Tasty, nutritious and healthy frozen food wanted
December 19, 2008 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Need recommendations as to tasty prepared frozen meals available in the U.S.

Work has gotten out of hand, so my time to cook has been severely limited.

I need recommendations as to frozen meals (TV dinners) or other foods that are healthy and somewhat nutritious, but that also don't taste like cardboard. I've been subsisting on some passable Lean Cuisines for a week, and need to branch out into other brands.

Suggestions as to things that can be cooked quickly (e.g. 20-30 minutes) and frozen are also welcome.

posted by reenum to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
As a vegetarian who's cooking challenged, I rely a lot on Amy's frozen dinners.
Everything is vegetarian, organic and even have gluten free and dairy free ones.
The best price I've seen for them locally (St Petersburg, Florida) is at a nearby Super Target.

Mmm. Target.
posted by willmize at 7:10 AM on December 19, 2008

Seconding Amy's (although their canned soups are pretty awful in my opinion).
posted by halogen at 7:16 AM on December 19, 2008

Seconding the Amy's (no relation) recommendation. For a more mainstream option, Healthy Choice makes some fairly tasty frozen dinners (I like the salisbury steak). Just try to stay away from the Swanson's and the Banquet (sky-high sodium).
posted by amyms at 7:16 AM on December 19, 2008

Do you have a Trader Joes? Cause their frozen stuff even shames Amy's.
posted by dame at 7:22 AM on December 19, 2008

Trader Joe's beats the pants off of most Amy's stuff and is usually more reasonably priced.
posted by proj at 7:24 AM on December 19, 2008

Sadly, Trader Joe's doesn't have a store where I live.
posted by reenum at 7:25 AM on December 19, 2008

P.S. Can people please suggest specific entrees that are good (e.g. Lean Cuisine Thai Style Chicken)? Thanks!
posted by reenum at 7:25 AM on December 19, 2008

Amy's, though not cheap. Michael Angelo's does fairly decent Italian-in-a-box. Slate did a run-down of some others a few years back, but as the reviewer notes, you can knock together scrambled eggs (I'd suggest on toast, the British way, with perhaps some defrosted spinach and grated parmesan) in the same time it takes to nuke a frozen meal.
posted by holgate at 7:30 AM on December 19, 2008

I've looked a little at the Kashi frozen entrees and they look actually fairly nutritious. I love Kashi's other products because they tend to be all natural, no/few refined ingredients, high protein and fiber and low fat and very, very tasty. I only eat their cereal and oatmeal and haven't tasted their other stuff, but I have yet to be disappointed. You can do preliminary research on nutritional info and ingredients at Kashi.com (link to frozen foods section of the site). Flavors and selection look decent.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 7:34 AM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Actually, I find the Kashi frozen stuff to be very bland.

Reenum, does your 20-30 minute limit mean prep time or the entire amount of time you have to cook?
posted by sugarfish at 7:48 AM on December 19, 2008

Heat, Eat, Review dedicates their entire site to this subject: the search for tasty frozen (or shelf-stable) prepared meals. In addition to the rating, they provide long, often humorous descriptions of the dishes. You can search the site by brand, by diet requirements, by ingredient, or by rating (from five stars all the way down to none).
posted by Elsa at 8:00 AM on December 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

Does your supermarket offer in-store prepared/ready-made meals? If so, consider freezing some of those.
posted by ericb at 8:01 AM on December 19, 2008

I actually like Kashi's frozen meals a lot. I'm not sure what dishes sugarfish had, but the Chicken Pasta Pomodoro and the Veggie Pasta (the one with red sauce, I forgot the exact name) are really, really good, and also nutritious. They can be a little more expensive (I've seen them as high as $5.25 at Sun Harvest, which is part of the Wild Oats chain), but I've seen them for as low as $2.89 at the large grocery chain (HEB, I'm in Texas) in my area.
posted by fructose at 8:05 AM on December 19, 2008

I agree with the above: Amy's products are great and Kashi products are rather bland. Ethnic Gourmet frozen foods are really good.

