Just like Tide To-Go, overnight oats, and your keychain bottle opener, frozen meals are always there to save the day when you’re in a pinch. Unbox it, pop it in the microwave, and three minutes later you have a warm dish with just enough nutrients to silence your rumbling stomach.
Although the restaurant-style options from Lean Cuisine are all the more tantalizing due to their convenience and weight-loss-focused portions, not all of their frozen foods are the hunger saviors you’re hoping for. In fact, many of them are healthy-eating enemies in disguise. Although the mouth-watering images plastered on their boxes give the appearance that each package contains a nutrient-dense meal, some containers provide fewer calories and macronutrients than a granola bar.
You may be able to temporarily trick your mind into thinking you’re eating a meal, but these dinner imposters won’t trick your body. To keep Lean Cuisines absurdly low on the calorie front, Nestle forgoes real food and relies on chemical flavoring and additives. These artificial flavors may help lower calorie count, but ultimately, these empty chemicals won’t provide your body with any fat-blasting nutrients that can accelerate weight loss.
Plus, a 150-calorie steak dinner isn’t enough to keep you satisfied for long. It can be a quick fix when you’re tight on time and you’ll be able to get a full meal in a couple hours, but you shouldn’t think these boxes can replace your meals. Even Lean Cuisine recognizes this, and they now advertise their meals as being an “ally in portioned eating and weight management” that still needs to be “bulked up […] with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables” and “smart sides.”
That being said, Lean Cuisine has some of the lowest average sodium content per frozen meal compared to other popular frozen brands, dozens of meals are free from preservatives, and a few dishes are even made with organic products! Although you shouldn’t necessarily rely on a single Lean Cuisine for a meal (sneak in more nutrition by pairing it with a cup of fruit or side salad), their options can be Eat This!-approved supplements to your diet plan. To see which Lean Cuisine you should pair with your produce, check out our ranking of the best-selling Lean Cuisines. And while we’re on the topic of frozen foods, don’t forget to check out our exclusive list to the 67 Worst Frozen Foods In America.
FIRST… THE BEST
We normally rank products based on calories, but because Lean Cuisine’s calorie counts are on the low end for “meals,” we chose to rank on satiating macronutrients instead: healthy fats, fiber, and protein. These macros are what’s going to help you feel full. The more protein, fiber, and fats in a meal, the better. Points were awarded for a cleaner ingredient list and deducted for meals with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Here are the best Lean Cuisines ranked from “O.K.” to “Best.”
Favorites Swedish Meatballs
Nutrition per package: 290 calories, 6 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 610 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 16 g protein
Everyone’s favorite IKEA meal ranks as one of our best dishes—it’s just at the bottom of the list because it’s lacking in the veggie department.
Marketplace Chicken Fried Rice
Nutrition per package: 290 calories, 6 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 670 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 17 g protein
Even though the ingredient list reads like a recipe you could make at home (with ingredients like scrambled whole eggs, carrots, peas, and ginger), we had to dock this dish for pumping up the protein content with isolated soy protein rather than real chicken.
Comfort Chicken Marsala
Nutrition per package: 210 calories, 5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 580 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (1 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 17 g protein
Boost the protein content of this balanced dish with an extra serving of peas. You won’t just be getting extra greens and 4 grams of protein — peas are also one of the 30 Foods With More Fiber Than an Apple — serving up nearly 4 grams of fiber per half cup for only 60 extra calories!
Favorites Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli
Nutrition per package: 280 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 600 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (2 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 17 g protein
For being a pasta-centered dish, we were pleasantly surprised to see such a high protein content for this meal.
Marketplace Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef
Nutrition per package: 170 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 550 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 15 g protein
It’s absurdly low in calories, but this meal still packs in four grams of healthy fats from the beef and butter, a whopping 15 grams of protein, and three different veggies! Plus, who doesn’t love Sriracha?
Comfort Chicken in Sweet BBQ Sauce
Nutrition per package: 280 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 710 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 20 g protein
We knocked this dish back significantly because of its high sugar count—it contains more of the sweet stuff than two Oreo cookies. P.S.: Sugar is lurking in the most surprising places; even in these 14 "Health" Foods Worse Than a Donut.
