The first frozen dinner was produced in 1945 and before long they were all the rage as Americans dined on them in front of their TV sets. Though some things have changed, they’re still a popular option for people looking for a quick and easy meal, even if they’re not always the healthiest choice.
Since not all frozen meals are created equal, it’s important to choose wisely and always check the label for ingredients and nutrition information before throwing one in the cart at your favorite grocery store.
Excluding breakfast foods, we looked at popular brands of frozen dinners that are either single-serving or, due to small portion size, most likely to be eaten in one sitting. Using a combination of calorie, fat and sodium content, we came up with a list of frozen dinners you might want to avoid, along with some healthier alternatives.
Despite packaging that makes it look like a nutritious dinner mom could have made from her vintage recipes, Hungry-Man’s mesquite chicken dinner has1,050 calories and 72 grams of fat. Containing more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, it comes just shy of meeting the daily maximum of 2,300 milligrams suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At such a high amount, the sodium alone could put your blood pressure through the roof.
Based on the name alone, you can probably guess this meal doesn’t make the list of heart-healthy foods. A combination of bacon and mac and cheese stuffed into a crust, Banquet’s Mega frozen meal comes in at 500 calories — for only1 cup. Given its size, most people will eat the whole thing in one sitting, which makes it 1,000 calories, 56 grams of fat and 1,660 milligrams of sodium.
If you’re looking for a little heat, try one of the world’s spiciest hot sauces and consider skipping Hungry-Man’s spicy chicken dinner. Even though it comes with dessert, at 900 calories it counts for a large portion of the recommended daily calories for the average person. Total fat for the spicy chicken dinner is 61 grams and sodium is 1,590 milligrams.
Offering a variety of Italian dishes, Devour makes the list with its White Cheddar Mac & Cheese With Bacon. Since almost everyone loves pasta, let alone with bacon, it can be hard to resist. But knowing that a single serving has 710 calories, 41 grams of fat and 1,200 milligrams of sodium might inspire you to find healthier foods to eat for dinner.
Deep-dish is arguably one of the best pizzas in America, so it might be worth just eating the real thing rather than Banquet’s Meat Lovers Deep Dish Mega Bowl, which is loaded with 960 calories. Even though it’s stuffed with pepperoni and meatballs like a pie from your favorite pizza chain, it’s also filled with 1,460 milligrams of sodium and 50 grams of fat, which is almost the daily recommended amount.
The ingredient label is the first place to look when choosing a frozen meal and on Hungry-Man’s chicken with fries meal, there are more unrecognizable ingredients than familiar ones. Considering the chicken is battered and the french fries are smothered in a “cheddar cheese product,” it shouldn’t be a surprise that it comes in at 770 calories, 36 grams of fat and 1,810 milligrams of sodium.
Nashville, Tennessee, is a cool place to visit on a weekend getaway or spring break vacation, but you might want to pass on the Nashville “Mega Meats” supper. Even though fried chicken is a favorite Southern recipe, this frozen dinner contains a whopping 2,510 milligrams of sodium, making it a one-way trip to salt town. It also has 780 calories and 39 grams of fat.
While chicken pot pie isn’t on the list of iconic pies from every state, it’s still one of the best comfort foods to make ahead and freeze. And you just might want to make your own instead of picking up Boston Market’s version. The packaging suggests a serving size of 1 cup — as if anyone has ever eaten half a chicken pot pie. Should you eat it all, it amounts to 940 calories, 68 grams of fat and 1,320 milligrams of sodium.
Everyone can agree that buffalo chicken wings are one of the best foods to bring to a party. But when it comes to Banquet’s Buffalo-Style Chicken Mac ‘N Cheese, the party’s over. Stuffed with chicken, cheddar and macaroni, this “Mega” meal is a diet-buster at 970 calories, 54 grams of fat and 1,820 milligrams of sodium.
Promising to deliver “big time” satisfaction, Banquet’s Salisbury Steak is a throwback to childhood dinners you probably forgot existed. At 640 calories, it’s the lowest of the entrees on the list, but it’s loaded with salt. With a sodium count of 2,220 milligrams per meal, it might just be the “big time” that Banquet is referring to.
Hope P. / Yelp
There are so many products at Trader Joe’s that customers love and this chicken burrito bowl is likely one of them, especially for health-conscious shoppers. Made with chicken, brown rice, black beans and other Southwest-style flavors, it’s high in protein and under 400 calories. When you can’t eat out at your favorite Mexican restaurant, it’s a good alternative.
Kashi’s Chimichurri Quinoa Bowl mixes lentils and red quinoa with potatoes, peppers, black beans and other veggies. With a South-American flair, it might just make you feel like you’re on an international vacation. It contains 240 calories, 10 grams of protein and 330 milligrams of sodium.
The first four ingredients of this bowl are vegetables, including bok choy and broccoli. Still, it provides 18 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat, most of which is unsaturated fat (the kind that comes with health benefits). The teriyaki sauce, unlike sauce from your typical Chinese takeout, isn’t completely loaded with added sugar and sodium. The bowl has a total of 280 calories.
Enchiladas are just one of many great Mexican food recipes, and you can enjoy them guilt free in Evol’s chicken enchilada frozen meal. Low in calories but high in protein, it can satisfy your craving for something a little spicier without being outrageously high in sodium. At 500 milligrams, it’s less than a quarter of the daily recommended maximum.
If you’re craving a dish from your favorite Italian restaurant, then this Grilled Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo meal from Healthy Choice might do the trick. Though the sodium count is a little high at 600 milligrams, it’s got 28 grams of protein to help hold you over to the next meal. It’s also low in saturated fat and in sugar.
Known for its calorie-heavy pasta dishes, Stouffer’s launched a line of frozen entrees back in 2015, hoping to offer healthier options in the frozen food aisle. The Cali Chicken Protein Bowl is one of them. At 24 grams, it’s high in protein while still being reasonably low in calories and saturated fat. A good source of fiber, it’s also low in sugar.
Filled with ingredients like peppers, tofu, zucchini and black beans, which are on the list of foods women should try to eat at least once a week, Amy’s Light & Lean enchilada also comes with brown rice mixed with carrots and sweet corn. The frozen meal has only 270 calories, 6 grams of fat and 440 milligrams of sodium and is gluten free.
If you’re dreaming of dinner at your favorite Chinese restaurant, this Asian-inspired noodle bowl by Amy’s might hold you over. With broccoli, tofu, green beans and carrots in a creamy sauce, it’s a filling option for either lunch or dinner. And despite being somewhat higher in sodium (640 milligrams), it’s still around half the content of similar frozen noodle bowls. It’s also low in calories, which means you can splurge a little the next time you eat out at one of the best restaurants in America.
More from The Daily Meal: