Familiar with this scenario? You head to the frozen food section of your local grocery store with your hopeful weight loss in mind. You plan to grab some frozen kale for a dinner side and frozen berries for your post-workout shake. You emerge 10 minutes later with frozen low-cal pizzas and low-fat ice cream.
Those tantalizing options are marketed as nutritious and convenient, so we can't say we blame you. But many of them are healthy-eating enemies in disguise. Before your next trip down the aisle, see what nutritionists consider the worst "healthy" frozen food group, as well as specific "Not That!" products in the most popular categories. And if you feel a little frustrated by this list, fear not! These 15 New Healthy Frozen Foods for Clean Eating can be the frozen saviors you're looking for!
Frozen Smoothie Packs
You might think you're being waistline-friendly by picking up pre-made smoothie packs, but you could be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. "Many prepared smoothie packs utilize yogurt made with added sugars and colorings," says nutritionist Kayleen St. John, RD, at New York City's Natural Gourmet Institute. "Sometimes the fruit itself is even sweetened with added sugar."
Eat This! Tip
St. John suggests buying unsweetened frozen fruit chunks and blending them into smoothies with plain yogurt, green tea or almond milk. For added convenience, freeze unsweetened coconut milk in ice cube trays the night before, so you can just toss them into your blender for an icy, refreshing drink. For some easy, delicious ideas, check out The 25 Best Weight Loss Smoothies!
Low-Calorie Frozen Prepared Entrees
Just because they're touted as portion controlled and low calorie, doesn't mean you should stock up on these. "Many frozen prepared entrees pack a surprising amount of sugar," says St. John. "Be especially cautious of the meals with sweet sauces—think teriyaki or sweet-and-sour."
Eat This! Tip
Instead of opting for pre-made, purchase frozen meal ingredients separately. "Buy frozen plain quinoa, frozen edamame, and frozen broccoli, and add you own sauces and flavorings so you know all the ingredients," suggests St. John. Try one of these 30 Quinoa Recipes for Weight Loss!
Frozen Macaroni and Cheese
"Macaroni and cheese can potentially be healthy, but the frozen varieties tend to be laden with calories and fat, plus loads of preservatives to help keep it fresh," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition partner of The American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
Eat This! Tip
"If you're craving macaroni and cheese, make a fresh batch using real cheese, and you can even mix in some fresh cauliflower or butternut squash," suggests Amidor. This will give your meal an added nutrient boost from the veggies, and the fiber will leave you feeling fuller. Brands like Annie's now offer organic vegan shells and creamy sauce, free of artificial flavors and preservatives. Love mac 'n cheese? Then you won't want to miss our exclusive report on the 25 Best & Worst Boxed Mac and Cheese!
Thinking you'll nestle a lean frozen burger patty in a lettuce wrap and top it with spinach and a scoop of guacamole? Sounds healthy in theory, but in practice, "One hamburger patty can enable you to ingest more than half of the daily recommended maximum for saturated fat and cholesterol," says Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. "As well as chronic-disease-enhancing steroids and carcinogens created upon cooking."
Eat This! Tip
"There are myriad options in the freezer section for all sorts of nutritious veggie burgers, some made with beans, grains, nuts, soy foods, and/or vegetables," says Hever. Just make sure that your veggie burger alternatives aren't loaded with sodium, fillers, and unfamiliar ingredients. Still want to stick with meat? Buy grass fed.
You know they're not kale smoothies, just how bad could they be? Pretty bad. Though often presented as "all natural" and "gluten free," don't be fooled. "Many varieties of this breaded and fried food not only contain fat but specifically trans fat," says Amidor. "They tend to be high in calories, filled with preservatives and artificial fillers."
Eat This! Tip
"You can make your own baked nuggets using a touch of honey and whole wheat panko breadcrumbs, which keeps those nuggets nice and crunchy," offers Amidor. Or at least familiarize yourself with our exclusive ranking of The 46 Best and Worst Chicken Nuggets in America!
Frozen French Fries
Hoping these are better than fast food? Probably not. "Potatoes are a healthy vegetable, but the way they're processed they end up being high in calories, salt, and fat," says Amidor. And sweet potato fries don't get a free pass: "Many people think since they will cook at home without a fryer, they won't be "fried." However, these products are already pre-fried, drenched in oil, then frozen to preserve them," says nutritionist Lisa Hayim, MS, RD.
