Not all frozen food is bad for you. In fact, many healthy foods are better bought from the freezer aisle. And there are plenty of frozen meals made with fresh, quality ingredients that are worth investing in. However, some of the worst frozen meals on the market are packed with sodium, saturated fat, and artificial ingredients. Some don’t even have enough nutrition to count as a full meal.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to swear off frozen meals completely if you like the convenience and taste. But it is important to know what to look out for when choosing from the many varieties available in the frozen food aisle. Here are some examples of frozen meals you should leave on the shelf.
1. Lean Cuisine: Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef
When hunting for healthy frozen meals, it’s tempting to gravitate toward the least caloric options available in the aisle. Is it possible to take this mindset too far, though? Lean Cuisine’s Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef, a member of the brand’s low-calorie selection, has 180 calories per single-serving meal. It’s not so much a meal as it is a side dish. It’s healthy enough — meat and veggies provide some carbs and protein, plus a few grams of fiber. However, such a small amount of food won’t keep you full for long, making you more likely to grab a high-calorie snack not long after lunch. Serve this dish supplemented with some pasta or potatoes, or even add your own veggies and other ingredients to bulk it up.
2. Banquet: Salisbury Steak Meal with Mashed Potatoes
When you glance at a nutrition label and discover a 350-calorie meal made of meat and potatoes, “it’s too good to be true” might cross your mind before you toss it into your shopping cart. Sadly, it really does seem like a better deal than it actually is. Just because something has a lower calorie count than you might expect doesn’t mean it’s automatically good for you. Banquet’s Salisbury Steak Meal has 44 grams of carbohydrates and more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
Check the description on Banquet’s website: “creamy mashed potatoes.” That’s never a good sign. It doesn’t help that this meal comes with dessert. Even if you save that for later, the meal as a whole is composed mostly of salt and saturated fat, and lacks the nutritional value to make up for those drawbacks.
3. EVOL: Gluten-Free Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese
This is a perfect example of why gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. EVOL’s Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese has a total of 31 grams of fat, most of which comes from saturated fat. If this were just boiled macaroni noodles with fresh cheese on top, it wouldn’t be so bad. These gluten-free noodles are coated in a cheddar and Gouda sauce, though. Translation: Multiple types of cheeses, whole milk, and butter, plus liquid smoke. If you’re wondering what “liquid smoked flavor” is, it’s exactly what it sounds like: smoke and water. Except many liquid smoke flavorings also contain molasses and caramel coloring.
4. Stouffer’s: Swedish Meatballs
Many frozen meal brands tend to take a relatively healthy meal and sabotage the whole thing by adding in some kind of sauce. Stouffer’s Swedish Meatballs, for example, contain over half the amount of sodium you’re supposed to eat in a single day. This combo wouldn’t have nearly as much salt or saturated fat if it weren’t for the sour cream sauce covering everything. Meals like this would benefit from including sauces in separate packaging along with the main entrée, but in most cases, all ingredients are added into individual containers and frozen during manufacturing for the sake of convenience.
5. Hungry Man: Mexican Style Fiesta
If you want to consume the maximum amount of sodium you need per day in just one meal, this is the perfect pick. That’s not all it has to offer, though. Hungry Man’s Mexican-style meal provides almost half the calories you would normally eat in one day, plus alarming amounts of fat and sugar. If you only ate three meals a day, sans snacks, (and your first two meals were light) you might be able to get away with this as a regular dinner option.
There are much healthier ways to eat enchiladas, rice, and beans, though. We suggest you go for those.
6. Chili’s: Chicken Bacon Ranch Meal
Chicken, rice, and vegetables — it all sounds pleasing, until you factor in the sauce. Chili’s makes this dinner with chicken, bacon, and ranch, which has plenty of protein and a little bit of fiber, but the ranch sauce and bacon add an unreasonable amount of sodium and saturated fat for the dish’s size. It only makes sense, since Chili’s at-home meals are modeled after the same entrées you can order at the restaurant. Even with a smaller portion than the traditional dish, it’s still not worth buying. Look for a chicken, rice, and vegetable-based meal with a lighter sauce instead.
7. Healthy Choice: Beef Pot Roast
When it comes to healthy dinner ideas, a pot roast is always a favorable option. Its variety of nutrition sources provides a combination of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat to fill you up and keep you full. So you would think Healthy Choice’s Pot Roast falls into the healthy frozen meals category. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. There’s nothing wrong with the major ingredients themselves — beef, plus red potatoes, corn, and other veggies in a light gravy. But this meal fails in a different category entirely: portion size — and not in the way you’d think. An entire single serving only provides 220 calories. For a meal that’s supposed to satisfy your hunger, this pot roast misses the mark.
8. Jimmy Dean: Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl
Microwavable breakfasts seem like the perfect way to squeeze a meal in when there’s not enough time to cook. You’d most likely be better off buying something on your way to work than settling for this, though. This breakfast bowl is a mix of all your go-to breakfast foods, including eggs, sausage, bacon, cheese, and potatoes. While it has 24 grams of protein, it also has almost no fiber, and more than 30 grams of total fat. It’s one of those heavy breakfast meals that will sit in your stomach for awhile, which isn’t exactly the way you want to feel when you walk into the office.
