What’s in your freezer? Check out this brave review of 6 frozen dinners

Posted Monday, Feb. 17, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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Snackable mini-meals and frozen foods have become a fixture in the modern supermarket industry, and frozen entrees continue to chew up a fair share of that market. Statistics note that Americans as a whole are spending less time in the kitchen, while eating fewer meals made from scratch — down from 72 percent in 1984 to 59 percent in 2011 according to global market research company NPD Group. Obviously, we want our food fast, and frozen dinners provide an easy solution for our lunchbox fare and heat-and-eat meals.

The pretty packaging and savory-sounding names names don’t necessary translate to what your tastebuds will find within, however, and although options are plentiful, they vary wildly in terms of taste, texture, cost and appeal. In an informal survey of what’s out there, I sampled six frozen meals, all with 300 calories or less, and results were very mixed. Perhaps these insights will help you next time you set out to renew your freezer’s stockpile of ready-made meals.

Leancuisine Salad Additions Asian-Style Chicken

Calories: 260

Fat: 8 grams (1.5 grams saturated)

Cholesterol: 30 milligrams

Sodium: 510 milligrams

Carb count: 30 grams

Prep time: About 5 minutes, 3 1/2 minutes cook time in the microwave

Found it: At Kroger, $3.49

The dish: While this product’s trademark phrase, BYOL (Bring Your Own Lettuce), will likely never make its way into office jargon, the brilliant concept encourages culinary creativity. Spinach and arugula served as a pleasant salad base my first time out, but I’m excited to try this again with zucchini noodles for a makeshift stir-fry. This meal is full of power foods, including edamame, broccoli and carrots, while cubes of pineapple provide welcome bursts of sweetness.

Will I keep it in my freezer? Yes

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Filet of Sole

Calories: 190

Fat: 2 grams (1 gram saturated)

Cholesterol: 40 milligrams

Sodium: 670 milligrams

Carb count: 30 grams

Prep time: 10 minutes

Found it: At Trader Joe’s, $2.99

The dish: Butter beans and spinach made an excellent pairing, however, the spinach released a lot of water during heating that left the sole swimming in it. Despite its unappealing visual aesthetic, the fresh, herbaceous flavors weren’t compromised and I appreciate being able to pronounce every ingredient. This dish wasn’t pumped with preservatives or food dyes and the delicate texture of the fish remained intact. My only warning: Be wary of fish bones.

Will I keep it in my freezer? Yes

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MorningStar Farms Three-Bean Chili with Grillers Crumbles

Calories: 170 per cup (There are about two servings per container)

Fat: 2 1/2 grams (0 grams saturated)

Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

Sodium: 490 milligrams

Carb count: 32 grams

Prep time: About 7 minutes

Found it: At Kroger, $3.99

The dish: A crumbled veggie patty seasoned with chile powder and cumin is nearly indistinguishable from lean ground turkey in this vegetarian dish. I enjoyed the variety of beans and tomatoes that were plentiful throughout but I had one beef with this meatless main dish — and it was a doozy: It left an unpleasant metallic aftertaste.

Will I keep it in my freezer? Maybe, but I would add chopped cilantro and a dollop of non-at Greek yogurt to see if it helps curb the aftertaste.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Safeway Select Pot Roast with Vegetables

Calories: 240

Fat: 9 grams (3.5 gram saturated)

Cholesterol: 45 milligrams

Sodium: 830 milligrams

Carb count: 24 grams

Prep time: 5 minutes

Found it: At Tom Thumb, $2

The dish: One of few remaining frozen meals containing beef, this pot roast was pleasantly tender. I never caught the “unexpected dash of currant jelly” promised on the box, however, mixing the beef and gravy with the mashed potatoes was delicious. On the downside, the watery, flavorless mixed veggies contributed nothing but unnatural color to this dish. I forced myself to eat them as if my parents were making me.

Will I keep it in my freezer? No

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

WeightWatchers Smart Ones Portobello Mushroom Fajitas

Calories: 300

Fat: 5 grams (1 gram saturated)

Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

Sodium: 600 milligrams

Carb count: 53 grams

Prep time: About 6 minutes

Found it: At Kroger, $5.99

The dish: The contents of this box need a lot of work to become palatable. I’m usually a fan of spice, but the heavy dose of paprika overwhelmed the entire dish and tasted as if it were a decade past its expiration date. The rice was flavored with what seemed like nacho cheese scraped from a forgotten lunch tray in a school cafeteria. In a nutshell: not a fan.

Here’s a better idea: Order three tacos from Chipotle with soft corn tortillas, fajita vegetables, black beans and roasted corn salsa. That weighs in at 430 calories, but has two grams less fat than this entree, plus 22 grams of fiber.

Will I keep it in my freezer? No

Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Healthy Choice Top Chef Season 10 Inspired Challenge Winner Crustless Chicken Pot Pie

Calories: 300

Fat: 6 grams (2.5 grams saturated)

Cholesterol: 60 milligrams

Sodium: 600 milligrams

Carb count: 40 grams

Prep time: 5 minutes

Found it: At Kroger, $2.89

The dish: The only thing I wanted to do after eating this was to run, not walk, to Cowtown Diner to devour an actual chicken pot pie and forever erase the taste of this bland imposter. Its saving grace was that it contained 20 grams of protein and cooked evenly, thanks to Healthy Choice’s self-venting package, but neither of those two features were convincing enough. An extra spin class (OK, at least two) would be worth it to enjoy the real deal.

Will I keep it in my freezer? No

Rating: 1 (out of 5)

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