Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label says about its contents.

There's a lot of interest in my email inbox at the moment around lamb strips. They are a newcomer to the market and can be found frozen and ready to use. Most readers like them but are confused about how much real meat is in them and how many additives and fillers they contain.

These lamb strips are included in a packet with frozen veggies for a stir- fry which, once you add rice or noodles, will serve four. I like stir-fry but when you are a busy mum trying to get dinner on the table, spending the time chopping and dicing fresh vegetables can put you off.

Some people believe that frozen vegetables aren't as good for you as fresh but studies have shown that nutritionally they are just as good, if not better, than fresh veggies which have been sitting around on a supermarket shelf for a week.

Over-cooked veggies lose much of their nutrition, so stir-frying is a great way to solve that. I was encouraged by this product as a good way to get some veggies (and fibre) into my family but had reservations about how it would taste. We were all pleasantly surprised.


Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity first):

Stir-fry vegetables (67 per cent)


Fresh beans are vitamin and mineral rich but these levels do reduce once cooked. But they are still high in protein and fibre, and have some B vitamins and are rich in folate.

Butter beans
These are similar to green beans but are yellow, and add some colour into the mix.

They are bright orange and contain loads of carotenes which are powerful anti-oxidants believed to have strong cancer-fighting properties. They can also act as anti-inflammatories.

Most kids will eat broccoli if you call them little trees. This vegetable is rich in vitamin A and vitamin C and is also a good source of vitamin K and selenium. Overcooking destroys many of the beneficial properties so stir- frying is a good way to retain them.

High in vitamin C and folate.

Red capsicum
If your family is anything like mine at least some of the people eating this will carefully pick out the red bits of capsicum. If you can encourage them to eat some they will be getting some carotene and vitamin C.

Lamp strips (33 per cent) (Lamb 81 per cent)
So what we are seeing here is a processed meat, not dissimilar to a good-quality sausage. When I analysed Heller's Free Farmed Country Pork Sausages they contained 84 per cent pork (the legal requirement for a sausage is 50 per cent). So these strips are mainly lamb with some other fillers and things added.

Stabiliser (1442 from tapioca)
This is hydroxyl-propyldistarch phosphate which is a treated starch, in this case from tapioca, and acts in these lamb strips to hold all the ingredients together in a firm strip.

Vegetable protein extract (from maize)
This is also known as hydrolysed vegetable protein, or HVP, which is in a lot of processed food to fill it out. It is simply proteins - in this case from corn - which are broken apart into amino acids. They also act as flavour enhancers.

Sodium levels in this food are not too high at 325mg per serving.

Gelling agent (401)
This is sodium alginate which is the salt of alginic acid extracted from seaweed. It will be in the strips as a gel to bind the ingredients.

Acidity regulator (170)
This is calcium carbonate which is listed as a white colour in my food code list. It is a natural substance obtained from rocks and shells and in here to keep acidity levels regulated.

Antioxidant (300)
This is ascorbic acid which is otherwise known as Vitamin C and will be in here as a preservative.

Made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients.
This tells us that some of these ingredients are imported. I'm guessing the lamb is local but many of the vegetables will be imported. It is very hard to ascertain where the frozen vegetables we buy in the supermarket are from. Some producers say and some, like this one, don't.

My recommendations
At $8.99 this makes a very well priced meal for four and a much better choice for a quick meal than takeaways, because nutritionally it is fantastic. It also takes about 15 minutes to cook. It is more of a sausage stir-fry than one which uses 100 per cent meat, but the additives and fillers have no known health effects and don't contain MSG or sulphites, unlike many sausages.

Serve with steamed rice and a good teriyaki sauce with not too many additives, and you can be proud of yourself for getting your family to eat more veggies (67 per cent of this meal) than meat on their plates. If you're not happy serving sausage-like lamb strips then get a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables, slice up some lamb steaks and cook them first.

Reserve the cooked meat while you cook the veggies and then add altogether with some teriyaki sauce.