Eat This! Tip
You can reap the benefits of potatoes by roasting slices in the oven with a touch of olive oil and salt and pepper. "You can also make your own baked sweet potato fries, which taste darn delicious," says Amidor.
Frozen Fish Filets
Throw these back. "Buying fish frozen is a great way to always have a good source of protein in the house. They last long, and can be flavored the way you want them," says Hayim. But avoid anything breaded, or with labels like "beer battered", or "crispy," which pack on extra calories, fat, and sodium.
Eat This! Tip
"Opt for either the fresh fish section or grilled filets," suggests Hayim. Frozen shrimp without any additives is also a good bet. And speaking of fish, we dove into the nitty gritty nutritional details of every popular fish out there to analyze everything from mercury to omega-3s; bookmark our exclusive report The 44 Most Popular Fish Choices—Ranked by Nutrition!.
Frozen Chicken Pot Pie
With labels boasting of "white meat" and "veggies from the garden," coupled with pre-portioned sizes, it's easy to be tricked into thinking frozen chicken pot pies are a healthy freezer-aisle find. "These frozen fat bombs are loaded with almost half their calories from fat and half a day's worth of sodium," says Hever. "Not to mention the steroids, hormones, and cholesterol naturally found in chicken."
Eat This! Tip
"Instead, try a non-dairy, vegetable-filled pie from companies like Amy's. They also have a Shepherd's Pie and Tamale Pie," says Hever.
AND NOW FOR AMERICA'S WORST FROZEN FOODS…
Broken down into categories, these are the popular products that you very well may have in your freezer right this moment. Ditch 'em and don't look back!
Bob Evans' Sausage, Egg & Cheese Burrito
(1 burrito, 68 g) 350 calories, 21 g fat (6 g saturated), 810 mg sodium, 0 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 13 g protein
This has twice the fat as a Jimmy Dean Delights Turkey Sausage Breakfast Bowl; reach for that instead.
Evol Egg & Potato Burrito
(1 burrito, 170 g) 330 calories, 13 g fat (5 g saturated), 340 mg sodium, 43 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 11 g protein
Evol makes some decent burritos, but this isn't one of them. It features more potatoes than eggs.
Lean Pockets Sausage, Egg & Cheese
(1 piece, 127 g) 270 calories, 9 g fat (4 g saturated), 380 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 11 g protein
More than 150 of these calories are carbohydrates, which is not how you want to start your day.
Pillsbury Apple Toaster Strudel
(1 pastry, 54 g) 180 calories, 7 g fat (3 g saturated), 180 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrates, < 1 g fiber, 2 g protein
This has half the protein and fiber of a version by Amy's.
Kellogg's Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles
(2 waffles, 70 g) 170 calories, 6 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 400 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 5 g protein
There are better fiber-rich waffles to be had.
Kellogg's Special K Flatbread Breakfast Sandwich Sausage Egg & Cheese
(1 sandwich, 116 g) 240 calories, 11 g fat (4 g saturated), 820 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 14 g protein
The ingredients list is a novel.
Kellogg's Eggo Blueberry Waffles
(2 waffles, 70 g), 180 calories, 6 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 370 mg sodium, 29 g carbohydrates, < 1 g fiber, 4 g protein
Blueberries are the 11th ingredient on the list.
FROZEN SIDES, SNACKS, AND APPETIZERS
Ore-Ida Tater Tots
(86 g) 160 calories, 8 g (1.5 g saturated), 420 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrates
You're not in middle school anymore. Eat Ore-Ida Steak Fries instead.
Market Pantry Mac & Cheese Bites
(4 pieces, 90 g) 240 calories, 12 g fat (5 g saturated), 660 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrates
If cheese is what you crave, there are far less fatty and starchy ways to get your fix.
Ore-Ida Sweet Potato Straight Fries
(22 fries, 84 g) 160 calories, 8 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 160 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein
A raw sweet potato has more fiber and vitamin A than a raw russet potato, but once the food industry starts plowing fat into the produce, all bets are off.
