Indeed, Kraft Sizzling Salads dinner kits aren't exactly your mother's "made from scratch" recipes.
They direct people to heat up some chicken with the marinade and toss a salad with the dressing. But in case aspiring home cooks need some extra guidance in their culinary adventures, Kraft provides cooking tutorials online.
In a video for the Chicken Caesar meal kit, a woman demonstrates how to squeeze the marinade over four chicken breasts in a frying pan. She then guides viewers through the steps of adding croutons and shredded cheese into a bowl of chopped lettuce. The finishing touch? Squirting in some Kraft dressing.
Progresso's sauces involve a little more work. For example, let's say you want beef stroganoff. All you need is two pounds of boneless beef sirloin, an onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and a can of Progresso's Recipe Starters in Creamy Portabella Mushroom flavor. The dish takes 35 minutes from start to finish, according to the recipe on the can.
Making beef stroganoff from scratch, by contrast, would be a deeply involved ordeal, in large part because of the sauce, says Brendan Walsh, dean of culinary education at the Culinary Institute of America.
"You're dealing with stocks and reductions. It's a good 12-hour process," he says.
Although Walsh wouldn't put Progresso's version of beef stroganoff "in the realm of chef-dom," he notes that companies have gotten better at making products with improved taste and nutritional content. And given busy schedules, Walsh says such "survival cooking" is often an easy way to put a hot meal on the table.
Some starters are even more basic.
Land O' Lakes has "Saute Starters," cubes of butter that contain olive oil and are packed with the right mix of spices to make a dish, coming in flavors such as Italian Herb and Lemon Pepper.
Cooking instructions? Toss a square in a pan, add some meat, shrimp or fish, then serve with rice or pasta.
Peggy Ellingson, Land O' Lakes' vice president of innovation and new business development, promises that the aroma from the butter will have everyone asking what mom is cooking for dinner.
In other words, it's all part of the show.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi