Frozen dinners can serve as a great backup dinner to keep in your freezer at home or a lunch to keep in your office fridge. But some frozen dinners are better than others. While microwave meals have certainly come a long way since the plastic TV dinner trays of decades’ past, there’s still a lot to be desired from some frozen options. Certain brands claim to be healthy because of their low calorie counts, for instance, but are actually loaded up with additives and sodium. Other brands might have food that tastes great but aren’t exactly doing your health any favors. When looking for a healthy frozen dinner, there are a few things you probably want to look for. Simple, real food ingredients are a draw for many consumers, as are low levels of sodium. Additionally, you probably want a meal that’s not overloaded with fat and calories while still satisfying your appetite.
We assessed the top nationally available brands of frozen dinners, omitting breakfast options and products that aren’t sold in single-serve portions. Here are the healthiest and unhealthiest options we could find.
This frozen entree was the unhealthiest frozen single-serve dinner we could find. It contains thick pieces of fried chicken smothered in a sweet, tangy mesquite sauce, homestyle mashed potatoes, green beans and a brownie. It’s 1,050 calories per serving and has 72 grams of fat, which is more fat than is recommended for an entire day of eating. The sugar content of this meal is 18 grams, most of which probably comes from the brownie. Additionally, the 2,060 milligrams of sodium in this package could put your blood pressure at risk.
Battered chicken strips and french fries smothered with processed cheese sauce — you can take one look at this entree and know it isn’t healthy. This monstrous meal from Hungry-Man contains 690 calories and 1,620 milligrams of sodium. Additionally, it has half your recommended daily limit of saturated fats and a lengthy ingredient list filled with partially hydrogenated oils (which are a warning sign of hidden trans fats), processed cheese, chemical preservatives and artificial colorings.
Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken & Bacon Pot Pie has a flaky, doughy crust stuffed with a creamy, bacon-filled interior. The nutrition facts on this pot pie split the meal into two servings, but you’re probably going to eat the whole thing. One pot pie contains 1,020 calories and 64 grams of fat. It also contains over 60 percent of your recommended daily limit for sodium and 140 percent of your daily intake of saturated fat. Eating too much processed meat from foods such as bacon could put your heart health at risk.
While 570 calories might not seem as outrageous as some of the other calorie counts from dinners on this list, all the processed meat and cheese in this meal put the sodium levels through the roof. Each of Marie Callender’s Meatballs & Sausage Marinara meals contains 1,320 milligrams of sodium. Additionally, the marinara sauce and sausage used both contain added sugars and sodium, as many pasta sauces and processed foods do.
Stouffer’s Bowl-Fulls Spicy Italian Sausage Pasta has a box that boasts it’s made from real cheese and contains large amounts of protein — both of which are true. But that doesn’t change the fact that this processed meat-filled meal isn’t exactly light. Each bowl contains 660 calories, 1,270 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of saturated fat (which is over half the recommended daily limit) and 9 grams of sugar.
Fettuccini Alfredo is loaded with cream, cheese and butter, and Stouffer’s frozen meal is no exception. The dinner totals 630 calories, many of which come from fatty ingredients such as heavy cream, cheese and oil. There’s a reason heavy cream is among the ingredients people don’t cook with anymore. There’s little protein and virtually no vegetables in this meal — it’s practically pure simple carbohydrates, sodium and fat.
The frozen food brand Banquet has a line of frozen meals called “Mega,” and they’re no joke. The Meat Lover’s Deep Dish is a part of this line, and it’s basically a massive meatball- and pepperoni-stuffed pot pie. Each one contains 960 calories, 50 grams of fat and 22 grams of saturated fat, sending you over the daily recommended limit for saturated fat in just one meal. The pot pie also contains 1,463 milligrams of sodium and processed meats filled with additives.
Another Mega Meal, the Banquet Boneless Fried Chicken, comes with thick pieces of fried chicken and a (not so small) side of macaroni and cheese. Virtually every part of this meal is heavily processed, including the blended chicken patty used to make the fried chicken. The meal is 610 calories and contains 1,450 milligrams of sodium, which is 63 percent of your recommended daily limit. You may be better off getting much better-tasting fried chicken from a local eatery.
