Best Cheap Frozen Diet Meals
Published on By Gina Briles
Eating Right Chicken Enchilada Review
(From $2.00 Best)
Tasters were initially skeptical of this "bland-looking" diet meal, but the "nice chicken flavor" and a "light sauce" with "slight creaminess" were enough to create converts. This enchilada edged out the Kashi Chicken Enchiladas with slightly more "favorite" votes, although some still said it "needs spice."
Safeway's house-branded Eating Right Chicken Enchilada retails at $2 for a 9-ounce portion. Our panel's review commended this meal's "nice-sized pieces of chicken" that actually tasted like chicken and also approved of the "light" sauce and "creaminess." Most Eating Right Chicken Enchilada reviewers deemed this their favorite of the frozen enchilada meals they sampled, but they did find room for improvement. One panelist commented that the Eating Right Chicken Enchilada "doesn't look great" while ultimately conceding she was more partial to the flavor than to the appearance. Another taster said it had "good texture" but "not much flavor."
We found sparse Eating Right Chicken Enchilada reviews online; those posted were filled with lukewarm praise. While the writer of a lifestyle article at Dallas News did not include this option in her top-five list of frozen meals she'd buy again, she also indicated she wouldn't rule out a second sampling. A blogger who reviewed Eating Right Chicken Enchilada at Urbzen was more complimentary, citing the portion size, the tasty green chili sauce, and the high protein content as positives. The downsides, according to the blogger, include lots of sodium and "mystery ingredients" and the lack of beans to go along with the rice.
The Eating Right Chicken Enchilada contains 550 mg of sodium, or an estimated 23 percent of a diner's daily allowance. (To those on a low-salt diet we suggest proceeding with caution.) There are 300 calories in each portion, 16.1 grams of protein, and 6.1 grams of total fat, which translates to 9 percent of the recommended daily value. Each serving of enchilada and rice also provides 15 percent of the recommended vitamins A and C, and calcium.
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Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine Review
(From $2.19 Best)
The "hearty," "well-seasoned" sauce and "good texture" of this Weight Watchers pasta elevated it to the top of tasters' grocery lists. Some wished for more oomph from the cheese filling, but more than half the group named the Ravioli Florentine as their hands-down favorite diet food in the pasta category.
At just over $2 for an 8.5-ounce meal, Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine is a good buy for calorie counters. Our review by a panel of tasters determined that this frozen diet pasta beat out others costing up to $1.50 more. They praised the "good sauce with some zest" and a mild cheese filling that rated the "best so far." They liked the texture and seasoning, and while some expressed a preference for a more robust filling, the majority found the dish to be sufficiently substantial.
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine reviews posted at Viewpoints echo the sentiments of our panelists, giving the Ravioli Florentine an average of 81 out of 100 points from the 20 user comments submitted. One reviewer writes that the dish is perfect for a quick meal, and notes that the slightly sweet sauce is amenable to flavor adjustments, such as a shake of pepper and a toss of grated cheese. Like most other reviewers, she gives the entree a solid 8 points out of 10. Many Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine reviews report that the portion is filling but some tell of pairing it with lean meat or additional fruits and vegetables for a more satisfying dinner.
On its own, this meal weighs in at 270 calories, with a Weight Watchers Points Plus value of 7. It contains 5 grams of fat, or 8 percent of the average person's daily value (DV). Vitamin C content reaches 15 percent of DV, calcium hits 20 percent, and vitamin A sits at 25 percent. There are 12 grams of protein in a single serving of Ravioli Florentine. It's worth noting that, like most prepared foods, it is high in sodium -- 860 mg, which equates to 36 percent DV. While the Weight Watchers ravioli is both low-cost and low-calorie, it may not be a good choice for anyone with high blood pressure or other medical issues requiring a low-salt diet.
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Kashi Chicken Enchiladas Review
(From $3.00 Good)
Panelists liked this enchilada's "good," "slightly spicy smell," and said it "looks like it's packed full of veggies." The "crunchy texture" and "sweet, mild flavor" appealed to most, although one taster questioned, "green stuff in an enchilada?"
