For decades, frozen foods found on the cold shelves of grocery stores have been the quick, affordable, and, more often than not, tasty options to pop in the microwave or oven, taking the place of cooking a meal from scratch on busy, or lazy days. Because the frozen dinner is already being prepared, it’s sometimes not aware to consumers what exactly they’re eating, and in certain cases, just how bad it can be for them, as many frozen foods are jam-packed with saturated fats, sodium, and sugars that can lead to unwanted weight gain or other health risks. This is why we decided to make a list of the frozen foods to leave on grocery shelves.
“Now, more healthy frozen meals with robust nutrition are starting to hit the market, however, many frozen meals contain lots of sodium, calories, and fat,” says Amanda A.. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living. “On the other end of the spectrum, some ‘healthy’ frozen meals may be lower in calories, but they may contain various ingredients, additives, or just lack a great nutrition profile compared to a meal you could make yourself.”
Here are some of the least healthy frozen foods to leave on the grocery store shelves next time you’re shopping. And for healthier meals, be sure to check out our list of 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.
Per 1 serving: 350 calories, 16 g fat (6 g saturated), 1,320 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 15 g sugar) 11 g protein
Unlike other steak meals, a Salisbury steak is an American dish, made from a combination of ground beef and other ingredients. Therefore, it might not be too surprising for consumers to see that the first ingredient listed for Banquet’s version of the meal is mechanically separated chicken. It also might not surprise them that pork and water are listed above ground beef as well, but what is surprising is that just the steak alone has an additional 22 ingredients that go into it.
“You’re going to see a lot of chemicals and additives where you think, ‘Huh, if I was going to make [this] in my kitchen I wouldn’t use any of those things, and I don’t even know what many of those things are,” says Nicole Buerkens, PhD, CNS.
In addition to the hefty list of ingredients, the meal as a whole contains 1,320 milligrams of sodium—more than half of the daily amount based on a 2,000 calorie diet. So maybe you should steer clear of this meal, along with these 25 Foods High in Sodium You Should Watch Out For.
Per 1 serving: 780 calories, 39 g fat (7 g saturated, <1 g trans fat), 1,120 mg sodium, 81 g carbs (7 g fiber, 25 g sugar) 26 g protein
With a heaping portion of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn, the Hungry-Man Boneless Fried Chicken meal advertises itself as containing 26 grams of protein—but what it doesn’t mention on the front of the box is that it also contains 39 grams of fat.
“[That’s] literally half of what an average grown adult should have in a day,” says registered dietitian Talia Hauser. “The sodium is also extremely high at 1,120 milligrams, again about half of what an adult should have in an entire day. There are only 7 grams of fiber which is pretty low for an entire meal, mostly because it’s lacking any high fiber vegetables or grains.”
Instead, make a healthier fried chicken at home with this Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken Recipe.
Per 2 waffles: 180 calories, 6 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 370 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 6 g sugar) 4 g protein
Kellogg’s Eggo waffles are a staple for many breakfasts, especially before school for kids. While they feature prominently on the packaging, strawberries are the 12th ingredient listed for these breakfast items.
Plus, while these waffles are low in calories, sodium, and sugar, they don’t provide your body with a ton of substance or nutrients. Instead, find a frozen breakfast waffle that provides your body with a good amount of fiber to keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.
Another healthier option would be making waffles from scratch, as they’d be rid of a majority of the excess ingredients found in the waffles to help preserve them while they’re frozen, or serve up some fresh berries, making them the main ingredient in breakfast instead of the 12th ingredient down.
Per 1 bowl: 480 calories, 37 g fat (15 g saturated), 1,280 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (2 g fiber, 1 g sugar) 23 g protein
The good thing about this breakfast is it only takes three minutes to cook, saving a ton of time on preparing breakfast. The bad thing is it has very few redeeming health qualities.
“Frozen meals are quick, they’re easy, sometimes time just gets away from us and you’re looking to get something on the table quick,” Buerkens says about why people turn to frozen foods despite their unhealthy qualities.
Combining bacon, sausage, potatoes, eggs, and cheese, Jimmy Dean’s Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl contains 480 calories in one serving, as well as 37 grams of fat and 1,280 milligrams of sodium—more than half of a daily amount based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Plus, with 15 grams of saturated fat, you’re already way over your daily recommended intake of the day.
Instead, why not grab one of these 25 Best Frozen Dinners for Healthier Weeknights?
Per 1 bowl: 620 calories, 31 g fat (11 g saturated, 1 g trans fat), 1,780 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar) 29 g protein
The combination of Buffalo chicken and macaroni and cheese is like a bar food lover’s dream come true, and this meal is packed with protein with 29 grams, but Hauser says she’s concerned about the level of sodium in just this one meal—1,780 milligrams.
“If you are hypertensive or even borderline hypertensive, the goal is to have about 2,000 to 2,400 milligrams per day, so this is almost all of it,” Hauser says. “It also has 11 grams of saturated fat, about half of the daily recommendation. This comes from all the blue cheese and Buffalo cheddar cheese sauce.”
