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Dr. Praeger's Kids All Natural Spinach Littles

Dr. Praeger's Kids All Natural Spinach Littles

I Paid: $4.69 for a 12-ounce box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2 stars

Marketing: 2 stars

"Sensible Food Never Tasted This Good!" shouts the box containing the fun-shaped* potato-and-spinach dinner nuggets known as "Littles." Another promotional line reads: "Where You Recognize All the Ingredients."

Right from the get-go, this sort of lecture on a box gets my hackles up. The grim-faced cardiac surgeon featured on the back of the package (Dr. Praeger, the company's namesake) has taken it upon himself to teach us fatties how to eat better. His approach, arguably condescending even to kids, is to stuff spinach into the basic outline of a triceratops and have us broil it within an inch of its life. (The cooking instructions are a little overzealous: Eight minutes of high broil on each side imparted a bit more carbon flavor than the good doctor probably intended.)

But I wanted to like Dr. Praeger's Kids All Natural Spinach Littles in order to prove a point to myself, which is that we do need to eat better, we need to do it in the context of day-to-day eating, and we need to do it in a way that balances nutrition and flavor.

Unfortunately, these Littles fall just short of the mark on flavor. While the potato-y crunch of each dense nugget is pleasant, that pleasantness is more than undone by the aggressive metallic bite of the spinach and the carbon of the burnt onions. "Well," you might say, "that's just how spinach tastes." "Fair enough," I'd retort, "but maybe it's not meant to be cooked like this, and instead should exist solely within the context of properly dressed dinner salads."

It's hard not to admire Dr. Praeger's mission, which is a reasonable and timely one. But more vigorous work needs to be done on the taste front in order to make this particular healthy concoction a dish parents and kids will want to return to. One cheat that worked for me: dipping the Littles in organic ketchup, which covered their sins while doing a minimum of nutritional damage. If the box had recommended this, I would've given these things three stars, spinach and all.

*"Fun" comes in three basic shapes: star, gingerbread man, and dinosaur. Proposed update: electric guitar, cell phone, and Justin Bieber.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.