The Tastiest, Healthiest Frozen Meals at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods According to a Nutritionist

By Candace Nagy
|
January 11, 2022
trader joe's
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

So many frozen foods are packaged to look healthy — but they so rarely are. That’s why we worked with two nutritionists to help us create this list of frozen meals that are actually good for you — and help take the guesswork out of your next trip down the frozen aisle. And because “healthy” and “delicious” don’t always match up, we personally tasted each one — and only included the options that were yummy enough to recommend. 

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD, acknowledges that frozen meals are often looked down upon because of their association with TV dinners from earlier eras. Here’s the good news: frozen foods have come a long way. These days, there are a lot of legitimately great, healthy options out there, but you need to be careful when selecting them.

“I recommend checking out the nutrition label and choosing options with sodium in the 700-800mg range (those on a salt-restricted diet should aim for under 600mg), at least 5g of fiber, and 16g or more of protein,” Weintraub says.

Of course, there’s more to consider when choosing frozen meals, and sometimes a little common sense can be the best guide when determining what’s healthy and what’s not. Ariane Resnick, CNC, shares this easy-to-remember philosophy: “Your best bet is to avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce or identify. Frozen meals shouldn’t require a lot of preservatives because the freezer is the preservative, so there shouldn’t be a long list of those at the end. It’s always a good idea to avoid nitrites and sulfites.” 

Resnick also notes that serving size is another stumbling block for many people. “Sometimes a single-looking meal will claim to be multiple servings,” Resnick says. “That can be misleading, as you’d think you’re eating, say, 500mg of sodium, but really you’re eating 1,000mg or even 1,500mg depending on the serving size.”

Now that you’ve got the download on how to choose the healthiest frozen meals, scroll on to check out the options that got our nutritionist’s stamp of approval (and passed our taste test). We’ll start with the Whole Foods options, then move on to Trader Joe’s.  

Note: With the exception of Sweet Earth Veggie Lover’s Pizza (cooked in a conventional oven) and Trader Joe’s’ Gochujang Vegetable Stir Fry (stovetop), all frozen meals listed below were heated in a microwave oven, following the package instructions. For the best taste, where possible, conventional oven or stovetop heating is recommended.

The healthiest, tastiest frozen meals you can find at Whole Foods

Amy’s Tofu Scramble

Since breakfast is the first meal of the day, why not start with one of our favorites that’s great for mornings on-the-go? A brand that most of us recognize as a leader in the healthy prepackaged foods category, Amy’s has been around since the late 1980s, giving them plenty of time to perfect their recipes. And honestly, they did just that with their tasty Tofu Scramble. While the sodium might be a tad on the high side (790mg), this meal is packed with protein — an impressive 20g — which will keep you full for hours.

What we liked:

  • Well-balanced portions of hash browns and tofu vegetable scramble, with a side of salsa that’ll wake you up but not burn your mouth. 
  • High in protein (20g) and cholesterol-free
  • Vegan, Gluten-Free, Organic, Dairy-Free

Sweet Earth Veggie Lover’s Pizza

Launched in 2012 out of their home by former corporate executives Brian and Kelly Swette, Sweet Earth products have quickly become a popular choice for those seeking healthy, frozen meals. While we will never turn our backs on a traditional New York-style slice, we love that Sweet Earth offers a super-healthy alternative that’s loaded with vegetables.

What we liked:

  • Topped with a variety of vegetables
  • Hearty whole wheat psyllium crust (Tip: Bake until crispy)
  • Low in sodium (330mg)
  • Vegan, Gluten-Free, Organic

Amy’s Cheese Enchiladas

Though the sodium in their cheese enchiladas is a bit high (940mg), we found the overall ingredients offered a balanced mix of carbs, fiber, and protein — and it frankly tasted great.

What we liked:

  • Just the right amount of spice in the sauce
  • Made with organic corn tortillas (Tip: Try heating in a conventional oven for crispier tortillas)
  • Gluten-Free, Organic, and high in protein (21g)

Frontera Chicken Fajita Bowl 

The Frontera brand was created by Rick Bayless, chef and host of the PBS show Mexico: One Plate at a Time. This specific meal may not hit those traditional south-of-the-border notes, but it did surprise us with a delicious hint of unexpected sweetness. We topped our bowl with chopped cilantro and avocado slices for a little extra freshness. 

What we liked:

  • Bite-sized, antibiotic-free white chicken chunks
  • Whole grain mixture, including brown rice, red rice, and amaranth
  • Dairy-Free, and high in protein (22g)

Saffron Road Chicken Tikka Masala with Basmati Rice

White rice is a refined grain that we don’t normally recommend, but hear us out: if you’re craving Indian flavors, this option is significantly better than a lot of others out there, and it’s packed with protein. To make sure you get enough fiber in, serve this dish with a quick side of steamed vegetables or a salad. 

What we liked:

  • Antibiotic-free white meat chicken
  • Robust, creamy sauce with tandoori spices
  • Soft, fluffy rice
  • Gluten-Free, and high in protein (17g)

The healthiest, tastiest frozen meals you can find at Trader Joe’s

Japchae Korean Sweet Potato Glass Noodles & Vegetable Stir Fry

The sweet potato glass noodles are the first ingredient in this Korean dish and immediately captured our attention because of their high-levels of potassium — a heart-healthy food. The added mix of colorful vegetables and umami flavors makes for a tasty, sensible meal.

What we liked:

  • Noodles and vegetables have a good bite/texture
  • Mild and flavorful sauce
  • Low-calorie and low-fat
  • Vegan, Gluten-Free

Gochujang Vegetable Stir Fry with Zucchini Spirals

We came across this new vegan offering made with gochujang, a savory, sweet, and mildly spicy fermented red chili paste that packs a lot of flavor. This meal is low in calories and sodium, and makes for a great vegetable side or a complete meal when served on top of steamed brown rice.

What we liked:

  • Lightly battered fried green beans add texture
  • Complex, umami flavor
  • Vegan, Gluten-Free

Chicken Burrito Bowl

Curious how Trader Joe’s Chicken Bowl would measure up to Frontera’s, we added it to our cart and were surprised to find some big differences — though ultimately we decided that both were deserving of a spot on this list. The biggest difference in this offering was the red sauce and addition of cheese and corn that reminded us of a Tex-Mex meal. And, yes — we added fresh cilantro and avocado to this bowl also!

What we liked:

  • Big chunks of white chicken
  • Hearty mix of quinoa, brown rice, and black beans
  • Low-calorie
  • High in protein (22g)

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