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February 20, 2013

Want a home-cooked meal? It's in the can

There’s nothing more satisfying than a home-cooked meal, especially if it comes out of a can or a pouch.

As more people try their hand at mimicking sophisticated recipes from cooking shows and blogs, food companies are rolling out meal kits and starters that make amateur chefs feel like Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray in the kitchen.

Call it the next generation of dinner-in-box sets like Rice-A-Roni and Hamburger Helper that were rolled out as moms flooded the workforce in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. But the new kits and starters go beyond just browning meat and throwing evaporated cheese and seasonings into boiling water — the idea is to make people feel like they’re making their meals from scratch.

General Mills Inc. has a line of “Progresso Recipe Starters,” which are pre-made sauces in flavors such as “Fire-Roasted Tomato” and “Creamy Portabella Mushroom” that can be a base for a variety of dishes. Kraft Food Group Inc.’s “Sizzling Salads” dinner kits pair a meat marinade with salad dressing: you provide all the other ingredients. And Campbell Soup Co. has “Skillet Sauces” that can be mixed with fresh meat and veggies. Total prep time: 15 minutes.

Scott Jones, a public relations specialist in Fort Worth, Texas, uses Kraft’s Velveeta Skillets, a deluxe version of mac-n-cheese in a box with flavors such as Chicken Alfredo and Lasagna.

Jones likes that the box suggests ways to customize the recipe by doing things like using different types of meats. He says the creamy cheese packets are a step up from powder mixes. And he likes adding personal touches (Think: diced tomatoes and peppers.)

It’s not the same as the pot roasts feasts that he cooks on Sundays but on weekdays it allows him to give his family a “satisfying meal, quickly and conveniently.”

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