More than half of our review panel rated the Kashi Chicken Enchiladas as their second favorite enchilada meal. The Kashi brand was another of the more expensive options we dished out, at $3 for a 9-ounce serving. As with the frozen diet pastas category, this second-fiddle microwave meal trailed a cheaper offering, but still did well with testers. The consensus opinion in the Kashi Chicken Enchiladas review: "packed full of veggies" with a "chunky consistency." The "sweet, mild" "tomato flavor" was deemed "good" by most panelists, who also noted a hint of spice in the aroma. One woman was less complimentary, saying that the meal was "better than some" but that "doesn't mean it's good."
A blogger at The Suburban Soapbox joined ranks with our Kashi Chicken Enchiladas reviewers, saying she enjoyed the taste and the accompanying grains but recommended augmenting the mild flavors with a few simple add-ons, like hot sauce and grated, spicy cheese. A self-proclaimed frozen food master gave Kashi Chicken Enchiladas ($3/9 oz.) 4.5 out of 5 stars for taste in his video review at Freezer Burns but took some issue with the meal's consistency and the "soggy" tortilla.
Again, as with the other frozen diet meals we tested, sodium content is considerable -- 620 mg, which is 26 percent of the recommended daily intake -- although the calorie count is a comfortable 280. A serving also contains 6 grams of fiber, or 24 percent of daily value (DV), and supplies 10 percent of the recommended average calcium and iron intake. Total fat content hits 9 grams, for a DV of 14 percent. Both vitamin A and C are absent.
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Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies Review
(From $3.84 Good)
Tasters liked that this "simple, but good" dish featured "actual broccoli chunks," saying the "corkscrew pasta works better" than some of the filled ravioli-style offerings of other frozen meals. "Perfect texture" and a "healthy taste" won this pasta contender the approval of our entire panel.
At $3.84 for an 8-ounce meal, Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies was the highest-priced frozen meal that we fed to our review panel. Despite the relatively expensive price tag, this low-cal lunch at a cost of less than four dollars remains a solid alternative to restaurant meals and fast food. With only 210 calories and 5 grams of fat, it's safe to say it's a healthier option, too. Most Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies review panel members had good things to say about this frozen pasta dish. They praised its simplicity, "good taste," and the mixed-in vegetables, including identifiable pieces of asparagus and broccoli. This isn't to say that the frozen pasta meal pleased everyone. One taster liked the "good smell" while another asserted it "smelled funny." And while some said the "pasta was tender" with a "perfect texture," others complained that the "noodles were soft."
A scan of online Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies reviews, such as this feedback from Good Housekeeping, reveals similar findings. The review at PopSugar Fitness heartily approves of the vegetables in Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies ($3.84/8 oz., Amazon) and expresses pleasant surprise at how filling it is.
In addition to the calorie and fat content noted above, the nutritional label on the Light & Lean pasta states it provides 3 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein. Diners will also get 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins A and C and 15 percent of the suggested calcium intake. In comparison with our top pasta pick (Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine), Amy's contains about half as much sodium, at 470 mg, which equates to 20 percent of the average daily allowance versus the 36 percent packed into the Weight Watchers entree. When choosing between the two frozen pasta meals, consumers will have to weigh salt intake over wallet drain.
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Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza Review
(From $1.74 Think Twice)
This low-cal enchilada's "creamy sauce" and "poblano flavor" found favor with a couple of our taste-testers, but most were turned off by the "moist and slimy" consistency and "bland, weird flavor." Panelists did mention the visible char marks on the tortilla were a nice touch, but taste-wise, we suggest you give these a skip.
The Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza tied the brand's asparagus and cheese ravioli as the cheapest meal our panel reviewed, with both going for just $1.74 at our local supermarket. Although the price tag for this Mexican-style frozen selection was attractive, the meal's success was questionable. Our team of Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza reviewers were somewhat divided in their opinions. Two panelists independently gave it 7 out of 10 points, citing the "charred tortilla" and "good taste and texture." Our remaining taste-testers were less enamored, with descriptors such as "nasty" with an "odd texture" and "unpleasing taste" hurled at it. After taking a bite, one panelist opined, "I would lose a lot of weight if I could only eat this."