Hebrew National Beef Franks in a Blanket
(5 pieces, 81 g) 300 calories, 24 g fat (8 g saturated, 3 g trans), 680 mg sodium, 12 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein
You shouldn't consume this much trans fat in an entire day, let alone from a snack.
T.G.I. Friday's Chicken Quesadilla Rolls
(2 pieces, 83 g) 230 calories, 10g fat (3 g saturated, 1 g trans), 470 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein
Frozen flour tortillas are little trans-fat delivery systems.
Tyson Chicken Breast Tenders
(4 pieces, 80 g) 190 calories, 12 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 420 mg sodium, 12 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein
There's a big difference between "organic," a regulated term, and "natural," which means nothing. In this case, that difference is worth an extra dose of fat and sodium.
Ore-Ida Onion Ringers
(3 pieces, 81 g) 180 calories, 10 g fat (2 g saturated), 160 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein
Each ring harbors more than 3 grams of fat. Fries are almost always the better choice.
Celeste Pizza for One Vegetable
(1 pizza, 85 g) 320 calories, 13 g fat (3.5 g saturated), 850 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 10 g protein
Nitrites and soybean oil, but not much good stuff.
Michelina's Lean Gourmet Pepperoni Pizza Snackers
(11 pieces, 85 g) 200 calories, 8 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 290 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 7 g protein
Nitrites and soybean oil, but not much good stuff.
Amy's Whole Wheat Crust Cheese & Pesto
(1⁄3 pie, 132 g) 360 calories, 18 g fat (4 g saturated), 680 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 13 g protein
The crust is the least nutritious part of any pie, and unfortunately, Amy's is just a little bit too thick.
Stouffer's French Bread Sausage & Pepperoni
(2 pieces, 177 g) 460 calories, 24 g fat (8 g saturated), 880 mg sodium, 43 g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 17 g protein
One contains the saturated fat of 16 Burger King Chicken Tenders.
Amy's Roasted Vegetable No Cheese
(1⁄3 pie, 113 g) 280 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 540 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 7 g protein
For the lactose intolerant, there are options closer to the real thing.
DiGiorno Traditional Crust Four Cheese
(1⁄2 pie, 130 g) 350 calories, 15 g fat (6 g saturated), 590 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 13 g protein
Swamped with sodium and sugars.
Red Baron Thin & Crispy Pepperoni Pizza
(1⁄3 pie, 149 g) 400 calories, 19 g fat (9 g saturated), 1,020 mg sodium, 41 g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 15 g protein
Even the Baron's thin-crust pies pack too much of the bad stuff.
FROZEN PASTA ENTREES
Bertolli Classic Shrimp Scampi & Linguine
(½ package, 340 g) 480 calories, 20 g fat (9 g saturated), 980 mg sodium, 56 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 18 g protein
Romano takes a heavy-handed approach with cream, as demonstrated by the exorbitant glut of saturated fat in in this dish.
Marie Callender's Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
(1 meal, 425 g) 530 calories, 15 g fat (4.5 saturated), 1,000 mg sodium, 76 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 22 g protein
This is as good as the pasta you'd find at a Marie Callender's restaurant. Unfortunately, it's also as caloric.
Stouffer's Cheese Ravioli with Meat Sauce
(1 entrée, 251 g) 310 calories, 12 g fat (6 g saturated) 1,030 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 14 g protein
This has 160 mg more sodium and 9 g less protein than the Stouffer's Hearty Skillets options.
Michelina's Tuscan Inspired Garlic Chicken
(1 package, 227 g) 290 calories, 7 g fat (3.5 g saturated), 580 mg sodium, 43 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 14 g protein
Given all the ingredients—including salt, sugars, and artificial flavors—you'd think this would have more protein.
Smart Ones Three Cheese Ziti Marinara
(1 entrée, 255 g) 300 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated), 510 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 13 g protein
Marinara is typically the safest of the pasta sauces, but that rule fails to hold as soon as Smart Ones buries the plate under a rubbery quilt of cheese.
Romano's Macaroni Grill Creamy Basil Parmesan Chicken & Pasta
(1⁄2 package, 340 g) 470 calories, 21 g fat (12 g saturated), 1,040 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 4g fiber 29 g protein
Romano takes a heavy-handed approach with cream, as demonstrated by the exorbitant glut of saturated fat in this dish.
