While they may be one of the newer additions to the frozen food aisle, entrée bowls have quickly grown in popularity and prevalence. Their appeal makes sense; bowls offer a simple one-dish meal solution, as well as an updated alternative to the rectangular frozen meals. Add in the fact that most bowls are variations of favorite comfort foods like casseroles and pasta, and it's easy to see why they've taken off.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
December 08, 2016
Illustration: Christina Harrison Text: Daniel Boone

Taste Test Winners:

Blake's Shepherd's Pie

Beef and mashed potatoes aren't foods that typically freeze well, so to say we were pleasantly surprised when tasting this classic would be an understatement. The mashed potatoes are as good as homemade - fluffy and with real butter flavor - and the ground beef tastes tender and high quality. Pair with steamed veggies or salad for a quick, made-from-scratch tasting meal. $3.69, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 310; Fat 13g (sat 5g); Protein 18g; Carb 33g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 3g ; Chol 55mg; Iron 2mg; Sodium 520mg; Calc 20mg

Evol Chicken Enchilada Bake

This Mexican-inspired favorite features tender pieces of chicken, pinto beans, and corn kernels layered with corn tortilla strips and cheese with a covering of mild enchilada sauce. Spice level is minimal, so add a dash of hot sauce if you like more heat. $3.99, gluten-free, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 350; Fat 12g (sat 6g); Protein 21g; Carb 40g; Fiber 7g; Sugars 3g; Chol 50mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 610mg; Calc 250mg

Red's Steak Burrito Bowl

One of the few burrito bowls that uses brown rice instead of white, this one-dish meal has a bold, fresh salsa flavor. We wish the steak was a little less chewy, but overall the beef was good quality for a microwaved meal. Add a dollop of sour cream or spoonful of salsa to make it even better. $3.50, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 290; Fat 7g (sat 2.5g); Protein 17g; Carb 39g; Fiber 5g; Sugars 2g; Chol 30mg; Iron 2mg; Sodium 580mg; Calc 100mg

Others We Liked:

Evol Lean & Fit Fire Grilled Chicken Poblano

This chicken and rice bowl has black beans and grilled veggies tossed with a cilantro-lime sauce. The dish tastes surprisingly fresh, and the char-grilled corn and bell pepper add a great, smokey flavor. $3.99, gluten-Free, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 270; Fat 6g (sat 2g); Protein 18g; Carb 39g; Fiber 8g; Sugars 3g ; Chol 30mg; Iron 4mg; Sodium 350mg; Calc 100mg

Healthy Choice Simply Meatball Marinara

Tender, perfectly-seasoned meatballs and a zesty tomato sauce make this classic Italian dish a favorite.The sauce can be a little watery after cooking, but stirring seems to solve the problem. The bowl is tasty as is, but adding a sprinkle of Parmesan makes it even better. $3.59

Calories 280; Fat 6g (sat 2g); Protein 18g; Carb 39g; Fiber 6g; Sugars 8g; Chol 35mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 500mg; Calc 100mg

Blake's Hearty Beef Stew

This hearty meal has rich beef flavor you'd expect to only find in homemade versions simmered for hours. While some potatoes were a little crunchy, the tender chucks of beef made up for them. Our only complaint is that the serving size is small, so be sure to pair with a salad or steamed veggies. $3.69, gluten-Free, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 240; Fat 12g (sat 4.5g); Protein 19g; Carb 13g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 2g ; Chol 60mg; Iron 5mg; Sodium 400mg; Calc 20mg

Evol Lean & Fit Teriyaki Chicken

This comforting bowl features brown rice topped with chicken, snap peas, broccoli and carrots and tossed in a slightly sweet Asian sauce. What got our attention was the crisp-tender texture of the veggies and the sauce - flavorful, but not overpowered by soy or ginger. $3.99 gluten-free, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 260; Fat 2.5g (sat 0g); Protein 14g; Carb 45g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 12g ; Chol 25mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 600mg; Calc 40mg

Things to Look For:

Whole Grains and Beans: Many bowls use refined grains, lowering the fiber and nutrient content. However, there are some now that use whole grains or another nutrient-dense carb source like beans or sweet potatoes. Check the ingredient list and look for brown rice instead of white, whole wheat pasta over wheat, or entrees that are bean or sweet potato-based as the primary starch.

Sodium: If you're not careful, you can easily consume all of your daily sodium in one frozen meal. Keep sodium in-check by choosing bowls with 400mg to 750mg of sodium. This amount usually allows the dish to have enough sodium to bring out flavors, but won't blow your daily sodium allotment.

Saturated Fat: Comfort foods often call for ingredients with lots of saturated fat (think cheesy fillings and creamy sauces). You don't have to totally avoid creamy or cheesy bowls, but check the nutrition facts and choose one with ⪯ 7g saturated fat.

How We Tested

Only frozen foods that met Cooking Light’s nutrition guidelines were tested. Products were eliminated based on the following: lack of calorie and/or protein adequacy, lack of whole grains, presence of trans fat or hydrogenation, presence of significant added sugars, and presence of artificial coloring or sweeteners. All frozen foods were cooked according to package directions and taste tested by a panel of Cooking Light editors and staff. To ensure consistency, Breville microwaves were used to cook all foods.

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