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Best Cheap Frozen Diet Meals
Cheap Frozen Diet Meals Tasting Panel
It can be a challenge for budget shoppers to find cheap, healthy (a.k.a. diet) meal options that are both quick and satisfying.
We invited nine opinionated diners to join us for a frozen diet food taste-off. Our panel sampled single-serving comparables from two common food categories -- pasta and enchiladas -- with a bean burrito thrown in for good measure. Each meal was microwaved according to package instructions, then parceled into clear plastic ramekins labeled only with a reference number or letter. Tasters nibbled the samples in two rounds, one for each cuisine type, and jotted down their impressions.
Unsurprisingly, none of the cheap frozen diet meals we offered up had tasting participants swooning. However, we did find a few that were solidly satisfying and dubbed "good" if not fantastic. We also turned up several that didn't cut the mustard.
In the pasta category, tasters particularly "liked the sauce and ingredients" of the Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine ($2.19/8.5 oz.), attributing its success to the "surprisingly good" cheese filling and "sprinkle of green herbs." Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies ($3.84/8 oz.) also scored well, racking up points for "good and simple" flavors and "bright sauce." No one on our panel appreciated what Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce ($2.69/8.5 oz.) brought to the table, calling the pasta "too firm," the filling "too spinachy," and the overall effect "mushy."
Tasters found the Eating Right Chicken Enchilada ($2/9 oz.) to be a palatable option, with a nod going to the "light chicken and corn tortilla flavor." The Kashi Chicken Enchiladas ($3/9 oz.) were a close second, having impressed with "visible greens" and a flavor that most liked. The least popular meal in the enchilada and burrito category was the Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza ($1.74/9 oz.). Panelists couldn't get past the "diet flavor," which one commenter called "peppery, but unappealing."
Single-serving frozen diet meal options are limited to a little more than half a dozen national brands. Most of these are well-known -- Kashi, Lean Cuisine, and Weight Watchers, to name a few. We wanted to ensure that these popular brands, including several that don't pass for cheap, went head to head in our taste test to help consumers determine which products deserved a spot in their shopping carts. All the frozen diet meals sampled were bought at our local supermarket, and while prices may be higher or lower depending on locale, we found that the cost difference between the cheapest meals, starting at $1.74, and the priciest options, which rang up close to $4.00, was minimal. Even the most expensive meal in our lineup would yield a cost saving when compared to the go-to alternatives -- a fast food run or dining at a sit-down restaurant. For these reasons we decided to reach beyond our usual cheap boundary and included low-cal frozen meals selling for prices that were at the higher end of the price spectrum.
When it came to value, the more expensive Kashi and Amy's brands held their ground with our samplers. A representative meal from each was named as a good cheap frozen meal pick. That said, the highest praise was given to two of the cheapest frozen diet meals we served -- the Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine and the Eating Right Chicken Enchilada.
Best Cheap Frozen Diet Meals
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine
The "hearty," "well-seasoned" sauce and "good texture" of this Weight Watchers pasta elevated it to the top of tasters' grocery lists. Some wished for more oomph from the cheese filling, but more than half the group named the Ravioli Florentine as their hands-down favorite diet food in the pasta category.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Eating Right Chicken Enchilada
Tasters were initially skeptical of this "bland-looking" diet meal, but the "nice chicken flavor" and a "light sauce" with "slight creaminess" were enough to create converts. This enchilada edged out the Kashi Chicken Enchiladas with slightly more "favorite" votes, although some still said it "needs spice."Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Good Cheap Frozen Diet Meals
Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies
Tasters liked that this "simple, but good" dish featured "actual broccoli chunks," saying the "corkscrew pasta works better" than some of the filled ravioli-style offerings of other frozen meals. "Perfect texture" and a "healthy taste" won this pasta contender the approval of our entire panel.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Kashi Chicken Enchiladas
Panelists liked this enchilada's "good," "slightly spicy smell," and said it "looks like it's packed full of veggies." The "crunchy texture" and "sweet, mild flavor" appealed to most, although one taster questioned, "green stuff in an enchilada?"Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Trader Joe's Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Cheese Shells
Our panel had plenty to say about these jumbo stuffed shells -- unfortunately most of it was negative. From "watery" flavor to "grainy cheese filling," it didn't seem there was much our tasters liked about this budget option. Although many appreciated the "visible spinach" filling these conchiglioni, it wasn't enough to salvage the "blah" results.Read more »
Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza
This low-cal enchilada's "creamy sauce" and "poblano flavor" found favor with a couple of our taste-testers, but most were turned off by the "moist and slimy" consistency and "bland, weird flavor." Panelists did mention the visible char marks on the tortilla were a nice touch, but taste-wise, we suggest you give these a skip.Read more »
Lean Cuisine Chicken Enchilada Suiza Review
Amy's Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies Review
Kashi Chicken Enchiladas Review
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Ravioli Florentine Review
Eating Right Chicken Enchilada Review
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