Nutritionist Picks: 5 Frozen Meals Under 500 Calories
As much as we’d love to cook a healthy meal every night, sometimes we find ourselves tapping that delivery app on our phone.
The downside to ordering in is that you don’t know what’s in your food—and knowing the nutrition and ingredients of what I eat is my number one rule for eating healthy. Enter the frozen meal.
Gone are the days of highly processed TV dinners. Now we have a plethora of quick and delicious meals lining the freezer aisles of our local supermarket. At a fraction of the cost of takeout—and with ingredient and nutrition labels on full display—here are the healthiest frozen meals I picked up at my grocery store, plus a few tips on how to choose a healthy frozen lunch or dinner.
How to pick a healthy frozen meal
First and foremost, flip the box over and check for ingredients you recognize and can pronounce. Also, check the portion size. Sometimes packaged food companies get sneaky by splitting the serving size to keep the numbers low. Be aware of the total servings for the entire meal.
Look for a good balance of macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—as this is what keeps you satiated and your energy levels balanced. With any packaged food, keep an eye on sodium. A good rule of thumb is less than 900mg, but if the rest of your meals are homemade, odds are you aren’t overdoing it. And as always, zero grams of added sugar is the target! Here’s a recap of everything to look for.
My criteria for a healthy frozen meal:
- Lots of veggies
- No preservatives
- Simple ingredients you can pronounce
- Balanced macronutrients
- Less than 900mg sodium
- No sweeteners, dyes, preservatives, or hydrogenated oil
- Zero added sugar
5 Healthy Frozen Meals
1. Primal Kitchen Chicken Panang Curry (250 calories)
Ironically, the best way to describe this non-dairy dish is “buttery.” The slightly spicy sauce is the perfect vehicle to soak up the base of cauliflower rice. Generous pieces of broccoli and zucchini lend a bite while specks of red pepper add sweet heat. With no gluten, grains, processed soy, unhealthy oils or added sugars, this Primal Kitchen meal passes the clean ingredient test.
2. Evol Guajillo Chicken & Cauliflower (390 calories)
With no gluten, soy, or dairy products, Evol Foods meals are easy option to have a paleo-friendly meal on your plate in less than seven minutes. Lower in carbs and higher in healthy fats like sunflower seed paste and extra virgin olive oil, this creamy bowl will keep you satiated. The sauce is reminiscent of a peanut sauce but nut-free and allergy-friendly. The chili and peppers add a delicate smokiness that is not too overpowering but lingers on the palate. Most importantly, the chicken is tender while the cauliflower remains crisp.
3. Cauli’flour Foods Vegetable Lasagna (330 calories)
Cheesy is what comes to mind upon first taste. You’d never guess this Cauli'flour lasagna is gluten- and grain-free. The cauliflower noodles maintain their firmness while layers of basil, spinach, zucchini, and ricotta lend that classic lasagna flavor sure to warm you up on a chilly night. Lower in carbs and higher in protein and fats, this comfort meal will keep you satisfied and nourished. And who doesn’t love a crispy, chewy edge?
4. Fire Ox Braised Ethiopian Greens (350 calories)
While Fire Ox Foods deserves recognition for its recycled material and compostable packaging alone, its complex flavor is what really blew me away. The berbere spice adds a toasty warmth and heat to this very hearty vegan dish. The ingredient list is about as clean as it gets with just 11 mostly whole food ingredients. Lentils add a healthy dose of plant-based protein and olive oil gives healthy fat. The slightly al dente brown rice and braised collard greens offer a toothsome bite and texture not typically attainable in frozen food.
5. Amy’s Light & Lean Quinoa & Black Beans (240 calories)
Loaded with black beans and quinoa, this Amy's Kitchen frozen meal delivers a punch of protein. Gluten- and grain-free, quinoa (technically a seed) is a complete plant-based protein—meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids ("essential" means our bodies cannot make them and we must get them from food). When scanning the ingredient list, the word on repeat is “organic.” The butternut squash adds a sweet creaminess and the fermented tamari and black beans give a burst of umami—making this simple dish anything but simple.
Jennifer Sweenie is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Primal Health Coach, and Health-Supportive Chef. Read more from her on her blog, Heart & Belly.