Refrigerators in supermarket
Refrigerators in supermarket by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (CC BY)

21 Frozen Foods You Should Never Put in Your Cart

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Refrigerators in supermarket
Refrigerators in supermarket by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (CC BY)

Over the Chill

For years there's been debate about whether it's a good idea to eat frozen foods. The reality is that simply freezing a food item is not what makes it less healthy — some leading health organizations say frozen food is actually as nutritious as fresh, and certain nutrients in food are even better preserved when frozen. The key difference to look for when considering buying frozen food is the nutritional content of the food item and any potential additives: Frozen fruits and vegetables on their own are typically healthy, but it's better to stay away from items such as pizzas, snacks, or entrees that may include a lot of added sugar, sodium, or high-calorie sauces. Here's a closer look at some frozen foods to avoid putting in a shopping cart. (Looking to avoid the worst offenders in the snack aisle? Here are The 20 Least Unhealthy Junk Foods.)

Any'tizers Boneless Chicken Bites, Honey BBQ Flavored
Tyson

Any'tizers Boneless Chicken Bites, Honey BBQ Flavored

Boneless chicken bites with honey and barbecue sauce — sounds great, right? Wrong. Bart Wolbers, researcher and chief science writer for Alexfergus.com, suggests consumers review the ingredients before buying. A partial list includes brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, canola oil, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, polysorbate 80, smoke flavor, sodium benzoate (as a preservative), and sodium phosphates. "As you can see, many different types of sugars are added," says Wolbers, who has a master's degree in clinical health science. According to the packaging, each three-ounce serving (roughly the size of your palm, so just a few bites) contains about 7 grams of sugar, not to mention 510 milligrams of sodium (21 percent of the recommended daily allowance).

Tombstone Original Pepperoni Pizza
TombStone

Tombstone Original Pepperoni Pizza

Again, just take a gander at the ingredients before buying, Wolbers suggests. "I count 38," Wolbers says. "For those specializing in nutrition, that's a horrible list, let alone the average person walking through a supermarket." The list includes salt, sugar, and what Wolbers calls toxic vegetable oils, such as soybean and corn oil, which are not heat-stable. There's also yeast, different types of meat (pork, chicken, and beef), artificial flavorings, and preservatives. "The more ingredients included, the higher the reward for your brain becomes — and the greater the addictive potential." Each serving of the pizza (which is a quarter of the pie) contains 17 grams of fat and 780 milligrams of sodium. Looking for an alternative? We Tasted 13 Frozen Pizzas and This Is the Best

Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese
Stouffer's

Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese should be simple, including perhaps two to four ingredients such as macaroni, cheese, milk, and maybe some salt, Wolbers says. But the sauce alone for this frozen food is in the double-digits, and each one-cup serving contains a whopping 920 grams of sodium, 17 grams of fat, and 350 calories. "Again, there are at least two different cheeses added, which makes the food more rewarding to your brain. Then there's salt, wheat flour, and two different oils added — butter and soybean oil, to make your brain go wild," Wolbers says. "By simply adding a few highly rewarding ingredients, food companies ensure that the next time you see this macaroni and cheese product in the supermarket, you'll buy it again instead of a healthier alternative." 

Related: We Tried 13 Kinds of Store-Brand Mac and Cheese and These Are the Best

Jamba At Home Smoothies
Jamba

Jamba At Home Smoothies

Anyone who's ever made a smoothie knows they're sweet enough without adding sugar or stevia to the mix, says Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and founder of Truism Fitness. "Jamba juice didn't get the message," says Hickey of the company's overly sweet smoothies, which included added sugar. "You're better off making a drink from scratch using unsweetened frozen produce like berries, pineapple, and spinach. This way you have total control over what you eat."

Related: 25 Smoothies That Are Better Than Ice Cream

Hungry-Man Selects Mesquite Flavored Classic Fried Chicken
Hungry-Man

Hungry-Man Selects Mesquite Flavored Classic Fried Chicken

This meal consists of fried chicken in a tangy mesquite sauce, mashed potatoes with butter, green beans, and a brownie. It also contains a whopping 1,050 calories per serving and 72 grams of fat, which is more fat than you should have in an entire day, Hickey says. "The sugar content is 18 grams mostly from the brownie, and last but definitely not least is the 2,060 milligrams of sodium." The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily for adults.

