We’ve come a long way. TV dinners started in the ’50s with prison-like gruel in aluminum trays. By the ’80s, they were microwavable and cafeteria-like. And along came the “lean cuisines” but with little emphasis on protein; many merely had smaller portions. But over the past decade, a rapidly growing segment of microwavable dishes (mostly rice-based bowls) have upped the protein and taste while reducing the saturated fat and glycemic index. What follows are the 10 healthiest frozen meals, suitable for those looking to gain muscle but not fat. All have protein tallies of between 16 and 27 grams and calorie counts from 220 to 400. We’ve ranked them by the stats on their nutritional labels, but they’re all recommended. Let taste be your ultimate guide to the fittest frozen meals.
1. SMARTMADE CHICKEN WITH SPINACH FETTUCINE
calories 220, 22 g protein, 6 g fat (3 g sat.), 19 g carbs (4 g sugar, 2 g fiber)
How could a dish with both pasta and creamy fettucine sauce (and 22 grams of protein) have such low calorie, fat, and carb counts? Some ingenious trickery: The pasta is mostly spinach and the sauce is mostly bean curd (tofu). Trust us, it works.
2. STOUFFER’S FIT KITCHEN CALI CHICKEN
calories 340, 24 g protein, 11 g fat (2 g sat.), 37 g carbs (2 g sugar, 7 g fiber)
Grilled chicken with edamame, kale, and tomatoes over brown and red rice with avocado crema and jalapeno lime vinaigrette. Though it has slightly more calories and less protein than the next two dishes on our list, we love the Cali Chicken’s saturated fat and sugar stats and the 3.5-to-1 fiber-to-sugar ratio.
3. HEALTHY CHOICE POWER BOWLS ADOBO CHICKEN BOWL
calories 330, 26 g protein, 8 g fat (2.5 g sat.), 38 g carbs (4 g sugar, 8 g fiber)
The Southwestern-inspired bowl mixes spicey, all-natural chicken with vegetables atop brown and red rice, quinoa, and barley. We especially like the low-glycemic, 2-to-1 fiber-to-sugar ratio.
4. LUVO CHICKEN CHILI VERDE
calories 320, 27 g protein, 12 g fat (4.5 g fat), 28 g carbs (5 g sugar, 6 g fiber)
The highest protein option on our list keeps the calories in check. Chicken served with polenta, black beans, corn, and tomatillos in a Mexican-style verde sauce, topped with a blend of cheeses.
5. SMARTMADE MEDITERRANEAN-STYLE CHICKEN BOWL
calories 260, 19 g protein, 9 g fat (4 g sat.), 29 g carbs (6 g sugar, 5 g fiber)
SmartMade cracks our top five again with another low-cal bowl. Grilled chicken with chickpeas, kale, and roasted vegetables over quinoa, topped with feta cheese.
6. EVOL FIRE GRILLED STEAK
calories 400, 18 g protein, 22 g fat (3.5 g sat.), 40 g carbs (2 g sugar, 7 g fiber)
A non-chicken option: steak, veggies, and a little cheddar cheese over white rice. The calories and overall fat are the highest on our list, but the saturated fat is surprisingly okay and the 3.5-to-1 fiber-to-sugar ratio is great.
7. TRADER JOE’S CHICKEN BURRITO BOWL
calories 380, 22 g protein, 11 g fat (4 g sat.), 54 g carbs (3 g sugar, 10 g fiber)
Back to a popular formula: mildly-spicey chicken with veggies over brown rice and quinoa. It works again. This has the highest carb total on our list but the fiber-to-sugar ratio keeps the glycemic bump in check.
8. EVOL CHICKEN ENCHILADA BAKE
calories 370, 20 g protein, 13 g fat (6 g. sat), 43 g carbs (2 g sugar, 6 g fiber)
Another Evol recommendation. This looks and tastes like an ab-eraser, but, like its steak sibling, its stats say otherwise. The saturated fat is not ideal, but, again, we like the fiber-to-sugar ratio.
9. RED’S CHICKEN & MEXICAN STYLE STREET CORN
calories 380, 18 g protein, 19 g fat (5 g sat.), 37 g carbs (2 g sugar, 5 g fiber)
Grilled chicken, corn, black beans, and cheese over brown rice, and almost all of it is certified organic. And, once again, a great fiber-to-sugar ratio.
10. LOVE THE WILD BAJA STYLE FISH TACO BOWL WITH BARRAMUNDI
calories 320, 16 g protein, 12 g fat (6 g sat.), 39 g carbs (3 g sugar, 4 g fiber)
And, finally, something different: a fish taco bowl. Barramundi (Asian sea bass), tortilla strips, pico sauce, black beans, corn, jalapeno over brown rice, all with a ceviche-like flavor.
Opening image: Dwight Eschliman