Remember when you were a kid how exciting it was to have Kid Cuisine for dinner? Your caregivers could lovingly (or begrudgingly) work night after night to make dinners from scratch, but something about a heat-and-eat meal with its carefully parceled out nuggets, mac-and-cheese, and brownie felt special.
As an adult, having a microwaveable meal for dinner often feels like the opposite of something special. But registered dietitian Cara Harbstreet, RD, wants everyone to know that you can absolutely still enjoy a microwaveable meal for dinner while still nourishing your body. “I consider heat-and-eat meals—fresh or frozen—to be healthy options,” she says. “They provide advantages such as convenience and less hassle—beneficial for mental and emotional health—are portion-controlled, and can help someone avoid boredom with routine food choices when meal planning.” (Besides, haven’t you noticed that the freezer section at the grocery store is a heck of a lot healthier than it was during the ’80s and ’90s?)
The key, of course, comes down to reading the nutritional panel and ingredients list. (You knew that was coming, right?) Harbstreet says it’s important to check out the sodium content as some frozen meals are very high in sodium. A good rule of thumb is keeping your intake under 2,00 milligrams a day. “The other things I look for are the fiber and protein content, as they contribute to overall fullness and satiety, something that can be missing from certain microwaveable meals,” Harbstreet says. If your microwaveable meal doesn’t deliver here, you’re very likely going to be reaching in your pantry for a snack later.
“We should shift how we think of microwaveable meals,” Harbstreet says. “They’ve gotten a negative reputation or cast as ‘highly processed, packaged food’ but in reality, there are nourishing, healthful options out there. It really comes down to how someone uses them and if they can be a tool for self-care or convenience. I rely on them myself during particularly busy weeks, and that supports overall health, including mental and emotional health, more than stressing out about planning and preparing every meal from scratch, There’s nothing wrong with turning to a convenient option, and these meals can offer that benefit for those who want to make that choice.”
Want to stock your freezer with some options that fit Harbstreet’s criteria? The five here are all low in sodium and high in both fiber and protein.
Made with cage-free dark meat chicken, this curry bowl has 16 grams of protein and has four grams of fiber, sourced from veggies like zucchini and broccoli. It’s also completely dairy-free and gluten-free, making it compatible with a wide variety of dietary needs. Pair it with rice or enjoy it as-is.
Buy it now: Primal Kitchen Chicken Panang Curry Bowl ($8)
With nine grams of both fiber and protein, this $5 meal is a lot of nutrient-rich bang for your buck. Much of this is credited to the beans—a longevity-promoting staple. The veggies and rice also up the fiber content, and the enchilada sauce keeps it from tasting bland.
Buy it now: Amy’s Black Bean Enchilada ($5)
With 10 grams of protein and four grams of fiber, this entrée is a great nutrient-rich vegetarian option to have stashed in your freezer. The rice and tofu are seasoned with cumin, one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices out there.
Buy it now: Cafe Spice Tofu Cashew Korma with Basmati Cumin Rice ($7)
A hot bowl of creamy risotto is only one quick minute in the microwave away. This entree has a full 12 grams of protein—without including any meat. Instead, it comes from soy crumbles that are folded right into the cheesy rice.
Buy it now: HMR Mushroom Risotto ($24 for 6)
Another bean-centric vegetarian option, these pupusas have fiber, protein, and are a meal-time win for both kids and adults. Everything listed on the ingredients list is familar: organic corn, black beans, salt, olive oil, and lime. That’s it!
Buy it now: Tres Latin Foods Black Bean & Sweet Corn Pupusas ($6)
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