Related: 20 Chef Secrets for Crisp, Juicy Fried Chicken

Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Bacon Pot Pie
Marie Callender's

Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Bacon Pot Pie

Approach this pot pie, with its doughy crust stuffed with creamy sauce and bacon, with caution, Hickey says. It contains more than 60% of the recommended daily allotment for sodium. "The nutrition facts are split into two [servings], which is a trick to make it seem healthier," Hickey says, "But the majority of people are going to eat the whole meal, and it has 1,020 calories and 64 grams of fat."

Related: 45 Easy Comfort Foods to Make This Fall

Red Baron Classic Crust Four Cheese Pizza
Red Baron

Red Baron Classic Crust Four Cheese Pizza

At first blush this frozen pizza looks okay — but there are four servings within, and Melissa Morris, a University of Tampa nutrition professor and writer for Exercise.com, says many people will eat at least half the pizza, for just under 800 calories, 18 grams of saturated fat, 1500 milligrams of sodium, and 8 grams of sugar. "If you eat the entire pie, you can figure 1,600 calories, 36 grams of saturated fat, and 3,000 mg of sodium," Morris says. A better alternative would be to make your own pizza using a thin whole-grain or cauliflower crust, less cheese, and adding vegetables of your own.

Related: From Plain Cheese to Peking Duck: 25 Yummy Pizza Recipes

Pillsbury Toaster Strudel
Pillsbury

Pillsbury Toaster Strudel

Not only are these pastries void of any nutrients a body needs to fuel up for the day, but they include high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil, a fat that has been connected to fast weight gain, Hickey says. "Not to mention that you should never buy a product that boasts having 30% more icing," he adds. "You would be better off eating a breakfast casserole you make yourself, or an egg white omelet with cottage cheese and fruit." Each pastry also contains 10 grams of sugar, almost half of the maximum amount of added sugars recommended by the American Heart Association for women and almost a third of the recommended amount for men. 

Related: 11 Cheap and Healthy Breakfast Combinations

Stouffer's Bowl-FULLS Spicy Italian Sausage Pasta
Stouffer's

Stouffer's Bowl-FULLS Spicy Italian Sausage Pasta

This product's packaging points out that it's made with real cheese and has a lot of protein. "Both statements are true, but it still doesn't take away from the fact that this is still a highly processed bowl of meat. It contains 660 calories, 1,270 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of saturated fat and 9 grams of sugar," Hickey says.

Hungry Man Selects Classic Fried Chicken
Hungry Man

Hungry Man Selects Classic Fried Chicken

Morris describes Hungry Man dinners as a nutritional no-no, but the classic fried chicken meal in particular is a bad choice. "It has 940 calories,12 grams of saturated fat, 1,370 mg of sodium, and 14 grams of sugar," Morris says. "Did you guess that your fried chicken had 3.5 teaspoons of sugar in it?" A better alternative is preparing a grilled chicken breast and veggies, which would be much healthier and provide far more nutrients.

Related: 50 Cheap and Easy Chicken Recipes

Sara Lee Chocolate Crème Pie
Sara Lee Desserts

Sara Lee Chocolate Crème Pie

This sweet, chocolate dessert comes in at 440 calories, 19 grams of saturated fat, 320 milligrams of sodium, and 32 grams of sugar. "That's like spooning 8 teaspoons of sugar into your mouth," Morris says. "This is for one-fifth of the pie, which is not a large piece." Instead consider having chocolate pudding made with low-fat milk, or sugar-free chocolate pudding. Or better yet, have fruit for dessert, Morris says.

Related: 50 Delicious Diabetic Dessert Recipes Everyone Will Love

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl
Walmart

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl

This breakfast bowl serves one person and has 460 calories, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1,100 milligrams of sodium, and 1 gram of sugar. "That much sodium is a terrible start to your day," Morris says. "Instead, have an omelet made with veggies of your choice and low-fat cheese."

Related: 13 Simple Ways to Cook Eggs

EVOL's Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese
Target

EVOL's Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese

EVOL's Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese is a great example of a frozen food that's marketed as healthy but is actually quite bad for you, says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, of LoudCloudHealth. "For starters, it contains 31 grams of fat, and of the worst kind – saturated," Djordjevic says. The meal's smoked flavor "comes from a combination of molasses and caramel coloring adding to this unhealthy concoction." If you want a healthy version of mac and cheese, make it at home from scratch using fresh ingredients.

