Sometimes, just the thought of making a home-cooked meal is exhausting in and of itself. Instead of settling for a bowl of cereal or hitting a nearby drive-thru, reach into your freezer for a frozen dinner.
Frozen dinners have come a long way. Years ago, Salisbury steak and corn and mashed potatoes dinners (which may have left a few of us scarred) dominated the frozen food aisle. But today, you can find healthier balanced frozen meals that'll save you in a pinch — if you shop smart.
What to Look for When Buying Frozen Meals
Not all frozen dinners are created equal. Knowing what to look for when reviewing the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list is key.
- Calories: When it comes to calories, there's a sweet spot. You don't want to go too low, or you'll feel hungry soon after, and eating a high-calorie dinner isn't the best strategy either. While needs vary from person to person, aim to keep the calories between 300 and 500. If you find you need more, add a serving of frozen veggies or pair with a piece of fruit.
- Fiber: No one wants to feel hungry right after eating. To avoid this, make sure your frozen dinner has at least 4 grams of fiber. Keep in mind, many don't.
- Protein: A frozen mac and cheese dinner is going to lean more carb-heavy and lighter on the protein. For a healthier, balanced dinner, look for a frozen dinner with at least 10 grams of protein.
- Whole Foods: Lastly, when perusing the ingredient list, make sure the majority of the first few ingredients are whole foods like chicken, green beans and brown rice.
Are You Getting Enough Protein?
What to Watch Out For
- Sodium: This is a biggie when it comes to frozen dinners. We should keep our daily sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams per day, according to the American Heart Association. The key is to balance it out throughout the day but keeping it around 500-600 milligrams per serving is a good approach. Most of our best frozen meals below deliver on this, but we did include a few that go up to 750 milligrams per serving.
- Saturated Fat: When reading the nutrition facts label, go for meals with 7 grams of saturated fat or less. We should limit our daily intake to less than 10 percent of our daily calories, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Trans Fats: Keep frozen dinners with partially hydrogenated oils out of your shopping cart. They're an indication of trans fats.
9 Best Frozen Meals to Buy
1. Sweet Earth’s Protein Lover’s Pizza
Per serving: 300 calories, 11 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 530 milligrams sodium, 33 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar), 16 grams protein
If you follow a plant-based diet or are just trying to eat a little less meat, Sweet Earth will become one of your go-to brands. It boasts a variety of products from bowls to burgers to burritos, and they're all plant-based while many are also vegan.
With 6 grams of fiber and 16 grams of protein per serving coming from plant-based meat, we're especially fond of the Protein Lover's pizza although the Bean & Mango Cubano Bowl comes in a close second.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $7.99
2. Evol Fire Grilled Steak
Per serving: 400 calories, 22 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 570 milligrams sodium, 40 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar), 18 grams protein
This bowl of grilled steak, black beans, white rice, bell peppers and roasted corn seriously delivers with 18 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. The two macros combined will help keep you feeling fuller longer.
Black beans, rice and bell peppers are the first three ingredients. It's no coincidence the brand's name is "love" spelled backward.
Buy it: Amazon; Price: $5.49
3. Michael Angelo's Vegetable Lasagna
Per serving: 350 calories, 13 grams fat (7 gram saturated fat), 730 milligrams sodium, 40 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar, <1 gram added sugar), 20 grams protein
For a healthier take on one of your favorite Italian orders, try this satisfying veggie-packed lasagna. This meal is on the higher end of the sodium range at 730 milligrams, but as far as frozen meals go — and lasagna for that matter — this one's still balanced overall.
The key isn't to make each meal perfect but to look for balance in your meals throughout the day. Because this is higher in sodium, be conscious of your salt intake at breakfast, lunch and snacks.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $3.79
4. EatingWell Chicken & Wild Rice Stroganoff
Per serving: 290 calories, 10 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 590 milligrams sodium, 30 grams carbohydrates (5 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar), 21 grams protein
This dish is packed with lean protein, whole grains and two servings of vegetables (about one cup). And if 290 calories is a little light for your dinner, add another serving of vegetables for more volume.
Brussels sprouts are the first ingredient listed, followed by chicken, which explains the stellar protein and fiber contents in this bowl. Plus, it's made without preservatives, artificial colors or flavorings.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $2.69
5. Healthy Choice Chicken Sausage and Barley Bowl
Per serving: 340 calories, 7 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 600 milligrams sodium, 52 grams carbohydrates (8 grams fiber, 11 grams sugar; 3 grams added sugar), 16 grams protein
Barley is one of the highest-fiber grains. In fact, the nutrient makes up about 17 percent of the grain, according to the Whole Grains Council.
This, along with mixed vegetables, leafy greens, and beans is why Healthy Choice's frozen dinner provides 8 grams of filling fiber per serving.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $4.39
6. Cedarlane Chicken Fajita Protein Bowl
Per serving: 300 calories, 6 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 590 milligrams sodium, 44 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar; 1 gram added sugar), 19 grams protein
When the Mexican-food cravings hit, reach for this 300-calorie chicken fajita bowl.
We especially love that it's so low in saturated fat (one of the lowest of all of the options on our list!) and still delivers on protein, providing 19 grams per serving.
Buy it: Target; Price: $4.99
7. Kashi Creamy Cashew Noodle
Per serving: 360 calories, 14 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 400 milligrams sodium, 46 grams carbohydrates (10 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar; 4 grams added sugar), 15 grams protein
Kashi is well known for its cereals but their frozen dinners not only taste delicious, but they're also healthy. With just 400 milligrams of sodium, we especiallly love the fact that they're lower in salt compared to most frozen dinners.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $5.19
8. Stouffer's Fit Kitchen Cali Chicken
Per serving: 340 calories, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 570 milligrams sodium, 37 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar ), 24 grams protein
Stouffer's has an entire line of Fit Kitchen dinners and they're healthier than most frozen dinners but we're especially fond of the Cali Chicken.
Providing 24 grams of protein per serving in combination with 7 grams of fiber means this dish makes every single one of those 340 calories count.
Buy it: Kroger; Price: $3.99
9. Amy's Thai Vegetable and Rice Bowl in a Coconut Cashew Sauce
Per serving: 410 calories, 25 grams fat (4.5 gram saturated fat), 700 milligrams sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates (5 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar, 1 gram added sugar ), 10 grams protein
This frozen dinner is what vegan dreams are made of. Based in a coconut cashew sauce, this plant-based dinner of vegetables and rice delivers on flavor and nutritional offerings, too.
This dish is higher in fat but it's primarily healthy fats from the cashews. Each serving only has 4.5 grams of saturated fat.
Buy it: Instacart; Price: $4.99