It’s much easier to stick to a commitment to eat right if a healthful meal is as easy to grab as a container of ice cream. Unfortunately frozen diet dinners hardly ever seem to look or taste as appetizing as they appear on the box. Cheapism.com assembled a tasting panel to test two popular types of entrées: pasta with tomato sauce, and enchiladas (plus a burrito from Trader Joe’s, which doesn’t make an enchilada). All cost less than $4 per serving — likely more than cooking the same dish from scratch but less than other convenient options such as takeout. The two top finishers cost only about $2 each.
Here are the most palatable (if not, ahem, the most authentic) in each category.
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine ($2.19) emerged as the first-place pasta on the strength of zesty sauce and an appealing, al dente texture. It has 270 calories, 12 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, and 4 grams of fiber (and a Weight Watchers Points Plus value of 7). One knock against this entrée: 860 milligrams of sodium, or 36 percent of your daily value. Mayo Clinic explains that even 20 percent is high. While this dish won’t suit consumers specifically trying to limit their salt intake, it’s still not as bad as some. Frozen dinners have been known to contain 1,500 mg of sodium or more. (Where to buy)
Amy’s Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies ($3.84) is on the pricey side, so use sales and coupons to stock up. Although more expensive, this entrée is arguably more healthful than the Weight Watchers pasta, with a little more than half the sodium. At 210 calories, it also makes a lighter meal, but you may want to supplement it with some lean protein to avoid reaching for a snack later. This dish contains 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein. Panelists noted sizable pieces of broccoli and asparagus and enjoyed the touch of lemon they tasted in this dish. (Where to buy)
The Eating Right Chicken Enchilada ($2) is a Safeway-brand entrée. With 300 calories, about 16 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and about 3 grams of fiber, this is a diet meal that might actually fill you up. Panelists were initially put off by its bland appearance, but the chicken and corn flavors and light sauce won them over. (Where to buy)
The Kashi Chicken Enchilada ($3) has 9 grams of fat, the highest total among the enchiladas, but only 2.5 grams of saturated fat. Six grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein also help satisfy. This dish could use a little more spice, reviewers say, and a little less sodium. It contains 620 mg, a daily value of 26 percent. Panelists were pleased to find the texture more crunchy than mushy. (Where to buy)
More from Cheapism:
Full report on cheap frozen diet meals
Best budget diet plans for 2014
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5 weight-loss scams to avoid