Hi Reddit!

I work for Nestle Prepared Foods in Solon, Ohio. I'm a member of the team that designs products for brands like Stouffer's, Lean Cuisine, and Buitoni. I'm happy to answer any questions that you have. Just keep in mind that I can't divulge anything confidential.

Here's Verification

The requester had some questions:

Q: Does it ever look like what's on the packaging?

We use the actual product when we do photo shoots, but the photographers take some "artistic liberties." They might position the ingredients in a particular way or put the product on a plate or something like that. Part of our job as the food technologists is to make sure that the photographers don't go too far to the point that the photo is misleading.

Q: What is in TV Dinners that we're happy not knowing about?

Not much really. This is a bit of a misconception. Actually our frozen meals don't need to be formulated with preservatives because freezing is the only preservative we need. The weirdest thing you're going to find on the label is probably xanthan gum, which is just a carbohydrate that serves as a thickener. In our factories, we make the meal from scratch, assemble the components in a tray, freeze it, put it in a box, and ship it to you. Pretty simple.

Q: What kind of testing goes on?

We do all sorts of tests. We're given lots of contstraints that we have to meet, and our job as food technologists is to formulate a product that meets all of the requirements. We have to design something that can feasibly be made in our factory, at a particular cost limit, within a set of nutritional requirements, without posing any safety concerns, while still delivering on product quality. So we begin by trying out different formulations in our test kitchen that meet those requirements. We test and test until we get a product that we're happy with, and then we scale it up. We do tests on a larger scale to make sure that the product we envisioned can actually be made in the factory. We test just about anything you can imagine as long as the company feels the cost of the test is justified.

Edit1: Thanks for the questions, guys. I need to go to bed now, but I can answer more questions in the morning. Cheers!

Edit 2: Wow, lots of questions! I'll do my best before I have to leave for work.

Edit 3: I did my best...forgot to drink the tea that I brewed...but I have to go to work. I'll answer some more questions as I get time. Bye for now!

Edit 4: To be safe, I have to make it clear that anything I posted in this AMA is solely reflective of my personal views and not necessarily those of Nestle.

Comments: 2298 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

sp104777 karma

Why does my brownie always get corn in it?

RyRyFoodSciGuy468 karma

I don't know of any products we make that have brownies in them. What brand was it?

sp1041798 karma

New question:

Why no brownies?

RyRyFoodSciGuy526 karma

I don't know for sure, but that sounds pretty retro to me. Like back when TV dinners were really TV dinners.

LaitdeChevre693 karma

I just wanted to post to let you know that this the best AMA I have seen. You are answering every single question posted and not just picking and choosing like others. Nice work.

Ps. Love the Stouffers Stuffed Peppers. http://i.imgur.com/ePGeZ.jpg

RyRyFoodSciGuy623 karma

Haha I know someone who's done a lot of work on those; I'm sure he'll love the feedback!

baggachipz822 karma

True story about the stuffed peppers: I was in college, living in an apartment. I splurged and got the frozen stuffed peppers meal at the local Kroger because I was feeling fancy. Now, a meal that fancy can't be prepared in the microwave. So, being the college foodie that I was, I opted to heat it in the toaster-oven instead for a more authentic flavor.

I was shocked at the 50-minute cook time, but ignored my extreme hunger pangs as I dutifully watched it slowly cook and brown through the glass window. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, my meal signaled its doneness by the rich "ding" of the toaster oven.

With the giddiness of a little boy on Christmas morning, I flung the oven door open, revealing my glorious repast. I gripped the edges of the cardboard tray, and proceeded to the dinner table to devour the fruits of my labor.

Unfortunately, my thermodynamics classes had failed to warn me that the tray was exceedingly hot, a sensation I chose not to realize until my trip to the dining room was 50% complete. Mere inches from the table, the tray slipped from my fingers, rendering my long-awaited dish of glory as nothing more than a heap of sauce and hair on the carpet.

My roommates guffawed at my misfortune, igniting a hungry and unsatisfied beast within me. I proceeded to smash our finest patio chaise lounge (permanently a fixture in front of the tv) into a heap of twisted aluminum and plastic tubing. I went to bed hungry and humiliated that night. I still can't bring myself to purchase a frozen stuffed pepper meal.

RyRyFoodSciGuy1033 karma

You learn more from your failures than from your successes. Try again, grasshopper.