Marketplace Roasted Chicken & Garden Vegetables
Nutrition per package: 220 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 620 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 16 g protein
The fact that this meal provides a full cup of veggies bumped it up a couple of spots.
Comfort Chicken Carbonara
Nutrition per package: 240 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 660 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (2 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 18 g protein
Although a classic carbonara doesn’t contain asparagus, we’re not complaining that this meal packs in some extra veggies when it can.
Craveables Wood Fire-Style BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza
Nutrition per package: 340 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 380 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 20 g protein
It may be high in protein, but this barbecue-inspired pizza is a little high in sugar and carbs while being nearly devoid of anything that grows out of the ground.
Marketplace Fiesta Grilled Chicken
Nutrition per package: 250 calories, 5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 590 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 19 g protein
Although we’ve cautioned against choosing meals just for sake of eating “Gluten Free,” in this case, Lean Cuisine doesn’t steer you wrong. With carbs to give you fast-acting energy and enough protein and fat to keep you going long after, this dish can certainly act as a meal replacement. Speaking of meal replacements, if you’ve started working out early in the morning, consider adding on of these 23 Best Protein Shake Recipes to your meal plan rather than just skipping breakfast.
Comfort Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes
Nutrition per package: 240 calories, 7 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 540 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 20 g protein
All that’s missing from this homestyle meal is a side of peas and carrots. Please, go get a serving of peas and carrots.
Marketplace Sesame Stir Fry with Chicken
Nutrition per package: 280 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 650 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (6 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 21 g protein
Not only are you getting three different veggies, chicken, and noodles in this dish, but even for the small serving size, this meal could help you fill up because it looks like a variety of food: Cornell researchers have found that when your food fills up more of your plate, dieters will perceive themselves as feeling fuller than those whose less diverse meals only took up a small portion of the plate.
Craveables Deep Dish Three Meat Pizza
Nutrition per package: 390 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 630 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 22 g protein
Yes, a pizza may actually be one of your best Lean Cuisine options. Especially this one with 22 grams of protein!
Craveables Chicken Ranch Club Flatbread Melt
Nutrition per package: 370 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 530 mg sodium, 52 g carbs (4 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 21 g protein
You’ve got enough calories, fat, fiber, and protein that this could actually count as a real lunch! For more lunch ideas, don’t miss these homemade 25 Super-Healthy Lunches Under 400 Calories.
Comfort Glazed Chicken
Nutrition per package: 250 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 470 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (2 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 22 g protein
Enough protein to fill you up without too much sodium to make you bloated. Pick up this well-rounded microwaveable tray and grab an extra bag of frozen green beans to pump up your veggie intake.
AND THE #1 BEST LEAN CUISINE IS… Comfort Salisbury Steak with Macaroni & Cheese
Nutrition per package: 260 calories, 8 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 570 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (3 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 22 g protein
We never thought a Salisbury Salisbury Steak with Mac & Cheese would get an ETNT seal of approval, but Lean Cuisine’s offering is one of the three meals highest in protein, contains a reasonable amount of carbs, is low in sugar, high in fats, and has a reasonable fiber-to-sugar ratio. If you’re at home, be sure to pair it with a side of steamed broccoli for some extra antioxidant-rich veggies.
AND NOW… THE WORST
These Lean Cuisine offerings all have less than 15 grams of protein and are typically high in carbs while lacking in veggies, fiber, and healthy fats.
Marketplace Parmesan Crusted Fish
Nutrition per package: 290 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 570 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (3 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 15 g protein
We don’t have anything against frozen fish—we promise—we just don’t like microwaveable meals that are high in blood-sugar-spiking carbs, low in protein, and full of weird ingredients like "brown sugar syrup torula yeast" and “natural cheese flavor.” So maybe we do have something against frozen fish. (Especially since this meal is made with Alaskan Pollock, a species that ranked as one of the worst fish, nutritionally speaking.)
Favorites Five Cheese Rigatoni
Nutrition per package: 360 calories, 8 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 560 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (4 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 15 g protein
When you’re eating something called “Five Cheese,” we’d assume you’re getting something with real cheese, right? Wrong. You likely didn’t think you’d see a note in the ingredients next to an additive saying “ingredient not found in regular cheese.” So, why add it?