Some of my favorites from Ethnic Gourmet:
Pad Thai with Tofu
Lemongrass & Basil Chicken
Chicken Korma
Chicken Tikka Masala
Vegetable Korma

Some of my favorites from Amy's:
Black Bean Vegetable Enchilada
Any of the individual burritos
Roasted Vegetable Pizza (no cheese)
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 8:08 AM on December 19, 2008

Here is a great website that reviews frozen dinners.

I like Lean Cuisine Glazed Chicken. But I add a few cashews. And 1 out of 10 times the chicken is tough. Not consistent.

I like Smart Ones Thai Style Chicken and Rice Noodles. Made by Weight Watchers.

I've tried many overpriced frozen dinners from the health food store and always been disappointed.
posted by cda at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2008

My personal favorite Lean Cuisines: Butternut Squash Ravioli, Salmon with Basil, and Chicken in Peanut Sauce. All of these are from the "spa cuisine" line which emphasizes lean protein, vegetables and whole grains. All are well under 400 calories, so you might need to add another dish to make a satisfying meal.

Green Giant sells "SteamFresh" vegetables with various seasonings / sauces. They come in two-serving containers, but since they are so low calorie I usually just eat the whole thing. There are a variety of health-specific options such as Healthy Digestion, Health Weight, Healthy Vision, and Immunity. Very very easy to prepare, and a little more interesting than just plain vegetables. One of these and a Lean Cuisine makes a very nice dinner.*

Nthing Amy's, though a lot of the dishes are sort of "faux healthy." The bowls are great- especially the Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl and the Brown Rice, Black-Eyed Peas, and Vegetables Bowl. The Pesto Tortellini Bowl is a great comfort-food treat, but not especially nutritious.] Amy's frozen burritos are also very good and make a good addition to a vegetable-heavy meal. In general, I avoid the Amy's "ethnic" foods- they have East Asian, Indian, and Mexican lines. Something just strikes me as off about the seasoning.

In terms of non-frozen quick meals, Uncle Ben's and Minute have competing lines of microwave rice in pouches. The Wild and Brown varieties are pretty tasty and healthy. In 10 minutes, you could easily saute some chicken breast pieces or tofu and vegetables, and nuke the rice for a healthy stir-fry.

Pasta dishes are quick, cheap and satisfying, and can be made relatively healthy with liberal use of vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat cheese. You can buy pre-cooked turkey meatballs to add protein and flavor. I like the cocktail size better than the normal, big ones because I think they're easier to distribute evenly in a dish.

I assume you're cooking for one; the Washington Post has a weekly column on quick and easy meals with small-scale recipes. It is called, uniquely, Cooking for One.

Finally, almost everything can be frozen, so if you have favorite dishes that are more complicated, devoting a weekend day every month to cooking and freezing will pay off. Buy lots of tupperware!

*Even nicer if you take the time to plate it, which somehow makes a big difference. Adding your own seasoning (not salt, because most of these things are horribly high in sodium) can make a dish seem more "homey" as well.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love Amy's "Meat Loaf" or whatever they call it. It comes with mashed potatoes and gravy and is just very comforting and filling. I am constantly looking for a recipe to make something similar at home. Without, you know, blowing the place up due to my lack of skillz.
posted by willmize at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2008

20-30 minutes to prepare and good -- pierogis. They can be stuffed with all sorts of things and can be found in the frozen section or the deli section of your grocery store. Preperation can be as simple as dropping them in boiling water for 10 minutes and serving with some sauce (like ravioli) or even better, take them from the boiling pot and saute them with butter and onions for a few minutes.

Served with sour cream and a good deli saur kraut, and you've got a great meal.
posted by garlic at 8:36 AM on December 19, 2008

I really like Marie Callendar's Cheesey Chicken and Rice and also their Fettucini with Chicken and Broccoli.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:47 AM on December 19, 2008

Thank goodness someone else mentioned Marie Callendar. I think "her" casserole type dishes, pastas, and fish dinners are pretty good. I do not particularly like the bone-in chicken dishes.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2008

Yes, frozen pierogis are pretty good (i like the cheese and potato myself. fry them in a skillet with sliced onion.) The frozen pasta meal-in-a-bag things from Bertolli are good, but kinda pricey. I've also had good luck with any of the Archer Farms (Target brand) frozen lasagna and appetizers I've tried.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:57 AM on December 19, 2008

My favorites from Lean Cuisine:

Three Cheese Stuffed Rigatoni [FULL of colorful veggies.]
Parmesan Crusted Fish [Yes, tasty frozen fish.]
Grilled Chicken Caesar Pasta
Sesame Chicken

I often eat one of these and a side of Green Giant frozen veggies, the kind without butter or cheese sauce. I find that with a 300-cal dinner and a 60-cal veggie, I am completely sated without being unhealthy.

