10 minutes). I also like the way food comes out this way much better than a microwave. It doesn't make a soggy mess, or controversially alter anything in the food. The bottom toasted up slightly, and it was awesome.

Since I try to be thrifty and reuse things when I can, I ended up using the tray for a drainage dish for my plants. It also was a soap and sponge dish for a while.


I hooked it up




Just eating this bake wouldn't be enough for the meal I needed at the moment, so I complimented it with a salad. Ideally, I would have also made a side of beans with this. This bake can be matched with a few different sides.


There's no crap in it!

You can see from the picture below that it looks like real food. The issue I have with a lot of frozen things, are that they will use breadcrumbs or something similar as a filler. Not here! See full ingredients list HERE.

Blueberry Oat Muffin with Zucchini and Carrot
Garden Lites are good for people and parents who want to put a snack into their or their children's bodies that they know are not full of fat, are low in calories, a good source of fiber, and also gluten free. With so many junk food options full of who-knows-what, it's nice to know that there is an option out there that is clearly made with real ingredients.

If one follows the Weight Watchers diet, Garden Lites has the foods point value printed right there on the box. Garden Lites are low fat with a decent amount of fiber which makes this a fairly guilt free snack or side.

Garden Lites are also good for those who are making the transition into vegetarianism and feel like there aren't enough products for them on the market in those lazy times of need. Hey, sometimes I don't feel like preparing something vegetarian, and it would be nice to have some leg work done for me. A vegetable bake or souffle really helps get half of the work done.

While the Garden Lites were really tasty, there are some things that currently discourage me from becoming a regular customer. One thing that I feel strongly about are genetically modified ingredients. With the use of eggs, dairy, sugar, soy and corn in many of the products, the amount of GMOs being ingested are quite high. I am also not a big fan of canola. If Garden Lites were to source their ingredients differently and get Non-GMO verified, I would feel more comfortable about eating them on occasion, as they are quite good, as well as health conscious, vegetarian and gluten free. Maybe in the future with the support of their customers, they can go organic, which would be awesome!

Carrot Berry Muffin with Fresh Carrot
Another personal reason I would not be a regular customer is because of packaging. Not Garden Lites packaging specifically, but I am becoming more environmentally conscious and are purchasing less one use items in general. Recycling is part of the solution, but reducing consumption is another part.

One thing I could possibly suggest though, is for them to get rid of the plastic tray from the souffles and bakes if possible. Instead of shipping one to a package, removing the tray and just individually wrapping them could also fit a few in a slightly bigger box, which would save resources. They can be unwrapped and microwaved on an actual plate or tray. Just my suggestion!

Speaking of suggestions, if you don't see Garden Lites in your frozen food section, and would like to request it, check out this official product request form that can be printed out and given to your store manager.  Not sure what to request? Check out Garden Lites full product list.

Tasty Stuff.


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