The scant reviews available online mostly favored Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza ($1.74/9 oz., Target). The Frozen Foodie, a Tumblr blogger with claims to Mexican food expertise based on ancestry, reported enjoying the corn tortillas in particular, along with chicken that looked like chicken. She also liked the flavors of the sour cream-based sauce but conceded that a splash of hot sauce would liven things up a bit. Commentary at Tasty Lies is similarly positive, with praise doled out for the generous amount of seasoned sauce but some quibbling about less chicken and vegetables than the picture on the package indicates.
This chicken enchilada has a sodium content similar to the other frozen foods we tested. It contains 520 grams of sodium, or 22 percent of the average person's daily recommended allowance (DV). There are 280 calories and 10 grams of protein in this single serving frozen meal. Total fat comes to 4 grams, or 6 percent DV, while fiber sits at 3 grams, a 12 percent DV. Vitamins A and C come to 6 percent and 2 percent of recommended average daily intake, respectively, and the DV for calcium is 15 percent.
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Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Shells Review
(From $2.69 Think Twice)
Our panel had plenty to say about these jumbo stuffed shells -- unfortunately most of it was negative. From "watery" flavor to "grainy cheese filling," it didn't seem there was much our tasters liked about this budget option. Although many appreciated the "visible spinach" filling these conchiglioni, it wasn't enough to salvage the "blah" results.
The Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce diet meal we reviewed sells for $2.69 for an 8.5-ounce serving and started off with a promising appearance. Our tasters said the dish looked "good" with its red sauce and "lots of green" spinach. Once they bit in, however, the collective assessment shifted. Panelists were dismayed by the "awful flavor," "tough pasta," and "bad, fake cheese." They reported that the sauce "did not balance out the filling," and the end result "tastes almost too spinachy."
The cost of Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce ($2.69/8.5 oz.) was mid-range for a frozen diet dinner but poor reviews leave doubts about its value at any price. The few Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce reviews we found online were mixed. While one blogger raved about the marinara sauce and abundance of cheese, another who posted at a different site assigned a failing grade to this frozen diet meal for a variety of flaws, including those identified by our reviewers, and added small serving size to the list.
Consumers interested in sampling this dish, despite our lackluster findings, should consider the sodium content. Although our panel failed to detect much flavor in these shells, they pack a salty punch with 500 mg of sodium, or 20 percent of the daily recommended value. Protein weighs in with 20 grams, total fat equals 7 grams, and fiber measures 8 grams. Calcium content is a relatively high 45 percent of the recommended daily value (DV), as is vitamin A at 30 percent. The DV for vitamin C is 2 percent.
Where to buy
It can be a challenge for budget shoppers to find cheap, healthy (a.k.a. diet) meal options that are both quick and satisfying. At first glance, frozen dinners seem to fill the bill. They are easy to pop into the microwave, and grocery stores carry a plethora of diet-friendly options. Many fall flat when it comes to taste, however. Who wants to risk throwing away their hard-earned dollars on what could be a disappointing lunch? We decided to put a selection of low-cost, frozen convenience meals to the test to determine if they would satisfy budget-conscious calorie counters.
Cheap Frozen Diet Meals Tasting Panel
We invited nine opinionated diners to join us for a frozen diet food taste-off. Our panel sampled single-serving comparables from two common food categories -- pasta and enchiladas -- with a bean burrito thrown in for good measure. Each meal was microwaved according to package instructions, then parceled into clear plastic ramekins labeled only with a reference number or letter. Tasters nibbled the samples in two rounds, one for each cuisine type, and jotted down their impressions.
Unsurprisingly, none of the cheap frozen diet meals we offered up had tasting participants swooning. However, we did find a few that were solidly satisfying and dubbed "good" if not fantastic. We also turned up several that didn't cut the mustard.
In the pasta category, tasters particularly "liked the sauce and ingredients" of the Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine ($2.19/8.5 oz.), attributing its success to the "surprisingly good" cheese filling and "sprinkle of green herbs." Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies ($3.84/8 oz.) also scored well, racking up points for "good and simple" flavors and "bright sauce." No one on our panel appreciated what Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce ($2.69/8.5 oz.) brought to the table, calling the pasta "too firm," the filling "too spinachy," and the overall effect "mushy."
