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Rice Sensations really aren’t

Crystal Light On The Go is definitely a clever idea

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Universal Press Syndicate

Lundberg Rice Sensations. Ginger Miso, Moroccan Pilaf, Thai Coconut Ginger and Zesty Southwestern. $2.79 per 6.2- to 7.3-ounce box.

Bonnie: I like to think my own rice dishes are pretty sensational. Lundberg's new Rice Sensations are merely pretty good. They're certified organic, easy to prepare and internationally inspired. Nutritionally, they're better than most other rice mixes, as they're minus the flavor enhancers that boost other boxed rice mixes' sodium into the stratosphere. All four of these are low in sodium, containing less than 175 milligrams per serving. (Zatarain's, Lipton and Uncle Ben's mixes, by comparison, contain upward of 700 to 1,200 milligrams of sodium.)

The taste of these is also not bad, but they cry out — no, scream — for something fresh. Vegetables. Herbs. Citrus juice. For instance, chopped fresh cilantro, freshly squeezed lime juice and diced red pepper immeasurably improved the Zesty Southwestern.

That's why I suggest using these Rice Sensations as a base and adding lots of your favorite fresh veggies. This would be one good way to help increase your consumption of vegetables, as recommended by the government's new dietary guidelines.

Carolyn: These rice mixes are organic, are not as salty as Lipton and Uncle Ben's, and are gourmet both in their seasonings and rice types. The Thai Coconut Ginger uses jasmine; the Moroccan Pilaf, basmati; and the Ginger Miso, sushi rice — all of which adds to the dishes' gourmet flavors and textures.

The ginger rice dishes may actually be a bit too gourmet. I like both ginger and Thai food but hated Lundberg's Thai Coconut Ginger rice. It smelled and tasted like soap! The Ginger Miso was similar but not as strong-tasting or strong-smelling, and so less offensive. And I liked the hearty amount of vegetables it contained.

The Zesty Southwestern and Moroccan Pilaf are milder and therefore more accessible. My favorite is the Moroccan — although it tastes more like Indian.

Many mainstream companies make Southwestern-flavored rice dishes. The main reason to buy Lundberg's is that it's not as salty. Add veggies and little pieces of meat to either the Moroccan or the Southwestern and you'll have a quick and tasty ethnic meal.

Crystal Light On The Go. Lemonade, Raspberry Ice, Iced Tea and Peach Tea. $3.29 per .6- to 1.4-ounce box containing 10 single-serve packets. Also available in 14-packet boxes for $4.59.

Bonnie: I guess I'm in the minority in not liking Crystal Light, because it's America's No. 3 best-selling sugar-free beverage (after Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi). But I must commend the makers of this artificially sweetened, colored and flavored soft drink mix on the ingenuity of this new Crystal Light product.

To create a drink, just sprinkle one of these On The Go packets into a bottle or a large glass of water. It's a creative idea that I suspect will soon be copied by other powdered drink makers.

I'd grade these "D" for ingredients, but "A" for originality.

Carolyn: Powdered drink mixes like Kool-Aid and Crystal Light are cheap compared to soda and convenient in the sense that they can sit on the shelf practically forever until you're ready to make them.

The problem is you have to make them.

Kraft has cut down on that inconvenience by selling Crystal Light mix premeasured for 2-quart pitchers. Some might see Crystal Light On The Go as merely the logical extension of that idea, now designed for a single serving. On The Go is actually more clever and useful than that.

The On The Go packets contain the exact amount of Crystal Light needed to transform the standard 16.9-ounce bottled water everyone is toting around (but no one REALLY wants to drink) into something with some flavor, but only 5 calories.

Crystal Light suggests keeping On The Go packets in your gym bag, work desk drawer and purse. Soon the same people who steal leftover restaurant rolls will be pouring Crystal Light On The Go packets into free restaurant ice water.

Nestle Toll House Ultimates Cookies. Chocolate Almond Fudge, and Turtle. $3.49 per 18-ounce refrigerated package yielding 12 cookies.

Bonnie: Is there anything more irresistible than a warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie? So decadent. So rich. So delicious. So fattening. That last point explains why I, yes I, like Nestle Ultimates. With these break-into-single-portions-and-bake cookies, you can make only enough for each person to have one portion-controlled indulgence.

Of these two new flavors, I prefer the Chocolate Almond Fudge, with its chocolate chips, chocolate chunks and almonds, over the too-sweet caramel Turtle.

Carolyn: These Nestle Ultimates could have easily been marketed as the start of a new "Nut Lovers" line. Nuts are the dominant taste and ingredient in both. Almonds have a much bigger presence than either chocolate or fudge in the Chocolate Almond Fudge (to the disappointment of this chocolate lover). Pecans dominate the Turtle, which is why I'm a fan. (I don't traditionally much like the turtle-nut-chocolate-caramel combination.)

As with other break-and-bake cookies, Ultimates' single greatest asset is being able to bake just a few at a time right before eating them. That's why I continue to be mystified that Nestle doesn't put them in a resealable package with directions on how long the dough can last in the fridge once opened.

Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items. © Universal Press Syndicate