Comfort Steak Portabella
Nutrition per package: 160 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 610 calories, 16 g carbs (3 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 15 g protein
This meal has nearly as many ingredients as it does calories! (We counted at least 80.) It may look like a meal, but all you’re getting is a couple pieces of steak, broccoli, and “madeira wine flavor” and “brown sauce flavor.” Yuck.
Marketplace Tortilla Crusted Fish
Nutrition per package: 300 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 490 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (2 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 14 g protein
There are no “artificial flavors,” but that doesn’t mean this dish relies on fish, peppers, corn, and rice alone. They still use “natural flavors” (which we found out in 13 Things Big Food Companies Don’t Want You To Know) can be basically the same thing as artificial flavors) as well as ingredients like maltodextrin, buttermilk powder, calcium chloride, and modified corn starch. Not so wholesome, if you ask us.
Comfort Baked Chicken
Nutrition per package: 250 calories, 6 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 600 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 14 g protein
This meal sounds like it deserves a spot on your Thanksgiving table, but with a low protein, fat and fiber count, we don’t have much to be thankful for.
Comfort Beef Pot Roast
Nutrition per package: 210 calories, 6 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 640 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 14 g protein
It has more sugar than the dish below it, but this pot roast has more textures and crunchy veggies than the macaroni below. Why is that important? According to recent research, volume and crunchiness of food can make you feel fuller than an equicaloric dish that’s more mushy.
Marketplace Vermont White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Nutrition per package: 260 calories, 6 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 690 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 14 g protein
As a meal, maybe this shouldn’t be your first pick. But as a side? We wouldn’t object. This Lean Cuisine offering has one of the shortest ingredient lists of all their meals!
Marketplace Sweet & Spicy Korean-Style Beef
Nutrition per package: 320 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 650 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (3 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 15 g protein
You know what would be sweet? If this dish didn’t have as much sugar as it did protein.
Comfort Glazed Turkey Tenderloins
Nutrition per package: 270 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 530 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (3 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 14 g protein
You can thank high fructose corn syrup for the nearly 20 grams of sugar in this dish.
Comfort Shrimp & Angel Hair Pasta
Nutrition per package: 230 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 660 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 13 g protein
By “seafood sauce,” they mean maltodextrin, scallop extract, sodium phosphate, corn starch, natural flavor, and soy lecithin.
Marketplace Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli
Nutrition per package: 290 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 680 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 13 g protein
We were happy to see a protein count that rivals animal-protein-heavy dishes, but these mushroom ravioli were docked for being high in sugar.
Marketplace Cheese Tortellini
Nutrition per package: 300 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 610 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 12 g protein
Don’t let the health halo of “organic red bell peppers and tomatoes” fool you. No amount of organic veggies will make up for the high carb and calorie count for so few grams of protein and fiber.
Marketplace Cheese & Bean Enchilada Verde
Nutrition per package: 260 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 660 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (6 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 9 g protein
Even though it’s low in protein, we gave some points to this dish for being high in fiber and healthy fats.
Favorites Four Cheese Cannelloni
Nutrition per package: 230 calories, 6 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 690 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 11 g protein
Watch out for cheese-heavy dishes out of the Lean Cuisine kitchen—they also seem to come with a staggering amount of sugar.
Marketplace Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry
Nutrition per package: 220 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 470 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (1 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 10 g protein
We were disappointed this meal wasn’t able to rank higher on our list since it’s one of the few offerings with a variety of veggies. Still, with almost no fat, fiber, or protein, this carb-heavy dish is sure to make your blood sugar spike and leave you craving more food soon after you finish eating.
Favorites Cheddar Potatoes with Broccoli
Nutrition per package: 220 calories, 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 670 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 9 g protein
Please don’t rely on this box of cheesy potatoes as a meal.
AND THE #1 WORST LEAN CUISINE IS… Marketplace Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Ravioli
Nutrition per package: 310 calories, 7 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 690 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (4 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 10 g protein
For 310 calories, you’re consuming a dish that’s low in protein and surprisingly high in sugar and carbs. No wonder you’re always hungry.