From lasagnas to pastas to parmigianas, Italian-inspired frozen meals are popular go-tos for all ages. This large category was first narrowed down by looking at nutrition and ingredients, and then all were tasted. The end result? We found lots of dishes with whole grains, saucy toppings, and cheese that more than made the cut taste-wise and nutrition-wise.

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

Taste Test Winners:

Best Lasagna - Amy's Light & Lean Spinach Lasagna

The fresh-tasting tomato sauce and spinach layered with a nicely seasoned three-cheese filling are what made this one our top lasagna. In fact, most thought this lasagna almost tasted homemade and definitely not what you'd expect from a frozen meal. $3.99, vegetarian

Calories 250; Fat 5g (sat 2.5g); Protein 11g; Carb 40g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 6g; Chol 10mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 540mg; Calc 200mg

Best Eggplant Parmesan - CedarLane Baked Stacked Eggplant

This eggplant parmigiana variation rose to the top thanks to breaded eggplant slices that kept a tender, but firm bite and the fresh-tasting tomato-basil sauce the slices were topped with. As one of the testers remarked, "This tastes like real food; a dish I might have made from scratch at home." $4.35, vegetarian

Calories 230; Fat 10g (sat 4.5g); Protein 14g; Carb 21g; Fiber 5g; Sugars 9g; Chol 30mg; Iron 2mg; Sodium 540mg; Calc 300mg 

Best Chicken Parmesan - Michael Angelo's Chicken Parmesan

We love a simple ingredient list - especially when the dish has a ton of flavor like this one. Both the tomato sauce and chicken breast are well-seasoned and sit on an ample serving of pasta.The breading on the chicken didn't crisp as much as we had hoped, but cooking the entree in a conventional oven would likely solve that. $5.99, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics

Calories 350; Fat 6g (sat 2.5g); Protein 25g; Carb 47g; Fiber 7g; Sugars 8g; Chol 45mg; Iron 4mg; Sodium 630mg; Calc 150mg

Others We Liked:

Udi's Gluten Free Chicken Florentine

Using pasta made from brown rice flour, Udi's offers a creamy, one-dish meal featuring grilled chicken, roasted tomatoes, and spinach tossed in a Parmesan-cream sauce. There could be a few more tomatoes, but overall it's a good comforting meal that both those who eat gluten and avoid gluten will like. $4.49, gluten-free

Calories 330; Fat 15g (sat 8g); Protein 14g; Carb 33g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 2g; Chol 65mg; Iron 2mg; Sodium 550mg; Calc 150mg 

Weight Watchers Smart Ones Three Cheese Ziti Marinara

Simple, but good is the best way to describe this classic. The ziti is made with a flour blend that's partly whole-grain and is topped with a zesty marinara and blend of Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan cheeses.The pasta texture was softer than some liked, but this could be fixed some by cutting back on the cook time slightly. $2.00, vegetarian

Calories 280; Fat 8g (sat 3.5g); Protein 12g; Carb 41g; Fiber 7g; Sugars 5g; Chol 15mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 570mg; Calc 200mg

Udi's Gluten Free Ziti & Meatballs

Meatballs over ziti was a nice twist on traditional spaghetti and meatballs, and we couldn't get over how tender and well-seasoned the meatballs were. This dish would be great topped with an extra sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. $4.99, meat/poultry raised without antibiotics, gluten-free

Calories 330; Fat 17g (sat 7g); Protein 14g; Carb 35g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 5g; Chol 45mg; Iron 2mg; Sodium 560mg; Calc 150mg

Amy's Tofu Vegetable Lasagna

Even if you're not a tofu fan, we promise you'll like this lasagna. The tofu is mixed with cheese and spices to a ricotta-consistency which adds creaminess and extends the cheese flavor of the filling between layers. The only complaint we heard is that a touch of salt would be nice. $3.99, vegetarian

Calories 330; Fat 11g (sat 2g); Protein 16g; Carb 41g; Fiber 5g; Sugars 6g; Chol 0mg; Iron 5mg; Sodium 680mg; Calc 100mg 

Amy's Vegetable Lasagna

We loved that this lasagna incorporated zucchini, carrots, and spinach, all of which retained great crisp-tender texture. The ricotta filling was seasoned with garlic and basil and paired perfectly with the veggies to create a hearty, fresh-tasting lasagna. $3.76, vegetarian

Calories 370; Fat 14g (sat 6g); Protein 17g; Carb 45g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 8g; Chol 30mg; Iron 3mg; Sodium 680mg; Calc 350mg

Things to Look For:

  • Whole grains: We've come so far with whole grain pastas, but unfortunately only a handful of frozen meals use them. Try to find pasta entrees that use whole grain flour (or at least some) by checking the ingredient list; you want to see the word "whole" in front of the grain or flour and towards the top of the list. Another tip: look for ones with 4g or more fiber per serving.
  • Sodium: Marinara sauce, cheese, breaded eggplant, and creamy fillings aren't typically lower sodium foods. Keep sodium intake in check by choosing an entree with <800mg of sodium. this amount allows the dish to have enough sodium bring out flavors, but also saves room for other meals in your daily allotment.< li>
  • Saturated Fat: Creamy sauces and cheese toppings are often what make these entrees so good, but they can also have lots of saturated fat . Keep sat fat to a minimum by selecting an entree with ⪯ 9g 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.