Sometimes after a really long day, the absolute last thing you want to do is cook something. It’s called Netflix and chill, not Netflix and standing over a hot stove for 40 minutes then cleaning a pile of dirty dishes until 11 p.m.
That’s why frozen dinners are so tempting—just peel back the plastic, pop in the microwave, and voilà. Dinner is donezo.
The catch: Frozen meals are notorious sodium-bombs, while the low-calorie varieties often don’t fill you up enough to keep you truly satisfied.
That doesn’t rule out all frozen meals, though—you just have to know how to play the game.
“To ensure satiety from the meal, plus enough protein for your body’s constant repair of tissue and support of hormonal health and immunity, I recommend aiming for at least 20 grams of protein at lunch and dinner,” says Kelly R. Jones, R.D. If what you find in the freezer aisle has a little less than that, she suggests bumping that up by adding a few hard boiled eggs or edamame.
Jones also recommends looking at the ingredient list to avoid shady additives so common with frozen fare. “Ideally, the meals you choose will have an ingredient list you could replicate if you were to prepare the meal on your own,” she says.
As for sodium, Jones recommends no more than 700 mg for a frozen entrée.
Now that that’s settled, here are a few high-protein meals that you can find in the freezer aisle and actually feel good about biting into.
Saffron Road Beef Bulgogi
Protein: 18 grams
Sodium: 590 mg
Jones likes this entree from Saffron Road, which is made with grass-fed beef—making it higher in nutrients like omega-3s. It’s just short of 20 grams of protein per serving, so add a serving of steamed broccoli to get a few more protein points.
Sweet Earth Spanish Paella
Sodium: 530 mg
Jones also likes the brand Sweet Earth, which are vegetarian and vegan without skimping on the protein.
“Pair their ‘Borderless Enchilada’ or ‘Spanish Paella’ with some frozen steamed green beans or a side salad,” Jones says. That way, you’ll get a filling lunch with a bit more protein than the entree’s 13 grams.
Smartmade Mediterranean-Style Chicken Bowl
Protein: 19 grams
Sodium: 510 mg
“This awesome dish is made with grilled white meat chicken, chickpeas, kale, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted vegetables over quinoa and topped with feta cheese,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. “With only 260 total calories, you still get 19 g protein with only 510 mg sodium. That’s pretty nutrient-packed,” she says.
Lean Cuisine Marketplace Tortilla Crusted Fish
Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 490 mg
If you’re gluten-free, you’re in luck. “Honorable mention to Lean Cuisine for offering 15 gluten-free entrees, many options with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and one of my favorite go-to choices, the Tortilla Crusted Fish,” says Harris-Pincus.
Dr. Praegers Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Bowl
Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 450 mg
“For busy mornings, I like the Dr. Praegers Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Bowl, which has 14 grams of protein and tastes like a Mexican brunch!” says Natalie Rizzo, R.D. “This hearty bowl is full of protein and fiber to keep me full all morning.”
She says that if she has time, she adds an extra egg to the mix to get it up to 20 grams of protein. You can also add some cheese or extra beans.
Red’s Chicken Enchiladas
Protein: 20 grams
Sodium: 640 mg
“Red’s Chicken Enchiladas have 20 grams of high quality protein and six grams of fiber,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, R.D.N. “Red’s uses chicken raised without antibiotics, which is a major plus in my book.” She also loves the authentic flavor, making it a go-to on nights where she doesn’t want to cook.
Luvo Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 470 mg
“For a great vegetarian option, this Luvo Roasted Vegetable Lasagna has 15 grams of protein and is made with whole-wheat noodles, butternut squash, and kale,” says Rizzo. “Pair it with a bean salad to get a little more protein and fiber, and you’ve got a complete meal.”