Frozen dinners get a lot of heat for being preservative-heavy calorie bombs, but not all are created equal.
Sweet Earth Natural Foods
Every busy parent needs a break, especially when you’re juggling a hectic work schedule and your kid’s even more hectic load of extracurricular activities. Frozen meals can be a good alternative on those crazy school nights, but it can be hard to find ones that deliver the right nutrition your child’s growing body needs without also feeding them excess salt, fat, and preservatives. (These are the signs you might be eating too many preservatives.) Sweet Earth Natural Foods is an award-winning brand specializing in vegetarian options made with all natural ingredients. Each entrée is packed with vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber. If your kid loves Asian flavors, try the Pad Thai—the veggies look like they were picked fresh, the rice noodles hold their consistency throughout the freezing process, the flavors are so spot-on that your little one won’t even realize they’re eating tofu, and they’ll get eight grams of protein, four grams of fiber, and a dose of vitamins A and C. Or, let them have breakfast for dinner with one of the breakfast burritos. The Get Focused! will fill them up with 18 grams of protein, seven grams of fiber, and omega-3s, all cloaked in a blend of scrambled eggs, smoked gouda, kale, peas, and meatless Tuscan grounds wrapped in a healthy whole wheat wrap.
If your child’s a mini foodie, Saffron Road might be for you. Specializing in world cuisines from India to Mexico, the brand is non-GMO with antibiotic-free meat. Sneak in veggies by feeding them Lamb Saag, a flavorful Indian dish of lamb and spinach over basmati rice with 17 grams of protein, or Beef Bulgogi, Korean marinated beef over brown rice and Asian vegetables. “Choose foods with a simple ingredient list with foods you recognize,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Spaghetti and meatballs just got a whole lot easier with Mama Mancini’s. Though not a typical frozen meal, it’s a good option when you just need a little help getting dinner on the table. Try their all natural turkey meatballs in tomato sauce (sold in the refrigerated section but freeze-able without altering the texture or taste), both crafted from the founder’s Italian grandmother’s recipes, then boil up a pot of pasta (try Banza, a chickpea pasta that tastes like regular noodles but delivers extra nutrients and boils faster) and dinner can be ready in 15 minutes or less.
The Luvo brand pledges to deliver a full serving of veggies in each dish, which all include less than 500 milligrams of sodium, an emphasis on whole grains, antibiotic-free meat, and no artificial ingredients, all in under 500 calories. The Chicken Chorizo bowl is just 260 calories and delivers a whopping 13 grams of fiber, 18 grams of protein, and half a cup of veggies. They also have a Roasted Cauliflower Mac & Cheese made with brown rice noodles. It’s so nutrition-focused that it’s attracted brand ambassadors like Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and former Yankees great Derek Jeter.
If your child is a veggie lover, Kashi is the brand for you with its vegetarian bowls. The Sweet Potato Quinoa bowl is low in sugar and sodium and has 31 grams of whole grains, a good amount of protein and fiber, plus plenty of veggies in under 300 calories. “Check the label for added sugar and sodium; the new food labels spell out added sugars, making this easier than ever before. Choose frozen foods with the least amounts of these,” says Moore.
Now, this is a treat: Veestro does the cooking and grocery shopping for you. It’s a kosher certified, GMO- and preservative-free frozen foods delivery service with a mission to make plant-based eating attractive and accessible. You can order a pack with pre-selected meals (either once or as a monthly subscription) or fill your own box with a la carte options. All dishes are created by an executive chef and reviewed by a nutritionist to ensure what you’re getting is both delicious and healthfully balanced. You can even add healthy desserts and nutritious juices to your order.
Fishpeople or LoveTheWild
Good-for-you brands Fishpeople and LoveTheWild are frozen meal options that do half the work for you, so they’re a good choice when you’re running low on time but can still afford to spend a few minutes in the kitchen. Fishpeople is a seafood company that takes pride in sourcing its wild caught fish from domestic waters; in fact, you can even use the tracking code on each box to trace your fish on its website. While it sells plain frozen filets, marinated salmon filets, and soups, the seafood kits are what you want to try for an easy dinner option. Choose from wild Alaskan salmon or wild Alaskan cod, each paired with a crunchy and flavorful panko topping to ease young palates into seafood. LoveTheWild has a similar mission to engage in sustainable seafood and inspire people to eat more of it. Each kit comes with a fish filet (choose from red trout, striped bass, barramundi, catfish, or rainbow trout) and three cubes of sauce to bake on top, as well as parchment paper. Pair either kit with a quick cooking brown rice or quinoa (or one of Hilary’s millet medleys) and frozen veggies or a salad and dinner is served.
Burritos are universal “kid food,” but they’re not always the healthiest choice if they’re stuffed with loads of meat and cheese. Red’s offers better-for-you burrito options, made with all-natural ingredients and antibiotic-free meat. Try the organic chicken, cilantro, and lime burrito made with brown rice or the braised chicken with sweet potato and quinoa. You can also find burrito bowls for the hungrier kids in your family.
The Lean Cuisine Marketplace line is a solid option when you’re on-the-go. It features organic ingredients and some gluten-free entrees and frequently introduces new flavors or rotates limited edition dishes in and out. Try the Chicken with Almonds or Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef.
SO RIGHT by Bellisio Foods, Inc. is a newcomer to the frozen meal world. As the name suggests, it strives to provide the right nutrients in a product that tastes great, without preservatives or artificial ingredients. Choose from flavor profiles like Asian, classic American, or Caribbean, with each entrée packing a serious protein punch.