And seconding Heat Eat Review. They are awesome.
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:00 AM on December 19, 2008

CELENTANO! Any of the frozen pasta-in-a-box dishes, and even the eggplant parm. I ate it as a treat rather than a convenience thing when living in the States and still look for it when I visit. Best frozen food ever. Very respectable ingredient lists, too.

I find Amy's a bit bland and blah. Not awful, but definitely overrated.

Stouffer's Bistro Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Rotini is better than you'd expect.

Tastybite makes excellent nuke/boil-in-bag Indian food, as that sort of thing goes.
posted by kmennie at 9:07 AM on December 19, 2008

Frozen pierogies with marinara sauce: comfort food! In the 'ethnic' freezer case you can find potato latkes and empanadas. Pilsbury makes gross-but-yummy frozen toaster things that are like eggs with cheese poptarts. The thin-crust frozen pizzas from Kashi are quite good.

I'm experiencing the same time-crunch issue and was looking for these things and I'm here to tell you: Hot Pockets still suck. Avoid like the plague.
posted by wowbobwow at 9:08 AM on December 19, 2008

Lean Cuisine's own website also allows users to rate each of their meals. I don't know how accurate they are given they are on the company's website and it's in their best interest to keep them positive, but some meals are definitely rater higher than others. Click on a meal to see ratings and reviews.
posted by cgg at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2008

I'm all about the quick-cooking meals as opposed to TV dinners. Some tasty meats and fish can be prepared in a very short amount of time if you have the money to buy some decent cuts. Chicken cutlets can be breaded and seasoned and sauteed with garlic in a non-stick pan - EASY. Hell, use garlic powder if you don't want to deal with peeling and cutting garlic. Cook a bunch of pasta or rice and keep it in the fridge for use as a side dish. Throw some frozen vegetables in a pot at the same time, and you have a well-balanced meal. Definitely get into the frozen vegetables - they're easy to use, pre-cut, and you don't have to worry about them going bad. You can get individual frozen vegetables or combination packs, like some brands sell "stir-fry blends" and so on. Also stock up on spices so you can make your own variety of flavors.

Be careful with those TV dinners; like others have said, they are very high in sodium. Plus, although some of the Amy's stuff is very tasty, a lot of it isn't filling enough for me, and I'm a very petite, skinny woman. But if your local grocer carries Dr. Praeger's brand, their pizza bagels are fun. They're hard to find, though. For Amy's, I like the tamale pie (again not filling enough though) and whatever the meal is with the chili and cornbread.

If you don't consider yourself a good cook and have time to go to the library, see if they have any "quick and healthy" cookbooks. At the very least, they can start to give you ideas on different ways to prepare food, so it's easier for you to branch out without much thought.
posted by wondermouse at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2008

In regards to cooking meals, it should hopefully take 20-30 minutes total, prep and cooking.
posted by reenum at 9:23 AM on December 19, 2008

I'm the exact opposite of wondermouse, I think Amy's are much more filling than most other frozen entrees with the same number of calories. After a Lean Cuisine (or similar) I feel like I could eat five more and still not be full, but most Amy's entrees are a full meal for me. My favorite is the cheddar bowl (fusilli, broccoli, potatoes, red bell peppers, tofu, and cheese sauce). Other good ones: regular cheese lasagna (not tofu, not vegetable), burritos, spinach pizza, cheese enchilada meal.