Why not make a lighter version with our Healthier Mac and Cheese Recipe?
Per 6 rolls: 230 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated), 410 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar) 6 g protein
Totino’s Pizza Rolls is a relatively cheap, kid and adult-friendly miniature serving of pizza, and while they are tasty and price-conscious, they’re also pretty unhealthy. A serving of six pizza rolls contains 230 calories, and the serving size is far too few to fill someone up, resulting in a way higher calorie intake, because Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and the author of The Candida Diet says “no one stops at just six.”
On top of the high caloric content, Richards says Totino’s Pizza Rolls are also loaded in saturated fat, sodium, and preservatives.
“Their nutrient content is nearly void and their processed nature makes them a highly inflammatory food,” Richards says. “You may save money on food but you’ll make up for it and more in healthcare costs if this is a staple in your freezer.”
Instead, focus on these 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods.
Per 1 cup serving: 440 calories, 26 g fat (11 g saturated), 650 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (2 g fiber, 2 g sugar) 11 g protein
On the surface, this seems like a well-balanced meal, as each pot pie is jam-packed with vegetables and lean meat—but Richards says this image of healthiness is just an illusion.
Plus, the serving size for this pot pie is only one cup. If you were to eat the whole thing, you would actually have to double the nutrition. And who only eats half of a mini pot pie—right?
“One pie is over 500 nutrient-deprived calories and over 700 milligrams of sodium,” Richards says. “The saturated fat content alone makes you wonder if lean meat is actually being used.”
Our Best-Ever Healthier Chicken Pot Pie Recipe would be a much better option for you!
Per 5 sticks: 320 calories, 15 g fat (2 g saturated), 370 mg sodium, 45 g carbs (2 g fiber, 11 g sugar) 4 g protein
They may be a Great Value, but Great Value French Toast Sticks aren’t great for overall health. There are 320 calories in just one four-ounce serving, and 15 grams of fat. Dietitian Judes Scharman Draughon, MS, RDN, LD, the author of 12 Fixes to Healthy says that any frozen French toast stick product is just “empty calories.”
“Frozen French toast options are processed breakfast and lunch replacements made with refined white flour, artificial colorings, preservatives, and flavorings without nutritious produce, protein or whole grains,” Draughon says. “[They are] empty calories posing as nutritious breakfast and lunch substitutes.”
Per 1 serving: 440 calories, 26 g fat (11 g saturated), 650 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (2 g fiber, 2 g sugar) 11 g protein
With a name like Lean Cuisine, it’s easy to imagine that this would be a great purchase for your waistline and health, and while Lean Cuisine products are overall low on calories, they still aren’t the best items to take off the shelf and put into your freezer—especially not the Glazed Chicken.
“The chicken is coated with high fructose corn syrup, several preservatives, salt, and artificial caramel color,” says Dan DeFigio, a certified sports nutritionist and the author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. “The rice accompanying the chicken is blanched, enriched rice, meaning that all the nutrients have been stripped away, leaving just the carbohydrate shell. It also contains partially hydrogenated oil (trans fats), sugar, maltodextrin (more sugar), and caramel coloring.”
Rather than depending on a frozen dinner for nutrition, DeFigio recommends making your own meal, which sometimes can be just as simple as heating something up in the microwave.
“Frozen dinners don’t really save much time—it doesn’t take long to chop up some organic chicken and vegetables and make a stir-fry with fresh ingredients that you control,” DeFigio says. “Taking a few minutes to throw together a homemade meal like this ensures that you eat healthy ingredients and avoid dangerous chemicals.”
Per 1 package: 1,050 calories, 72 g fat (14 g saturated), 2,060 mg sodium, 60 g carbs (4 g fiber, 18 g sugar) 44 g protein
It’s rare that anyone is ever fooled into thinking that a fried chicken meal is healthy, but the packaging on this meal advertises its high protein content. While it does contain 44 grams of protein, the front of the box doesn’t mention that it also contains 72 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 175 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,060 milligrams of sodium.
The fat content alone is more than the recommended daily amount based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Per 1/6 pizza: 440 calories, 24 g fat (8 g saturated), 1,060 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (2 g fiber, 2 g sugar) 22 g protein
While pizza is very rarely a healthy choice, this pizza boasts of its natural ingredient and uncured meats on its packaging, which makes it seem like it can’t be too bad for you, right? But the pizza is also filled with a staggeringly high saturated fat content.
“A serving size of this pizza is only one-sixth of the pizza, so consider how much you’d be eating, and in that one-sixth of the pizza you will get a whopping 24 grams of fat and 1,060 milligrams of sodium,” Hauser says. “If you eat half of the pizza you will rack in 1,320 calories, 72 grams of fat, and 3,180 milligrams of sodium—way beyond what one meal should provide.”
Instead, make a healthier pizza at home with our 29+ Best Healthy Pizza Recipes.