The Healthiest Frozen Foods in the Supermarket: Vegetarian Bowls
Frozen bowls have grown in popularity over the past few years, and so have vegetarian options. In fact, we were surprised by how many meatless bowls we found and by the variety of meatless proteins they featured - combos that included beans, whole grains, soy, and nuts.. We found several great-tasting bowls for vegetarians (and vegans) or those just wanting a meatless meal.
Taste Test Winners
A take on Mexican chilaquiles, this bowl's focus is soft corn tortilla strips layered with a Mexican tomato sauce and cheese. Tofu adds protein and it blends in the cheesy layers nicely. A creamy side of black beans rounds out the meal. This bowl has authentic Mexican flavor while also providing 10g fiber. $4.99, gluten-free
Calories 390; Fat 18g (sat 6g); Protein 17g; Carb 41g; Fiber 10g; Sugars 6g; Chol 25mg; Iron 4mg; Sodium 780mg; Calc 300mg
A layer of soft corn masa and melted cheese top a lightly spiced mixture of corn and black beans. The vegetables have great texture; we just wish the bowl got more beans. Serve alone, topped with fresh chopped tomato, or over a bed of shredded lettuce. Need to serve a few people? The frozen casserole also comes in a family-size. $4.99, gluten-free
Calories 380; Fat 16g (sat 5g); Protein 12g; Carb 48g; Fiber 8g; Sugars 4g; Chol 20mg; Iron 4mg; Sodium 780mg; Calc 250mg
This brown rice bowl has small pieces of marinated tofu and fresh-tasting veggies tossed in a slightly sweet teriyaki-soy sauce. What stood out to us was the great texture retained by both the rice and broccoli - soft, but still with a little bite - which can be hard to find in microwaved grains and vegetables. $4.99, gluten-free, vegan
Calories 290; Fat 4.5g (sat 0.5g); Protein 12g; Carb 52g; Fiber 6g; Sugars 15g; Chol 0mg; Iron 1mg; Sodium 780mg; Calc 40mg
Others We Liked:
We were excited to find a frozen bowl with quinoa since most feature pasta or rice. Red and white quinoa and black beans are tossed in a light olive oil vinaigrette and topped with a mango salsa that's refreshing, but not overpowering. $3.99, vegan
Calories 320; Fat 10g (sat 1g); Protein 12g; Carb 48g; Fiber 12g; Sugars 7g; Chol 0mg; Iron 4mg; Sodium 420mg; Calc 60mg
The real cheese taste in this comforting classic pushed this dish towards the top of our list. Our only complaint is that the serving size seemed small. Pair with roasted or steamed vegetables or a green salad to round out the meal. $3.49
Calories 290; Fat 5g (sat 3g); Protein 16g; Carb 43g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 4g; Chol 15mg; Iron 1mg; Sodium 560mg; Calc 300mg
Brown rice is cooked with cremini mushrooms, sweet peas, and Parmesan cheese to create a savory, creamy risotto. We loved seeing this bowl's simplified, mostly organic ingredient list too. Serve with a green salad or fresh veggies. $2.89
Calories 230; Fat 6g (sat 3.5g); Protein 7g; Carb 37g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 1g ; Chol 10mg; Iron 2mg; Sodium 640mg; Calc 60mg
The unique combination of quinoa and sweet potato make this bowl stand out. Quinoa provides an earthy flavor that's lightened with sautéed kale, sweet potato chunks, and a soy-tomato sauce. $3.79, vegan
Calories 300; Fat 8g (sat 1.5g); Protein 9g; Carb 50g; Fiber 7g; Sugars 9g; Chol 0mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 440mg; Calc 60mg
Things to Look For:
- Protein: Protein plays a role in satiety by slowing digestion so you feel full longer, so look for meatless meals that offer 10g or more. An added benefit of eating plant-based protein is you're also getting more fiber.
- Calories: You want to be satisfied and fueled - not hungry in an hour. Most individuals need 350-500 calories at a meal to achieve this, but some bowls can be low in calories. You don't have to skip the lower-calorie ones; instead, pair with a side salad, veggies and hummus, fruit, or Greek yogurt to fill out the meal and increase the calories.
- Whole Grains and Beans: Many bowls use refined grains, lowering the fiber and nutrient content. However, there are some now that use whole grains or another nutrient-dense carb source like beans or sweet potatoes. Check the ingredient list and look for brown rice instead of white, whole wheat pasta over wheat, or entrees that are bean or sweet potato-based as the primary starch.
How We Tested
Only frozen foods that met Cooking Light's nutrition guidelines for sodium and saturated fat content were tested. Products were eliminated based on the following: lack of calorie and/or protein adequacy, lack of whole grains, presence of trans fat or hydrogenation, presence of significant added sugars, and presence of artificial coloring or sweeteners. All frozen foods were cooked according to package directions and taste tested by a panel of Cooking Light editors and staff. To ensure consistency, Breville microwaves were used to cook all foods.