[deleted]189 karma


RyRyFoodSciGuy184 karma

Haha I will!

speedypuma50 karma

Also, the LC mac and cheese and pizzas are delicious :3 I have been eating low cal for about 4 mos now and these make day to day life so much easier and less likely to give up and eat every cookie and greasy food in sight :3

In all seriousness though, I have been really wanting buffalo chicken wings/chicken strips for a while now, but this is impossible to find in well portioned meals (They only come in huge bags along with high calories). I will create a new religion after you if you can find a way to get me some!

RyRyFoodSciGuy17 karma

The closest thing I know of is our Digiorno Pizza and Wyngs. It's not really a single serving though.

LCai381 karma

You are ordered to eat a frozen meal without heating it up. What do you eat?

RyRyFoodSciGuy418 karma

Definitely not one of the ones with shrimp because those are raw in the package.

Maybe I'd pick this one: It would be pretty hard to fold though

rabidstoat378 karma

  1. Why so much broccoli? I cheer when there's a different type of vegetable.

  2. Why so much sodium?

RyRyFoodSciGuy669 karma

Don't diss broccoli! I did my MS research on broccoli. It's extremely good for you!

Every food company is working on reducing the amount of sodium in their products. Unfortunately, it just makes everything taste better. You'd probably be surprised at the sodium levels in Lean Cuisine, they're way lower than normal frozen meals.

Kroonerr372 karma

Does Nestle know you're doing the IAmA here? Also is this sponsored?

RyRyFoodSciGuy730 karma

They don't know, and it's not sponsored. But they encourage us to talk about our products as long as we don't discuss anything confidential.

Kroonerr240 karma

Thanks for the response. It seems like you're very satisfied with your job. I wish there'd be more people like you around! :)

Do you usually explore various ethnic cuisines or are you ordered to stick to mainstream cuisine since it sells well?

RyRyFoodSciGuy352 karma

We're getting a bit more exotic with our products. We have a couple Indian varieties of Lean Cuisine now, for example. The new "Chef's Pick" varieties are meant to be more interesting and "culinary chic" than typical frozen meals. It's fun for us when we get to be more creative as well.

Big_Li145 karma

I ate some kind of frozen dinner and it was a curry, it was really good and my curry standards are hard to impress. Keep up the good work.

RyRyFoodSciGuy155 karma

Was it Lean Cuisine?

Big_Li88 karma

Yeah I think so but I'm not sure.

RyRyFoodSciGuy136 karma

We have at least two Indian varieties, and I agree the sauces have great flavor.

[deleted]136 karma


RyRyFoodSciGuy263 karma

Yes, any trade secrets, formulas, information on how we manufacture things. You get the idea.

TheMelonKid355 karma

You sir, have designed my dinners for the past couple of months. AMAZING

RyRyFoodSciGuy324 karma

Haha, don't let me take the credit. Which ones have you been eating?

TheMelonKid290 karma

I play lacrosse so I either have to watch what I eat or go with whatever. Honestly the stouffer's lasagna with meat and sauce has been a lot of them when I don't have to watch what I eat. When I do, it's really weird but I LOVE lean cuisine chicken carbonara.

RyRyFoodSciGuy390 karma

Yeah everyone loves our lasagna. It's awesome.

I'll let the team know you like the carbonara!

TheMelonKid375 karma

I wish some company ,whether it be Nestlé or anyone else, make a category of frozen foods for athletes who need something good and fast but not too much before practice or games but hey I don't know. Whatever you guys are doing, pleeeeaaaase keep doing it!!!

RyRyFoodSciGuy345 karma

Thanks, I'll relay your suggestions.

Bran_Solo30 karma

How do you prevent carbonara sauce (supposed to be thickened with partially cooked egg yolk) from getting grainy when microwaved?

RyRyFoodSciGuy153 karma


[deleted]316 karma

One of my recent purchases of the Butternut Squash Ravioli had way too many snap peas in it. Who should I blame for this?

Also, how do you figure out the cook times for the various meals? Trial and error or is there a formula based upon the ingredients?

A lot of people knock TV dinners, but I've found them to be very helpful when it comes to portion management for weight loss. I've used this quite successfully and with all of the varieties you don't get bored. So keep up the good work. I also like the use of yellow carrots; orange is just so boring.

RyRyFoodSciGuy369 karma

There's always going to be some variability when you're making products in a factory. If you call the number on the box and let them know there were too many snap peas in your meal, we will use that feedback to continually improve our products, and they'll probably give you some coupons as a thank you for your feedback.

I'm glad you like the yellow carrots! It's very intentional. We get bored with orange too.

buysomeapples305 karma

I always liked the Kid Cuisine penguin.

