Organic? Grass-fed? Gluten-free? Welcome to the new ice age! We nuked away to find the freshest-tasting fast food around.
The freezer aisle has come a long way in the 60 years since the first TV dinners entered the scene. Instead of Salisbury steak and sad, rubbery peas, today’s microwavable meals are likely to include kale and chicken raised without antibiotics. “The quality and variety are so much better than they were just a few years ago,” says Libby Mills, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “More people are demanding food that is both healthy and environmentally sound, and companies are responding.” In fact, organic and “natural” ready-to-eat meals are projected to become a $2.2 billion business in the U.S. by 2017, per a Euromonitor International report. But what good is nutrition cred if the offerings taste like airplane food? No worries: We tested dozens to pinpoint the ones you’ll actually want to eat again and again.
IF YOU LIKE A LATIN KICK
1. EVOL FIRE GRILLED STEAK
Power Ingredients: Steak, black beans, cilantro-lime rice, roasted red peppers and Cheddar cheese with a cilantro-lime pesto
Tester’s take: “Yum! It was just like a takeout burrito bowl but has only 400 calories.”
Key nutritionals: 400 calories, 3.5g Sat. Fat, 20g Pro. 9g Fiber, 520mg Sod.
Power Ingredients: Chicken, polenta and black beans in a punched-up green chile sauce
Tester’s take: “The chicken somehow tasted freshly cooked, and the black beans had a nice al dente quality. The only downside was that it could use something green. Next time, I’ll steam some spinach to serve on the side.”
Key nutritionals: 320 Calories, 4.5 Sat. Fat. 27g Pro., 6g Fiber, 470mg Sod.
3. KASHI MAYAN HARVEST BAKE
Power Ingredients: Plantains, black beans, sweet potato, kale, Kashi 7 Whole Grains & Sesame Pilaf, amaranth and polenta in a spicy ancho sauce
Tester’s take: “The sweet plantains in the sauce had a nice oomph to them. And the pilaf added a satisfying texted to the meal.”
Key nutritionals: 340 Calories, 2g Sat. Fat, 9g Pro., 8g Fiber, 380mg Sod.
FOOD FOR INDIAN LOVERS
4. SAFFRON ROAD CHICKEN BIRYANI
Power Ingredients: Chicken, basmati rice and caramelized onions in Biryani spices
Tester’s take: “It tasted so fresh that I couldn’t believe it came out of a box”
Key nutritionals: Key nutritionals: 400 Calories, 2g Sat. Fat, 25g Pro., 3g Fiber, 590mg Sod.
5. SAFFRON ROAD CHANA SAAG
Power Ingredients: Chickpeas and spinach seasoned with ginger and traditional Indian herbs and spices over cumin rice
Tester’s take: “This mean smelled and tasted as if it had come straight out of the kitchen of an Indian restaurant. And it was filling to boot”
Key nutritionals: 420 Calories, 1.5g Sat. Fat, 12g Pro., 8g Fiber, 590mg Sod.
ASIAN TAKEOUT ALTERNATIVE
6. LEAN CUISINE SPA COLLECTION SESAME STIR FRY WITH CHICKEN
Power Ingredients: Chicken, edamame, broccoli and whole-wheat vermicelli in a sesame sauce
Tester’s take: “Overall it was fresh and satisfying.”
Key nutritionals: 280 Calories, 1g Sat. Fat, 19g Pro., 5mg Fiber, 480mg Sod.
7. CEDAR LANE EGGPLANT PARMESAN
Power Ingredients: Eggplant filled with roasted vegetables and cheese in a sun-dried tomato sauce
Tester’s take: “Surprisingly delicious! The eggplant was satisfying, and the sauce was creamy but not at all heavy”
Key nutritionals: 280 Calories, 5g Sat. Fat, 13g Pro., 5g Fiber, 590mg Sod.
Power Ingredients: Ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a turkey Bolognese sauce
Tester’s take: “This one is a win-win: filling and low-calorie. The turkey Bolognese was nicely seasoned and hearty. The ravioli weren’t bad either! I’d say this meal was actually restaurant-good.”
Key nutritionals: 310 Calories, 2g Sat. Fat, 19 Pro., 4g Fiber, 470mg Sod.
WHEN YOU CRAVE COMFORT FOOD
9. BLAKE’S MEATLOAF DINNER CASSEROLE
Power Ingredients: Meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes, peas and gravy
Tester’s take: “The flavors simmered together fo nicely. It was hearty but not a ton of food, so I added a side salad.”
Key nutritionals: 310 Calories, 9g Sat. Fat, 11g Pro., 3g Fiber, 350mg Sod.
10. ARTISAN BISTRO GRASS-FED BEEF IN MUSHROOM SAUCE
Power Ingredients: Beef and French lentils with a mushroom sauce, edamame, sugar snap peas, sweet potatoes and onions
Tester’s take: “A high-quality meat-and-potatoes dish, it’s perfect for when you walk through the door feeling famished.”
Key nutritionals: 350 Calories, 3.5g Sat. Fat, 23g Pro., 4g Fiber, 580mg Sod.
Power Ingredients: Roasted white-meat chicken and mango chunks in a sweet orange sauce with rice, kale and broccoli
Tester’s take: “You might want to season the veggies, but the chicken and mango smothered in a tasty sauce made this meal.”
Key nutritionals: 420 Calories, 1g Sat. Fat, 21g Pro. 4g Fiber, 380mg Sod.
12. ARTISAN BISTRO WILD SALMON WITH PESTO
Power Ingredients: Wild Alaskan salmon in a basil pesto with chickpea pilaf, zucchini and green beans
Tester’s take: “Reheating frozen seafood in the microwave is tricky, but this worked. It helped that the fish was drizzled with a yummy pesto sauce!”
Key nutritionals:310 Calories, 2.5g Sat. Fat, 16g Pro., 3g Fiber, 370mg Sod.