10 Best Frozen Dinners For Busy Weeknights
Frozen dinners are no longer things reserved for an evening spent in front of the television. After 71 years on the market, they're now part of many American's weekly routines. And if we're being frank, it's because we're busier and lazier than ever. (Be honest with yourself: How many times have you bought something pre-made because you just simply didn't feel like cooking?) And while the freezer aisle has come a long way in improving the nutritional quality and taste of its offerings over the past few decades, it's still laden with fat traps waiting to assault your weight loss progress and good health. The worst part: Bad-for-you frozen dinners can be tricky to spot. Many brands that advertise themselves as healthy choices often don't provide enough calories or nutrients to be considered a wholesome meal—and then there are those dishes that are overflowing with salt, fat, calories, and chemicals, despite showing images of seemingly-innocent dishes on the packaging.
To make it easier for you to pick a healthy frozen dinner, we scoured the supermarket shelves for the tastiest, most nutritionally-sound options. All of our Eat This picks fall between 280 and 400 calories, have no more than 650 milligrams of sodium (with many carrying half as much salt), and serve up a fair share of protein and fiber. Not to mention, they're all made with quality ingredients and taste delicious, too. We've also called out some of the worst picks in the freezer aisle so you know which ones to avoid tossing into your grocery cart. Thanks to us, you won't have to waste time reading food labels in the coldest part of the grocery store.
The best frozen dinners you can buy.
These frozen dinner brands are low in calories, sodium, and preservatives while being rich in protein and whole foods.
Made solely of ingredients you can pronounce, this is one of the cleanest and most wholesome pasta dishes in the freezer section. These vitamin A and protein-filled ravioli are stuffed with roasted butternut squash and ricotta cheese, and topped with roasted tomatoes, kale, and a sage-garlic sauce. The result: a melt-in-your-mouth meal you'll crave time and time again.
This filling entree is built on a bed of Kashi's Seven Whole Grains and Sesame pilaf, which is comprised of a nutritious mix of oats, brown rice, rye, hard red wheat, triticale, barley, buckwheat (one of the best carbs that will uncover your abs), and sesame seeds. Black beans and roasted onions, peppers, and carrots round out the dish and amp up the protein and fiber content. And thanks to the use of mango, ginger, and a host of other seasonings, Kashi is able to keep the sodium down to a respectable 380 milligrams, which is less than what you'd find in 1/4 teaspoon salt—a rarity in frozen food land.
In response to declining sales, about a year ago, Nestle incorporated more "chef-inspired" dishes to the Lean Cuisine lineup. Their new Marketplace product line of frozen dinners include gluten- and preservative-free offerings, as well and many ethnic-inspired and protein-rich dishes. Honestly, some are nutritional hits and others aren't; but we found the chicken with almonds offering to be pretty well rounded. It has 16 percent of your day's fiber and 25 percent of the day's protein. Its main downfalls, however, are that it's a bit light in the vitamins and calorie departments. To sneak in more nutrition, pair this meal with a spinach-based side salad or a cup of fresh fruit.
This gluten-free Thai-inspired dish features basmati rice and tender chicken that's been simmered in lemongrass- and basil-based green curry. To sneak in some extra vitamins, Saffron Road adds some green peppers and onions to the mix for a meal that tasters describe as "very flavorful" and having "just the right amount of heat with an excellent aroma."
This organic heat-and-eat tofu dish gets our vote because it's filled with a plethora of veggies including, broccoli, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, and celery. Keep one of these frozen dinners on hand so you're always prepared with a Meatless Monday dish if your week gets off to a hectic start.
Craving Italian? Skip the soggy zappable noodles (more on those later) and dig into this baked—not fried—eggplant dish. Aside from the delicious, savory flavors, the addition of zucchini, peppers, onions, and cheese, join together to create a dish that serves up an impressive 35 percent of the day's vitamin A (a nutrient that bolsters immunity and keeps your peepers healthy) and 45 percent of the day's bone-building calcium.
Sweet and creamy coconut meets spicy in this frozen dinner that's ready in minutes but tastes like it was served in a local restaurant. It's rare to find a frozen dinner that's both low in sugar and sodium while being high in protein, and yet Deep Indian Kitchen didn't have to make any sacrifices for flavor.
Made with free-roaming lamb, this Indian-inspired saag paneer platter fuses the flavors of spinach, ginger, paprika turmeric, and yogurt to create a protein-rich dish that tasters describe as "spectacular," "spiced to perfection," and "tender."
Move over Chipotle, a new Mexican mouth fiesta has arrived—and it lives in your local grocery store! Made with antibiotic-free beef, fibrous black beans, rice, veggies, cheese, and a cilantro lime pesto, this steak bowl gives the Tex-Mex chain a real run for its money in terms of flavor and nutrition. Not only is a potent source of protein and fiber, but this Evol creation also provides 25 percent of the day's iron, a vital nutrient that up to 20 percent of women don't consume enough of.