RyRyFoodSciGuy219 karma

I don't think we make that!

aceduude155 karma

Jeeze man, what do you make then!

baconperogies523 karma

Not brownies, that's for sure.

Womp, womp.

RyRyFoodSciGuy487 karma

choco_pb5108276 karma

You just made my night! Reddit meetup when I start there in August? haha I think I'll be working on Lean Cuisine.

RyRyFoodSciGuy264 karma

No Way! I can't wait to meet you.

Jeffreyjams274 karma

Are lean cuisine type dinners really any healthier, or is it just a smaller portion?

RyRyFoodSciGuy538 karma

They are. We have strict requirements for things like calories, sodium, and saturated fat. There's actually a government regulation for the term "lean" and we have our own internal guidelines as well.

popsicleptik269 karma

Thanks for doing this, it's made me a lot more secure with my love for frozen food. What products have you contributed to specifically that we might be familiar with?

RyRyFoodSciGuy355 karma

Thanks, most of my work is still on its way to the shelf though, so I need to keep it under wraps for now.

because_im_boring259 karma

i burn the roof of my mouth alot, is there anything being studied currently to fix my problem?

RyRyFoodSciGuy574 karma

Haha try blowing on your food until it's at a manageable temperature!

flagamuffin216 karma





RyRyFoodSciGuy59 karma


milesdamascus208 karma

Hi there, I'm entering my sophomore year and I'm pretty sure that my decision to major in Food Science last year was a good idea. My question is, what sort of classes best prepared you for this job? Were the upperclassmen classes more specific to finding your career? Or did the entire program in general help you out in being a part of Nestle? edit:grammar

RyRyFoodSciGuy371 karma

I took a fruit and vegetable processing course that I didn't really like at the time, but it taught me a lot. Food chemistry and flavor chemistry were pretty useful too. Honestly though I think you can learn a lot more on your own if you are curious and passionate. It's more important for scientists to know how to learn new things than it is for them to know existing things. You need to be resourceful and curious to keep growing as a scientist.

MikeDaBomb20202 karma

Any reason for the lack of vegetarian options? Are you working on increasing vegetarian options? The ones I have found are delicious!

RyRyFoodSciGuy269 karma

We have a whole line of "Veggie Cuisine" with Gardein chick'n. We also have 20 or so other vegetarian options. Our offerings vary by grocery store; keep looking!

there_castle179 karma

How did you get into this field? What kind of background does your company look for when hiring employees for your type of job?

RyRyFoodSciGuy372 karma

I've always been obsessed with food and a huge geek for science and math. When I was a kid, I told my family I wanted to be a "mathematical chef" when I grew up. It took me until I was already a physics major in college before I realized I could get a degree in food science, so I decided to change gears and devote everything to becoming a food scientist. In graduate school I was on the team that won the food science college bowl national championship, that's how obsessed with food science I am. That obsession eventually led me here. Generally the people who do my job have at least a B.S. in food science or something really similar like chemistry, biochemistry, or maybe nutrition. A master's degree helps if you don't have a BS in food science.

there_castle100 karma

Very cool. Without reading your reply here I can definitely see your passion for your field! It is very inspiring as someone who is in her first year of graduate school.

What kind of meals do you cook for yourself? Are you as creative when you are home as you are at work?

RyRyFoodSciGuy299 karma

I like to make all kinds of things. Mostly Italian or Tex-Mex dishes because they're easy. One of my favorite dishes involves cooking shrimp in garlic, oregano, and olive oil, then adding canned tomatoes, white wine, and cream with a little lemon juice and serving it over angel hair. It takes about 15 minutes and feeds me for 4 days!

sparkleshark9926 karma

Where did you study food science? My sister just finished her freshman year of food science. Any advice?

RyRyFoodSciGuy95 karma

I studied at Ohio State.

The best advice I can give is follow your passions. When I got to college I realized that you need to pursue something that you love, rather than just something that you're good at. Having a passion for a subject will make you want to learn more, and that's what helps you get ahead instead of just learning what's required of you.

KingKidd163 karma

Do you eat TV dinners, or do you avoid them thanks to being in the business?

Favorite Dish?

RyRyFoodSciGuy260 karma

The Stouffer's Sautes for Two are awesome. The Cajun Shrimp Alfredo is my favorite.