9. Kashi: Chimichurri Quinoa Bowl
Quinoa is a superfood, which means companies have tried to incorporate it into as many of their products and recipes as possible to please consumers. While quinoa is an excellent alternative to animal protein sources and refined grains, this can have major setbacks when it isn’t paired with the right foods — or enough food in general. At just 260 calories per one serving, Kashi’s Chimichurri Quinoa Bowl may not be the best choice for a solo meal.
It’s made with notably healthy ingredients like fresh vegetables and spices, but 10 grams of protein and fiber isn’t very much when you consider this bowl is supposed to hold you over from lunch until dinner — or dinner until the next morning. If you don’t have healthy snacks readily available for a few hours after you finish eating this, you might want to go for something with a little more substance.
10. Marie Callender: Country Fried Beef Steak & Gravy
Marie Callender offers several varieties of country-fried meat dishes, and this one earns a spot on the list because — you guessed it — gravy makes an appearance. The country-fried steak meal, as a result, has more sodium than a single meal should. Fried food might taste great, but it’s simply not worth the extra salt, sugar, calories, or saturated fat. Unfortunately, you’re not going to have an easy time finding a frozen meal from Marie that’s any healthier than this.
11. SmartMade: White Wine Chicken & Couscous
SmartMade was on the right track when they created a meal doused in a light sauce. However, this chicken and couscous option doesn’t provide much fuel for what it’s worth. That’s the problem with frozen meals that focus on the quality of ingredients but don’t take into account a single-serving meal’s true purpose: To give you fuel and keep you from getting hungry later.
For the amount of food you get in this protein-rich meal, there’s not a great fiber yield to keep you full for long. Just 190 calories might get you through a few hours, but after that, you’re going to start craving carbs again. If you’re going to bring a meal like this with you for lunch, bring a few other high-fiber food items to go along with it.
12. Zatarain’s: Bourbon Chicken Pasta
Another cream sauce is ready and waiting to doom an otherwise healthy meal. Zatarain’s bourbon-spiked pasta wouldn’t have nearly 1,000 milligrams of sodium if it weren’t for its creamy bourbon sauce of destruction. Zatarain’s isn’t exactly known for their healthy recipes to begin with, but this meal’s ingredient list is long enough to break records. Homemade chicken and pasta with natural seasoning and fewer artificial ingredients is fairly simple to make, and you have the option to control how much sauce (if any) you pour onto your plate.
13. Mrs. Paul’s: Crispy Fish Tenders
In the mood for a seafood dinner? Going the frozen route might not be the best way to enjoy fried fish. These crispy fish sticks are likely to satisfy your craving for something crunchy, but the amount of processing they had to go through to get to your kitchen table is a little unsettling. If you’re not a fan of fillers in your food, the MSG, sodium tripolyphosphate, modified food starch, and added sugars in these fillets probably aren’t worth a meal rich in omega-3s and protein. If you’re really craving fish, frozen shrimp is a much better alternative.
14. Special K: Spinach, Egg & Cheese Medley
Breakfast sandwiches are appealing for a few reasons. First of all, they’re portable, which makes fueling up on the go much easier. They’re also filled with all your favorite things, and if you buy them frozen, you get to enjoy your food without the added cook time. What does all this mean for the quality of your breakfast, though? Well, it depends.
This flatbread breakfast sandwich is a cheesy, spinach- and egg-filled collection of protein, fat, and carbs — everything you need to start your day off feeling great. However, it only provides 170 calories. That’s not a lot of energy to get you through the morning, especially if you haven’t eaten since the night before.
15. Boston Market: Smothered Turkey
Just the name of this product should give away how healthy it isn’t. Boston Market’s Smothered Turkey meal includes turkey literally smothered in gravy as its main component. (It’s one thing to drizzle gravy on top of your turkey at Thanksgiving, but there’s really no need to smother any food in any kind of topping, is there?) Granted, the website description does call it a “comfort food favorite,” so turkey breasts drowning in gravy on top of white bread really isn’t all that surprising.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, and vegetables all on their own aren’t unhealthy meal options. The problem here is the gravy brings this meal’s sodium content above 1,500 milligrams, which is where a lot of its flavor — and most of its health hazards — come from.
16. Amy’s: Sweet & Sour Asian Noodle
Amy’s Sweet & Sour Asian Noodle bowl, part of its Light & Lean selection, provides only 250 calories and 3 grams of fat in the entire portion. With 10 grams of protein and less than 50 grams of carbs, this seems like the perfect lunch option. However, this isn’t a very sustainable option for a meal. It includes a combination of tofu, vegetables, and noodles, but there’s just not enough food to provide the amount of fiber and protein you’d need if you wanted this meal to keep you full.