Quinoa bowls are all the rage right now—and it's easy to see why. They make it easy to mix and match healthy grains, produce, and proteins with a wide variety of flavors and spices. Plus, everything just >looks more appetizing (read: Instagram-worthy) when it's served in a bowl. We're fans of this South American-inspired take on the dish because it relies on meat-free proteins (black beans and red quinoa) instead of chicken or beef to boost its staying power. And considering all of us eat far too many animal products, it's always a win when there's an easy way to sneak in a meat-free meal without sacrificing important nutrients.
The unhealthiest frozen dinners.
Hungry-Man Selects Classic Fried Chicken
You had to know that a meal comprised of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and a brownie wasn't going to help your waistline, but did you know that this meal has nearly as many calories as five orders of McNuggets?! Didn't think so. To make matters worse, Hungry-Man (whoever the heck that evil dude is) manages to squeeze a whopping 57 percent of the day's sodium and 86 percent of the day's fat into one tiny box. Do your arteries a favor and just say no to this blood pressure-raising meal.
Amy's Light & Lean Roasted Polenta
Unlike the previous meal on this list, which serves up far too many calories to ingest in one sitting, this Amy's meal doesn't even have enough calories to really be considered anything more than a snack. If you don't want to miss out on this combination of cornmeal polenta, squash, sun-ripened tomatoes, and mushrooms, plan to pair your meal with a hearty side salad and a piece of grilled chicken. These add-ons will provide the fiber, calories, and protein necessary to keep you full and satisfied until your next meal.
Marie Callender's Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
You might think that you're sitting down to a steaming hot bowl of hearty pasta, but let's be real: The fact is, you're actually enjoying a plastic container overflowing with little more than nutrient-void carbs, salt, and fat. Since spaghetti and garlic bread are easy to make yourself, anyways, this meals' extra baggage is hardly worth it.
Chili's Chicken Fajita Bowl
Made with more rice than chicken, there's nothing fun about this salty fiesta in a bowl. Plus, there are plenty of better options in the freezer aisle if you're craving Mexican. We like Newman's Own Complete Chicken Fajita Skillet Meal for Two (310 calories, 660 mg sodium) and Evol's Chicken Enchiladas (410 calories, 610 mg sodium).
Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Bacon Pot Pie
Marie claims that her pot pies serve up the "comforting warmth and flavors of homemade goodness," but she fails to mention that they also serve up an entire day's worth of fat and a half day's worth of calories and salt. Sure, she may argue that her pies are meant to be split, but you can I both know that no one has ever thought of a personal sized pie as something to share. If rapid weight loss is among your chief health goals, this is one frozen meal we must insist you leave behind.
Banquet Meatloaf Meal
When your mom made meatloaf, do you think she added caramel color, high fructose corn syrup, BHT, or monosodium glutamate? She didn't. So we're not sure why Banquet feels the need to toss these questionable ingredients and chemicals into their dish. What we do know, however, is that anything with an ingredient list as long as this product is better left out of your shopping cart—and out of your tummy.
Lean Cuisine Pomegranate Chicken
Lean Cuisine? More like too lean cuisine. The truth is that 150 calories aren't really enough for a meal—in fact, there are snack bars on the market with more calories than this dinner imposter. Save your money for something that packs enough calories and nutrients to keep you healthy and satisfied—not starved.
Healthy Choice Sweet & Sour Chicken
It may be marketed as a "healthy choice," but this Chinese-inspired meal has more sugar than a pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups! And if you're going to spend an entire day's worth of sugar, wouldn't you rather indulge in something that's actually sweet? We know we would. Candy trumps chicken every time when it comes to splurging on something sugary.
Stouffer's Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo
Traditionally, alfredo sauce contains any of the following: oil, butter, cheese, cream, and egg yolk. But Stouffer's take on the Italian classic relies on cheap soybean oils, cheese, milk and all sorts of other hard-to-pronounce ingredients. No matter how you make it, though, it's still a heart attack is a dish. With 42 percent of the day's fat and 34 percent of the daily recommended intake of saturated fat, this frozen feast is a definite Not That!
Stouffer's Monterey Chicken
It may be a solid source of protein, but don't let that fool you. This microwave meal is a giant fat and salt mine waiting to ruin your flat belly progress. Not to mention, it carries nearly an entire day's worth of sugar. There a far better chicken options in the freezer aisle. Buy those instead.
Hungry-Man Home-Style Meatloaf
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. This meal, in particular, has 60 percent of the day's salt, or more than what you'd find in three bags of pretzels, and a mile long list of ingredients. With all the wholesome options in the freezer aisle these days, there's no point in bringing this box home.