Tasters found the Eating Right Chicken Enchilada ($2/9 oz.) to be a palatable option, with a nod going to the "light chicken and corn tortilla flavor." The Kashi Chicken Enchiladas ($3/9 oz.) were a close second, having impressed with "visible greens" and a flavor that most liked. The least popular meal in the enchilada and burrito category was the Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza ($1.74/9 oz.). Panelists couldn't get past the "diet flavor," which one commenter called "peppery, but unappealing."
Single-serving frozen diet meal options are limited to a little more than half a dozen national brands. Most of these are well-known -- Kashi, Lean Cuisine, and Weight Watchers, to name a few. We wanted to ensure that these popular brands, including several that don't pass for cheap, went head to head in our taste test to help consumers determine which products deserved a spot in their shopping carts. All the frozen diet meals sampled were bought at our local supermarket, and while prices may be higher or lower depending on locale, we found that the cost difference between the cheapest meals, starting at $1.74, and the priciest options, which rang up close to $4.00, was minimal. Even the most expensive meal in our lineup would yield a cost saving when compared to the go-to alternatives -- a fast food run or dining at a sit-down restaurant. For these reasons we decided to reach beyond our usual cheap boundary and included low-cal frozen meals selling for prices that were at the higher end of the price spectrum.
When it came to value, the more expensive Kashi and Amy's brands held their ground with our samplers. A representative meal from each was named as a good cheap frozen meal pick. That said, the highest praise was given to two of the cheapest frozen diet meals we served -- the Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine and the Eating Right Chicken Enchilada.
Frozen Diet Pasta Meal Reviews
Pasta is a crowd-pleaser. The taste appeals to a wide range of palettes, and even those watching what they eat crave the comfort of carbs. While perusing the diet food section of the frozen food aisle for this review, we found that every brand offered at least one version of pasta in red sauce. Most marketed some type of cheese or chicken ravioli, although a couple of brands stuck with filled shells or simple rotini.
Of the eight cheap frozen diet pastas reviewed, a full six were vegetarian, relying on cheese and vegetables to sate appetites. These included Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine ($2.19/8.5 oz.), Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies ($3.84/8 oz.), Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells ($2.69/8.5 oz.), Lean Cuisine Asparagus and Cheese Ravioli ($1.74/9 oz.), Lean Cuisine Cheese Ravioli with Chunky Tomato Sauce ($1.74/8.5 oz.), and Eating Right Cheese Ravioli ($2/8.5 oz.).
Nutrition-wise, we compared calorie counts and the amount of fat, protein, vitamin C, and calcium in the frozen pasta meals in our review. The meat-free diet pastas ranged from 210 calories per meal with Amy's Pasta & Veggies, to 270 calories per meal with Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine and Trader Joe's Stuffed Shells, a slightly higher count but still waistline-friendly. Trader Joe's Stuffed Shells and Lean Cuisine Asparagus and Cheese Ravioli both contain 7 grams of fat, while the remaining cheap frozen diet pasta meals have just 5 fat grams per serving.
Only two of the pastas our testers nibbled on included a meat ingredient -- Healthy Choice Ricotta & Spinach Ravioli & Chicken Marinara ($2/10 oz.), and Kashi Chicken Pasta Pomodoro ($3/10 oz.). The Healthy Choice selection came in at 260 calories and 5 grams of fat and the Kashi meal provided 280 calories and 6 fat grams.
One notable difference between the meat-free and the meat-inclusive pastas was in the amount of protein. While the chicken pastas offered between 19 to 21 grams of protein, the vegetarian meals had between 10 to 12 protein grams. The only exception here was the Trader Joe's Stuffed Shells, which had 20 grams of protein.
Most cheap frozen diet vegetarian pastas had higher levels of vitamin C and calcium than their chicken-filled counterparts. The Eating Right Cheese Ravioli was an anomaly among the meatless selections, though, registering an unimpressive zero percent of vitamin C and a fairly low 15 percent calcium content.
When assessing appearance, our panel described almost all the cheap frozen diet pasta meals as "decent." The Amy's Light & Lean Pasta and the Healthy Choice Ravioli scored slightly better in this department with reviewers for their "nice color" and "healthy looks." Texture gripes plagued the array of frozen pasta meals in our review sample, the most common complaints being "grainy" cheese, "tough" pasta, or "slimy" or "mushy" texture. In the end, the pastas that pleased most of the tasters tended to maintain an al dente, "chewy" feel, as did the Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine.