I also like Tastybite quite a bit, but you can only eat so much food out of a foil packet, you know? It's okay if you are supplementing with fresh rice and vegetables, but it doesn't sound like that's what you're after.
posted by HotToddy at 9:27 AM on December 19, 2008

I am a huge fan of the Bertolli's Frozen Pasta Dinners. My personal favorites are the Chicken Parmigiana, Chicken Linguine with Zucchini, and the Chicken and Vodka Farfalle with asparagus. The italian sausage one is good too, but a bit greasier. I'm not a fan of shrimp, so I haven't tried the Mediterranean line. They take 10 min to make in a saute pan: 5 min on med-high, stir, 5 min more, done. They have a decent portion of meat, and the red sauce is delicious with chunks of tomato and some other vegetables. I think the Parmigiana is a bit high in sodium, just by the flavor, but the rest are great. I prefer the red sauces to the cream sauces. They cost around 7-8$ for two meals (I just put one half in a tub for later), but around 6$/2 (12/4) at BJ's.
posted by vaguelyweird at 9:54 AM on December 19, 2008

Stouffers has several varieties of lasagna that I enjoy. It's not clear what the difference between them is, to be honest. The servings are large and when all the Stouffers entrees are on sale for $2 they are a great deal. I get better results cooking them in the oven, which takes about an hour.

I also like the Marie Callender Country Fried Chicken & Gravy, although I think the last time I got it I noticed they made some cuts. (No separate gravy packet, and kernel corn instead of a half corn cob.)
posted by smackfu at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2008

I LOVE the Amy's Cheese Enchiladas. It seems that other people did too, as they were always sold out at my store.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:45 AM on December 19, 2008

Is there a Schwann's distributor in your neighborhood? 'Cause they do some very, very nice frozen dinners.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2008

Organic Bistro wild salmon with rosemary orange glaze, cranberry pilaf and walnut broccoli. It's one of the few frozen meals I can say I actually like.
posted by sageleaf at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2008

Don't discount crock pots--you can dump a bunch of stuff in for a stew one morning, eat some of it that night, and freeze the rest, and it doesn't take all that much time. Not pre-frozen, but also way lower in sodium than anything you'll find on the shelves.
posted by Benjy at 1:52 PM on December 19, 2008

Kashi Southwest Style Chicken is my favorite frozen entree, but all of the other meals in the frozen Kashi line are pretty awful.
I really, really like Amy's Country Cheddar Bowl, although the bites of pressed tofu are a bit odd.

If you have a Fresh & Easy Market nearby, check out their brand of frozen meals (I especially like the Beef Bourguignonne). They also sell a lot of refrigerated prepared meals that are surprisingly good.
posted by arianell at 6:33 PM on December 19, 2008

I recommend moving away from the meals in the cardboard boxes. Since I don't know how to cook, I've tried a lot of the Stouffer's, Lean Cuisines, Marie Callendar's, etc. etc., and only a few varieties have been passable. I have some dietary restrictions, though (no tomatoes, nothing spicy which leaves out a lot of Asian and Mexican stuff), so there are many meals I haven't tried. I do recommend some of the bagged skillet meals. Most of them are two servings, but, unlike the tv dinners, they can easily be packed up and reheated later. Bertolli is great. They have a huge selection of pasta dishes in bags (complete skillet meals). You just pour everything into a pan and (after 15-20 minutes) voila! It's not as fast as a Lean Cuisine (etc), but there's zero prep time, and it's pretty much as easy as a real dinner can get. I always get one of two meals: a chicken florentine with farfalle in a cream sauce or a mushroom ravioli. Of course, if you like tomato sauce, there are even more varieties. They have new baked meals, too, but those take about 50 minutes in your oven. Still, I liked the three (or four?) cheese ravioli in cream sauce with some kind of crumb topping. There's also a seafood (shrimp brand) called Contessa that makes some good shrimp and chicken stir fries. The quality of the shrimp is better than most other frozen shrimp brands, so I wouldn't hesitate to try any of their meals.

And, healthy, I don't know, but for passable comfort food, Bird's Eye Voila! (I don't recommend Bird's Eye steamable meals-in-a-bag -- personally, I think everything tastes better from the stove rather than the microwave.) and Stouffer's skillet meals (in bags) are both not half bad. It's all pasta + chicken + Vegall-style mixed vegetables + sauce. I always get something creamy or cheesy.

There are these Kashi pockets that are kind of like healthy Hot Pockets. I can't eat them because pretty much everything I'd like to try by Kashi and Amy's has tomato sauce (or something else I can't eat).. but these pockets look really, really good. There's one that has grilled vegetables that I'd love to try.

Oh, do you have a Wegman's?
posted by Mael Oui at 1:29 AM on December 20, 2008

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