Best Cheap Frozen Diet Meals
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.
Our Top Pick
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine Review
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.
Eating Right Chicken Enchilada Review
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.
Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies Review
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.
Kashi Chicken Enchiladas Review
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.
Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Shells Review
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.
Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza Review
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.