Bertolli Rustico Bakes Ricotta & Spinach Cannelloni
(1 meal, 314 g) 500 calories, 28 g fat (17 g saturated), 1,290 mg sodium, 41 g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 21 g protein
These noodles are stuffed with cheese and covered with cream, plus more than half a day's allotment of salt.
Stouffer's Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo
(1 package, 297 g) 570 calories, 27 g fat (7 g saturated), 850 mg sodium, 55 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 26g protein
Alfredo sauce contains any of the following: oil, butter, cheese, cream, and egg yolk. In other words, it's a full-fat assault.
Amy's Light in Sodium Macaroni & Cheese
(1 entrée, 255 g) 400 calories, 16 g fat (10 g saturated), 290 mg sodium, 47 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 16g protein
We've seen worse mac out there, but Amy's packages its pasta as a healthy alternative to the normal stuff, and we're just not buying it.
FROZEN FISH ENTREES
Van De Kamp's Crunchy Fish Fillets
(2 fillets, 99 g) 230 calories, 13g fat (4.5 g saturated), 440 mg sodium, 8 g protein
You know what makes the breading crunchy? The same thing that makes it 150 percent more caloric and 267 percent fattier: oil.
Mrs. Paul's Fried Scallops
(13 scallops) 260 calories, 11 g fat (4 g saturated), 700 mg sodium, 12g protein
Scallops are among the sea's greatest gifts to man. Spoiling them with the fryer treatment is an abomination. You end up with more calories from fat than protein.
P.F. Chang's Home Menu Shrimp Lo Mein
(1/2 package, 312 g) 390 calories, 12 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 740 mg sodium, 16 g protein
Chang's sauce is polluted with three kinds of oil.
SeaPak Maryland Style Crab Cakes
(1 crab cake with 1 oz sauce, 113 g) 240 calories, 13 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 830 mg sodium, 11 g protein
These crab cakes deliver more starchy filler than actual shellfish. Somewhere, a Marylander is shaking his head.
SeaPak Shrimp Scampi
(6 shrimp, 113 g) 340 calories, 31 g fat (12 g saturated), 480 mg sodium, 12 g protein
Shrimp are essentially pure protein, so it's puzzling to find that protein accounts for just 13 percent of this entrée's calories.
SeaPak Jumbo Butterfly Shrimp
(4 shrimp, 84 g) 230 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated), 480 mg sodium, 10 g protein
Each shrimp delivers more than 50 calories, and nearly half of that comes from unnecessary fats.
FROZEN CHICKEN ENTREES
PF Chang's Orange Chicken
(312 g) 430 calories, 18 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 930 mg sodium, 23 g protein
Ch-Chang! This bag has nearly a half-a-day's sodium.
Banquet Chicken Breast Patties
(1 patty, 68 g) 170 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 300 mg sodium, 8 g protein
Banquet's breading adds excess calories and zero value. It also gets demerits for using BHT, a potentially dangerous preservative.
Michelina's Teriyaki Chicken
(1 package, 227 g) 310 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 830 mg sodium, 10 g protein
This zappable dish may save you some time, but it serves up more sodium and less protein than its stovetop rival.
Applegate Naturals Gluten Free Chicken Breast Tenders
(2 tenders, 84 g) 130 calories, 5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 350 mg sodium, 11 g protein
"Gluten-free" may distract you from the fact that these nuggets get their extra calories from carbs.
Chili's Chicken Fajita Rice Bowl
(1 package, 284 g) 370 calories, 10 g fat (3.5 saturated), 960 mg sodium, 20 g protein
Made with more rice than chicken, there's nothing fun about this party in a bowl.
Healthy Choice Pineapple Chicken
(1 entrée, 280 g) 300 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 510 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 18 g protein
This bowl contains more sugar than protein—19 grams of sugar, in fact, more than you'd find in a scoop of Breyers Chocolate Ice Cream.
Evol Chicken Enchilada Bake
(1 bowl, 255 g) 380 calories, 13 g fat (6 g saturated), 630 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 21 g protein
Make this kind of simple mistake once a day, and that 100 calories add up to 11 pounds a year.