The taste of all the pasta options was on the "mild" and sometimes sweet side, with several coated in "sugary" tomato sauces. These inexpensive frozen diet pasta dinners were geared towards sensitive palates, but tasters' favorite meals offered a little extra, as with the "tangy" flavor of the Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine and the "interesting" addition of a "lemon flavor" to the Amy's Light & Lean Pasta. Less successful meals, like the forgettable Eating Right Cheese Ravioli, faltered due to "bland filling," "watery taste," and "flat sauce."
Frozen Diet Mexican Meal Reviews
Mexican food, another favored frozen food category, made a strong showing across all the low-cost diet brands tested in our review. We chose enchiladas for our taste competition simply because all the major brands offered a version. Trader Joe's didn't sell an enchilada meal, so we added its Fat-Free Bean and Rice Burrito to the mix for good measure.
Within the enchilada category, our panel tried two frozen vegetarian dinners -- Trader Jose's 99 percent Fat-Free Bean and Rice Burrito ($2.49/12 oz.) and Amy's Light & Lean Black Bean & Cheese Enchilada ($3.49/8 oz.). The tasters also snacked on four frozen Mexican offerings with chicken -- Eating Right Chicken Enchilada ($2/9 oz.), Kashi Chicken Enchiladas ($3/9 oz.), Weight Watchers Smart Ones Chicken Enchiladas Suiza ($2.19/9 oz.), and Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza ($1.74/9 oz.).
As one might expect from a frozen Mexican diet meal, cheap or pricey, all the enchilada samples in our review were low in calories -- they were higher-cal than the pasta meals, however. The count ranged from 240 to 300 calories per meal, with Amy's Light & Lean Enchiladas at the low end, and the Eating Right Chicken Enchilada hitting the 300 calorie mark.
The rest of the nutritional analysis went as follows: Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza had the least fat content, at 4 grams and Kashi Chicken Enchiladas contained 9 grams of fat -- the highest of the category. The presence of chicken in four of the frozen Mexican diet meals under review did little to affect the protein count, which ranged from 10 grams in the Lean Cuisine enchilada to 14 grams in the one from Eating Right. Trader Jose's vegetarian version put in a good showing with 13 grams of protein and easily beat out Amy's Light & Lean, which contains only 8 protein grams. Lean Cuisine again held the edge when tallying the calcium content, with 15 percent to the others' 10 percent. Vitamin C levels ranged widely, from zero percent in the Kashi and Eating Right chicken enchilada entrees to 25 percent in Trader Jose's 99 percent Fat-Free Bean and Rice Burrito.
During the frozen diet Mexican meals review, panelists honed in on the distinctive "corn" flavors of the Eating Right Chicken Enchiladas. Samples of the Kashi Chicken Enchiladas "tasted Italian instead of Mexican" because of the "light tomato sauce," opined a couple of testers. The prevailing flavor of the Smart Ones Chicken Enchilada Suiza was its "cheesy," "almost buttery," "creamy white sauce."
The panel-pleasing Eating Right enchilada, the top vote-getter in the frozen diet Mexican category, fared poorly in the appearance arena. Tasters deemed it "light in color" and "bland-looking" but were happy to discover that it "tastes better than it looks."
On the flip side, the displeasing Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza "looked better" than much of its competition, featuring a "browned" tortilla with visible "grill marks." This trait alone couldn't salvage this "nasty" dish with the "odd texture," and it landed squarely at the bottom of the frozen diet enchilada pile.
Reviewers turned thumbs-down on the "mushy" texture of Trader Jose's Burrito and the "thick," "rubbery" consistency of Amy's Light & Lean Enchilada. By contrast, the "crunchy," veggie-packed Kashi Chicken Enchiladas were more of a texture hit, and reviewers awarded this entrant a second-place ribbon.
The low-cost frozen diet Mexican meals were also more prone to drying out during cooking than were the pastas. Panelists complained about the lack of moisture in both the Amy's Light & Lean and the Eating Right Chicken offerings, although the latter eventually claimed the category title in our frozen Mexican diet meals review.