Boston Market, a chain known for its hearty side dishes and thick cuts of meat, also sells frozen dinners. You might think that heavy, cream-based options such as macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes would be the most caloric of their offerings, but the Sweet & Sour Chicken has those beat. The meal consists of breaded chicken in a sweet and sour sauce, served with seasoned rice and vegetables. Those veggies don’t help make this dish much healthier; one serving has 640 calories and an alarming 1,490 milligrams of sodium.
Boston Market offers a microwavable pot pie, and it’s pretty heavy. Chunks of rotisserie chicken and vegetables such as peas and corn float around in a creamy sauce, all contained within a thick, flaky white crust. Each pie has around 940 calories, 68 grams of fat and 1,320 milligrams of sodium. After eating one of these, you’re gonna need a nap.
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Not everything from Trader Joe’s is super-nutritious — as you could probably guess from their chocolatey frozen desserts and aisles of treats. Their fried food frozen appetizers (while delicious) aren’t exactly a well-balanced meal, either. But the chain also has its fair share of healthy items. This frozen burrito bowl is a prime example, filled with brown rice, chicken, beans and heaps of vegetables. It relies on cheese, spices and lime juice for flavor. It has 22 grams of protein and 380 calories per serving.
Seafood is a lean source of protein that also contains other nutrients you might be missing, such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and zinc. Barramundi, the fish used in this bowl, is particularly rich with omega-3s, which can help sustain better heart health and stave off Alzheimer’s. In addition, the Baja Style Fish Taco Bowl contains whole grains from brown rice, fiber-rich black beans and lots of vegetables. It has 320 calories and 16 grams of protein.
Most Luvo frozen meals are pretty healthy, as the brand follows its own set of nutrition standards that focus on high-quality ingredients and nutritionally balanced meals. This one is one of the healthiest. The Chicken Chile Verde contains chicken, polenta, black beans and vegetables topped with a simple sauce and cheese. The bowl provides 7 grams of fiber, which is good for your digestion and for your heart, as well as 290 calories and 20 grams of protein.
Kashi’s ingredient list for the Chimichurri Quinoa Bowl doesn’t have any chemical additives and contains healthy, nutrient-rich foods such as whole grains, kale, peppers, sweet potato, spices and black beans. Each bowl contains 270 calories and 12 grams of fiber. Additionally, despite being meatless, this bowl still offers 9 grams of protein.
The first four ingredients of this bowl are vegetables, including bok choy and broccoli. Still, this bowl 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 loaded with added sugar and sodium. The bowl has a total of 280 calories.
Evol’s Chicken Enchilada Bake contains white meat chicken for a lean source of protein, black beans for added fiber, cheese and vegetables including corn and tomatoes. The entree has a relatively low level of sodium for a Mexican-inspired dish, with 500 milligrams (22 percent of your recommended daily value). There are 370 calories, 6 grams of fiber and 20 grams of protein.
If you’re going to eat pasta for dinner, this is one of the healthiest frozen options available. It’s made with whole-grain pasta and lots of added vegetables. There’s cheese, but not too much of it — and the sauce isn’t laden with sodium like some other kinds. A bowl contains 230 calories, 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
Stouffer’s may be known for their cheesy, comfort food-inspired frozen meals, but they have some healthier options as well. Their line of Fit Kitchen meals contains less sodium and saturated fat, and more protein and vegetables. The Cali Chicken bowl, for instance, contains 340 calories, 7 grams of fiber, 24 grams of protein and healthy fats from an avocado crema and olive oil. The meal contains grilled chicken, edamame, kale and tomatoes over a brown and red rice blend, flavored with the avocado crema and a jalapeño lime vinaigrette.
Amy’s Kitchen is a brand that prides itself on using nutritious and environmentally friendly ingredients. As a result, none of Amy’s Kitchen’s meals contain chemical additives or colorings. This option, Mattar Paneer, contains 260 calories per portion and is filled with rice, lentils, split peas, heart-healthy oils, vegetables and a low-sugar, low-sodium sauce. Each container has 6 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.
The SmartMade Chicken With Spinach Fettuccine contains pieces of white chicken meat, roasted tomatoes and spinach over a bed of spinach pasta with a bit of ricotta and a creamy sauce. The sauce in this meal is made from a bean puree, which keeps the saturated fat content lower than that of cream-based sauces and adds extra fiber to the dish. Each bowl contains 230 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 22 grams of protein. Pizza is another tasty Italian dinner option — when we taste-tested the top frozen pizza brands, here are the ones that came out on top.
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