For Lean Cuisine, I like the Fiesta Grilled Chicken, and the new Ranchero Braised Beef is really tasty too.

waldoRDRS154 karma

So, do you let it stand for a minute? Or like everyone else, heat 3 minutes, then just start into it?

RyRyFoodSciGuy254 karma

I make sure that I don't burn myself

[deleted]146 karma


RyRyFoodSciGuy255 karma

SmartOnes is made by Weight Watchers, and they get a lot of sales just from being associated with them even though people prefer our products in taste panels.

OneQuarter128 karma


RyRyFoodSciGuy113 karma

There's a Stouffer's one with beef. I just linked to it in another response, by coincidence:

It's pretty delicious

Thanks for the success story!

[deleted]115 karma


RyRyFoodSciGuy131 karma

Seriously, people don't realize we make our pasta fresh, which is why it's so good.

pagit110 karma

Had to do some work at a Nestlie Water Bottling plant. I was impressed with how they are so organized, right down to how many pens in what desk drawer in case someone needs to work from that desk everything is the same. (German efficiency).

Is it the same where you work?

Also, do you actively look to improve the quality of taste of the meals or are they kept bland tasting for the lowest common denominator of taste?

What is the ratio of commercial heat and serve meals ( restaurants and institutions) does Nestlie make compared to residential (?) (store bought) heat and serve?

RyRyFoodSciGuy169 karma

Our factories are very organized, but fortunately I have my own work space where I can use my Das Keyboard and look at my favorite pictures.

We do everything we can to make our products taste as delicious as possible while staying within our nutritional, cost, and feasibility constraints. That being said, we might do something like refrain from making a super spicy dish because it might turn off a large portion of consumers.

We do have a portion of our business dedicated to food service, but I don't know how large that portion of the business is.

asnof329 karma

Have you ever thought about putting a little bit of hot sauce in a seperate package so the choice is on the consumer? I would appreciate this quite a bit.

Keep up the good work.

RyRyFoodSciGuy220 karma

Thanks for the suggestion!

Siouxsie201156 karma

Which switches does your Das Keyboard have?

RyRyFoodSciGuy129 karma

Actually I have a standard one at home with the blue switches and a silent at work with the brown switches.

The blue switches are fun to type on, but I think I prefer the browns. I love typing on my keyboard at work; I actually wish I had more paperwork to do so I could type on it more.

hhhnnnnnggggggg91 karma

What brand names does Nestle put their food out under?

savayno83 karma

Just one thing - please, please, please design more meatless meals for us lazy vegetarians. We exist.

RyRyFoodSciGuy52 karma

I'm hearing a lot of comments like these; I'll let the team know!

zoestercoaster80 karma

Do y'all buy buy and eat competitor's frozen meals to get a feel for what's out there?

Kashi frozen meals are why god invented freezers. And Lean Cuisine stuffed cabbage.

brb going to wal mart

RyRyFoodSciGuy126 karma

Part of our jobs is to stay aware of what's going on in the marketplace. We want to be setting the trends.

blue_oxen72 karma

Worst thing you have ever heard of showing up in a Frozen dinner. (ie bandages hair stuff like that.)

RyRyFoodSciGuy525 karma

Baby corn. Gross!

[deleted]64 karma

Do you eat these yourself, after you've witnessed the whole process?

RyRyFoodSciGuy127 karma

Yep I have my personal favorites. I really like the Buitoni products and the Stouffer's Sautes for Two. They're our more "premium" items and are meant to serve as more than one meal.

mcaustic62 karma

meant to serve as more than one meal

You heat up a frozen dinner, eat some, then repeat?

I have to tell you this is blowing my mind.

RyRyFoodSciGuy76 karma

Well it's a little more involved. You thaw the sauce and throw everything in a pan, stir it for about 13 minutes. Then you eat half of it and put the rest in the refrigerator for the next day.

At least that's what I do when I'm eating alone.

chronicpenguins62 karma

So are you saying that there are no preservatives in your food?

RyRyFoodSciGuy215 karma

Check our labels and you'll see that most of our products say "no preservatives." Freezing is literally the only preservative we need; in fact, frozen fruits and vegetables often have greater nutrient content and flavor than fresh because they can be harvested when they're at their peak and flash frozen immediately afterward, whereas fresh fruits and vegetables are usually picked before they're fully mature so that they don't rot by the time you buy them.

formation36 karma

Are they frozen just the same as frozen vegetables(snap frozen)? If so how do you do this on an industrial scale?