Healthy Choice Café Steamers Sweet Sesame Chicken
(1 meal, 276 g) 280 calories, 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 520 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 21 g protein
Packs as much sugar as a two-pack of Twix Peanut Butter.
Marie Callender's Fresh Flavor Steamer Sesame Chicken
(1 meal, 291 g) 400 calories, 12 g fat (2 g saturated), 710 mg sodium, 54 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 18 g protein
A chicken dish should not be a festival of fat and carbohydrates.
Banquet Select Recipes Classic Fried Chicken Meal
(1 entrée, 228 g) 440 calories, 26 g fat (6 g saturated, 1.5 g trans), 1,140 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 22 g protein
Never settle for a frozen dinner with trans fats.
Lean Cuisine Sesame Chicken
(1 package, 255 g) 330 calories, 9 g fat (1 g saturated), 650 mg sodium, 47 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 16 g protein
There's nothing lean about breaded chicken tossed with 14 grams of sugar.
FROZEN BEEF ENTREES
Banquet Beef Pot Pie
(1 pie, 198 g) 390 calories, 22 g fat (9 g saturated, 0.5 g trans), 1,010 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 12 g protein
A potpie crust is essentially an oversized pastry, which is to say lots of carbohydrates glued together with saturated and trans fat.
P.F. Chang's Home Menu Beef with Broccoli
(1⁄2 package, 312 g) 360 calories, 17 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 1,020 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 22 g protein
Chang's bagged meals suffer from the same sodium saturation that plagues its restaurant fare.
Hungry-Man Home-Style Meatloaf
(1 package, 454 g) 660 calories, 35 g fat (12 g saturated), 1,660 mg sodium, 61 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 26 g protein
Word of advice to the calorie conscious: Purge Hungry-Man from your freezer for good. This is consistently the worst brand in the frozen-foods aisle.
Smart Ones Smart Anytime Mini Cheeseburgers
(2 mini-burgers, 140 g) 380 calories, 16 g fat (6 g saturated), 720 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 18 g protein
There's a lot of bun around these burgers, with nearly twice the carbs as White Castle.
Healthy Choice Café Steamers Barbecue Seasoned Steak with Red Potatoes
(1 meal, 269 g) 260 calories, 3.5 g fat (1 g saturated), 470 mg sodium, 39 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 17 g protein
There's more fat, calories and sugar than the Smart One's pot roast.
Häagen-Dazs Low Fat Frozen Yogurt Coffee
(1⁄2 cup, 102 g) 180 calories, 2.5 g fat (1 g saturated), 21 g sugars
This Häagen-Dazs is a Häagen-Don't because no frozen yogurt should have that many calories for such a small serving.
Ben & Jerry's FroYo Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt
(1⁄2 cup, 108 g) 170 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated), 24 g sugars
Oh no, froyo! This one is worse than most of the full-fat ice creams in the freezer aisle.
Rice Dream Organic Cocoa Marble Fudge
(1⁄2 cup, 90 g) 170 calories, 6 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 17 g sugars
Rice Dream adds vegetable oils to create a high-cal approximation of ice cream. Ick.
Blue Bunny Birthday Party Premium
(1⁄2 cup, 67 g) 140 calories, 7 g fat (4 g saturated), 15 g sugars
Hydrogenated soybean oil (a type of trans fat) and titanium dioxide (found in sunblock) are a couple of the scary ingredients in this tub.
Talenti German Chocolate Cake
(1⁄2 cup, 101 g) 240 calories, 11 g fat (6 g saturated), 31 g sugars
If by "premium" they mean overloaded with sugar and soybean oil, then yeah, bring on the belly fat.
Graeter's Cookie Dough Chocolate Chip
(½ cup), 320 calories, 20 g fat (11 g saturated), 31 g sugars
One serving of this stuff has more sugar than you'd find in seven Sugared Raised Donuts from Dunkin Donuts!
Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup
(1⁄2 cup, 114 g) 370 calories, 26 g fat (13 g saturated), 25 g sugars
Eat two scoops of this and you'll take in more calories than you would with a McDonald's burger with a small side of french fries. So sad! But if you love Ben & Jerry's pints, then at least check out our exclusive list of Every Ben & Jerry's Flavor—Ranked By Nutrition!