Related: 52 Recipes to Keep Your Slow Cooker Bubbling All Year Long

Jimmy Dean Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick
Kroger

Jimmy Dean Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick

Do we really need pancakes and sausage on a stick? Unusual serving approach aside, this food item contains some alarming ingredients, says Nate Masterson, health expert and the head of natural product development for Maple Holistics. "It contains BHT, which is a possible carcinogen, not to mention the very high saturated fat and sodium levels," Masterson says. There's 410 milligrams of sodium in a serving, as well as 3.5 grams of saturated fat.

Related: 24 Weird, Surprising, and Over-the-Top Foods on a Stick

Stouffer's Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo
Stouffer's

Stouffer's Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo

A meal meant for one person, Stouffer's Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo includes a relatively small portion of chicken with noodles and Alfredo sauce. One serving includes 570 calories and 27 grams of fat, as well as 850 milligrams of sodium and 55 grams of carbs. "None of those numbers are healthy, and the amount of food you receive isn't big enough to satiate the average person," Hickey says.

Related: Where to Find Good, Cheap Pasta in Every State

Bob Evans Sausage, Egg & Cheese Burrito
Walmart

Bob Evans Sausage, Egg & Cheese Burrito

The 8 grams of saturated fat in this sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast item is more than half of what a person eating a 2,000-calorie diet needs in a day. The 810 milligrams of sodium is more than half of the 1,500 milligram daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association, and is particularly bad for individuals at higher risk of heart disease, Morris says.

Related: 40 Breakfast Foods Ranked by Their Calorie Count

Kellogg's Special K Flatbread Sandwich Sausage Egg and Cheese
Amazon

Kellogg's Special K Flatbread Sandwich Sausage Egg and Cheese

Much like the Bob Evans' burrito, this item has a significant amount of sodium — 700 milligrams. It also contains 3 grams of sugar, which includes 2 grams of added sugar. "Two grams of added sugar is like sprinkling half a teaspoon of sugar on your sandwich," Morris says.

Related:10 Unhealthy Fast Food Breakfasts — and What to Order Instead

Fast Fixin' Chicken Nuggets
Fast Fixin'

Fast Fixin' Chicken Nuggets

The nutrition label for Fast Fixin' Chicken Nuggets doesn't set off immediate alarms: Each serving of six nuggets includes 180 calories, 10 grams of fat, 420 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein. "I have two concerns, though," Hickey says. "A lot of processed chicken products use fillers to cut down on the amount of chicken used, to save money in the manufacturing process. Also, once you look closer at the serving size you see that the six nuggets weigh 84 grams. That means that these are more like popcorn chicken than they are nuggets, and you won't be satisfied for very long — and you'll be eating more and adding even more calories to your day."

Banquet Meatloaf Meal
Amazon

Banquet Meatloaf Meal

This meatloaf dish includes nearly a full day's worth of sodium at 1,350 milligrams. The 11 grams of added sugar are not insignificant either, Morris says, being "almost 3 teaspoons of sugar sprinkled on your meatloaf meal."

Related: 15 Foods That are Always Better as Leftovers

Banquet: Salisbury Steak Meal with Mashed Potatoes
Walgreens

Banquet Salisbury Steak Meal with Mashed Potatoes

Like Banquet's meatloaf meal, the brand's Salisbury steak has a hefty 11 grams of added sugar. And don't overlook its staggering 1,340 milligrams of sodium. You get nearly an entire day's sodium in one meal with this steak.

Related: 14 Frozen TV Dinners We Miss From Childhood

Healthy Choice Café Steamers Frozen Dinner Sweet & Sour Chicken
Walmart

Healthy Choice Café Steamers Frozen Dinner Sweet & Sour Chicken

Healthy Choice is supposed to be, well, healthy. But this meal contains 22 grams of sugar — pretty much the entire daily recommended intake of sugar for a woman, according to the American Heart Associaton. For men, the recommended limit is 37.5 grams, so this one meal is about 60% of a day's allotment.

Related: 21 Takeout Meals Made Cheaper at Home

Assuming the Store Brand Isn't as Good
ljubaphoto/istockphoto

Bottom Line: What to Look for When Buying Frozen Foods

If you're going to buy frozen prepared foods, compare nutrition panels to buy items with as few ingredients as possible. An ingredient list should look like "Ingredients: organic spinach." Or this: "Ingredients: organic tomato sauce, vinegar, salt." Simple is good. "You should also know what you're putting into your body," says Wolbers, of Alexfergus.com. "If you don't understand what you're eating, then don't buy the product."