We've come a long way from the iconic TV dinner of rubbery turkey, tinny-tasting mashed potatoes, and gluey gravy. The best of the chicken- or shrimp-based meals we tested for this report are so tasty that you might forget they came from a bag in the freezer aisle.
In all, nine meals taste very good, with moist, tender chicken or shrimp; fresh-tasting, crisp vegetables; and al dente pasta or rice in flavorful sauce. Drawbacks among lower-rated products include soggy coatings or herbs that taste dehydrated.
We found that you can't just shop by brand. Contessa's Sesame Chicken is the best Asian chicken dinner we tested, but its MicroSteam Chicken Florentine is the lowest-rated Italian chicken dinner. And although P.F. Chang's makes a very good Shrimp Lo Mein, its Sweet and Sour Chicken is just OK.
You'll have to choose carefully to avoid loads of fat and sodium. Bertolli Chicken Florentine & Farfalle, for example, has 31 grams of fat per serving (17 of those are saturated fat) and 1,070 milligrams of sodium (the recommended daily limit is 2,300 milligrams). On the plus side, most of the meals have 3 to 5 grams of fiber, and servings weigh about 8 to 12 ounces, so most aren't skimpy. (Most packages contain 2 or 2.5 servings; Birds Eye Chicken Florentine has 3.)
The meals usually take 6 to 17 minutes to prepare. We cooked them as recommended (on the stove, except Contessa MicroSteam chicken, which requires microwaving). Some meals are simpler to make than others. With P.F. Chang's and Bertolli, for example, you just empty the contents into a pan and heat. Others require water or oil, or have you heat rice or pasta separately.
Prices per package range from $3.84 to $8.09. Per serving, meals cost $1.28 to $4.05, definitely cheaper than takeout.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.