RyRyFoodSciGuy123 karma

Like xenokilla said before I could, we freeze it as fast as possible to limit ice crystal aggregation. The faster you freeze something, the less cellular damage is done to the food because slower freezing results in larger ice crystals that form in between cells. Those crystals draw water from within cells, dehydrating them. That water gets lost during thawing.

Frajer58 karma

What would you say are the tastiest ones? Any items we should look for or avoid?

RyRyFoodSciGuy98 karma

Check out the Lean Cuisine Ranchero Braised Beef. It's one of the new Culinary Round Table items, inspired by some top level chefs that we bring into our kitchens to assist our in-house chefs in creating new concepts.

CassandraVindicated9 karma

This reminds me a lot about articles I've read about how airlines used to make their in-flight dinners, just with a different set of constraints as it relates to end product.

RyRyFoodSciGuy19 karma

Apparently the noise on an airplane actually makes the food taste worse, so I feel especially bad for those technologists.

MitchOssimPants53 karma

Would you say these dinners are as healthy as a regular meal? How much preservatives are put into each package?

RyRyFoodSciGuy100 karma

We don't need to add preservatives because freezing is itself a very powerful preservative.

With regards to healthiness, it really depends what you're comparing it to. Lean Cuisine is designed to be a healthier option with less fat, saturated fat, and sodium, while Stouffer's is designed to be hearty and wholesome while still being nutritious.

briannasaurusrex9214 karma

I think what MitchOssimPants was asking was more like, if I ate Stouffer's for every single meal, and had recommended levels of things like exercise and additional snacking, would I get fat? Would I have health problems?

It's a hypothetical, although I used to cashier at a grocery store and we had several people (usually twenty-somethings who looked like maybe they had never had to use a kitchen appliance themselves their whole life) who would come through with just microwave dinners, every week.

RyRyFoodSciGuy35 karma

I'm no dietician, but the best nutritional advice I can give is eat a varied diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and make sure you have a good energy balance (calories in vs. calories spent).

Ilverin50 karma

Many people are aware of "sugar substitutes" in their food (some choose to watch to avoid them), but less people may perhaps be aware of "fat substitutes", such as olestra.

Are fat substitutes as prevalent as sugar substitutes in food in general, and are fat substitutes or sugar substitutes more likely to come in "under the radar" to your average consumer? (consumer doesn't know they're eating any substitute).

RyRyFoodSciGuy80 karma

No, I don't think fat substitutes are nearly as common as sugar substitutes. Every diet soda has sugar substitutes in it, and even some other products do as well. Fat substitutes are still pretty rare, although I noticed that about a year or two ago, the Lay's potato chips made with Olestra came back under a different brand name.

PapaQBear43 karma

Interesting AMA. I don't have a question, but please tell the person responsible for Stouffer's Mac and Cheese that it is amazing.

RyRyFoodSciGuy25 karma

A lot of people are responsible for that!

hhhnnnnnggggggg40 karma

What's your favorite food? (Non-TV dinner)

RyRyFoodSciGuy142 karma

I really like sushi. Fresh salmon and white tuna (escolar), and of course toro (fatty tuna).

But I struggle with that question because I love all kinds of food. I grew up in Texas, and I really love good Mexican food too. Then there's Indian, and French, and Creole... Too many to choose a favorite!

Nociceptors31 karma

Were you guys happy about Jim Gaffigan's stand up about hot pockets?

RyRyFoodSciGuy38 karma

Personally I find it hilarious. I think it's required listening for people that work on that brand.

Acebulf28 karma

Can you compare the healthiness of TV dinners vs. "normal" food?

RyRyFoodSciGuy67 karma

It really depends. "Normal food" composes everything from broccoli to foie gras; you can't treat it like it's all the same.

But I can say that we are committed to continually improving the healthfulness of our products, and we have to meet strict nutritional requirements when we formulate our products, especially for Lean Cuisine.

Lucas254423 karma

I'm living in a hotel for a few months because of work. I recently bought too much frozen stuff. Will a couple of my frozen dinners/tv dinners be ok in the refrigerator section of my mini-fridge for a couple days? One is sweet n' sour chicken and the other is fettucini, if that factors in at all. Cool ama!

RyRyFoodSciGuy24 karma

They will probably be ok, just make sure that the food gets up to 160 degrees F when you reheat it. I've never really tried that.

poopsnakes13 karma

These meals always are a balanced meal, but my diet calls for other things. You should make some that are like High Protein and really low carb or something along those lines.

RyRyFoodSciGuy13 karma

We have a few like that. Look for the ones that don't have rice or pasta.