Why Have Frozen Ready Meals Become So Popular?

Frozen ready meals have switched to healthy options.

30 meals were tested and rated to find out if it suits you to eat them.

As Americans look to limit the number of trips to the grocery store due to the coronavirus pandemic, they have been re-considering frozen meals.

In addition to stocking their shelves with long-lasting staples such as canned beans, fish and soup, consumers have been stocking up on frozen meals. Sales increased 48% in April this year compared to the same month last year, according to the American Frozen Food Institute.

This coincides with a growing interest in packaged foods that have healthier and less processed ingredients, as well as wanting to experiment with a wider and more varied cuisine. “Frozen food manufacturers have been reinventing themselves and changing their product offerings a lot in order to be able to reach consumers wherever they are,” says Dewey Warner, senior food and nutrition analyst at Euromonitor International, a market research company. This type of meals is largely what drives sales growth. “Salisbury steak and potatoes might be a hard sell, but consumers might be interested in a steak bowl with grilled sriracha,” Warner adds.

As a result, we decided to review the new offers in the frozen area. There are still a lot of old-school dishes: a lot of meat and potato “men’s dinners”; and also small, tasteless dietary meals. But we found so many others that have international flavors, vegetable proteins like beans and tofu, and fewer processed ingredients.

“Consumers see frozen meals as an easy way to experiment with these trends,” says Ellen Klosz, the CR nutritionist who oversaw our tests. “So we opted to evaluate 30 meals that fit into these categories instead of the “classic” frozen meals.

Our food experts found many healthier and much tastier options than you can imagine. While none of the foods in our tests received our highest rating regarding taste, 18 were rated Very Good. These are the changes we noticed.

More grains and fiber

The portion sizes for frozen meals in general are still quite small. The total amount of food in the main dishes we tried varied from ¾ to 2 cups. And the calorie counts for this new generation of frozen meals are, in some cases, similar to those of the old favorites. Stouffer’s chicken à la king, for example, has 360 calories, Marie Callender’s chicken parmigiana has 440, while Evol Vitalize grilled chicken with grains and vegetables (in our ratings) has 410 calories.

The difference lies in the nutritional quality of the ingredients. The new variety of frozen dinners includes fiber-rich whole grains, beans, vegetables and even nuts and seeds. The Vitalize grilled chicken, for example, has plenty of brown rice, lentils and vegetables, and 8 grams of hearty fiber. In fact, when measuring and weighing the amount of vegetables, legumes and whole grains in the meals, we found that most of them had 1 to 1½ cups of those healthy ingredients, and about half of the meals had 8 to 20 grams of fiber. (Daily fiber needs vary from 25 to 31 grams.) On the contrary, Stouffer’s chicken à la king is mainly white rice with chicken pieces in a cream sauce and has absolutely no fiber at all.

Less additives

A healthier frozen meal should have “mainly whole food ingredients such as quinoa, vegetables, legumes, lean beef, chicken or seafood,” says Nancy Farrell Allen, RDN, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). Although technically speaking, frozen meals are processed foods, many of those listed in our ratings would not be considered ultra-processed. “Ultra-processed means that the ingredients are far from their natural state; think of a soy protein isolate instead of tofu,” says Klosz. They are also usually loaded with added sugars, sodium and ingredients that you wouldn’t use at home, such as phosphates, flavorings and gums. The difference is important; eating too many ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and other health problems. “We take these factors into account when calculating our nutrition rating,” says Klosz.

International Flavors

American palates have become more daring, and the offers in the frozen areas are read like menus in Asian, Indian, Mediterranean and other international restaurants. Tasty ingredients that are standard in international cuisines, such as serrano peppers, tahini, tamari, tomatillo, fenugreek leaves and turmeric, are now regularly added to meals. The vegetable options in the meals we tried were also very varied, including pumpkin, swiss chard and sweet potato, as well as carrots and broccoli.

And while the grains in old-fashioned meals are limited to white rice or pasta, now you can find brown rice and other whole grains, such as quinoa, red rice, farro or blueberries and legume pasta.

The plant-based trend is well represented in the frozen meals category, and meals prepared with only vegetables, whole grains and beans tend to score the highest in our ratings, especially if the vegetables were tasty and had a firm texture, and the seasonings tasted fresh (not dried) and were well mixed.

However, chicken meals were more likely to get lower taste scores. “The meat often felt dry and chewy,” says Klosz. “this is probably because the texture of the chicken can be affected when it is processed and reheated.” What’s more, the best—tasting chicken dishes — such as Saffron Road’s chicken with rice noodles and Good Food Made Simple’s chicken with black beans – scored regularly in nutrition.

Spices, not sodium

While frozen meals have traditionally been high in sodium, we found several low-sodium options. “In many of the dishes,” says Klosz, “the combination of ingredients and spices adds so much flavor that all that salt is not needed.”

Of the 18 that got a Very good rating for taste, 13 had 600 mg of sodium or less. (The U.S. Dietary Guidelines. for sodium is less than 2,300 mg per day).

Discover all the advantages of prepared food and Ready Meals

You save time

Are your employees lately engaged in an arduous task all day and do you need their help and all their availability? Well, then, the best option is ready-made food. They will save the time of having to go looking for the restaurant, waiting for a place to eat, etc.

And, if they have spent the whole morning doing business outside the company or you have a work meeting and need to continue a few more hours in the office, finding a prepared dish will seem like a treasure to them.

Saving money

Dishes with ready-made meals make a good saving compared to mini-restaurants. If you have a somewhat tight budget, you can choose this option, alone or combined with the restaurant vouchers. Of course, always choose a company that offers you quality prepared dishes.

Long lasting

Unlike homemade food, which can only be in the fridge for a couple of days, prepared food can last much longer. A perfect option if, for whatever reason, you have to spend a few more hours at work and you want to have an easy option or at lunchtime. If you have a pantry in the company with some prepared meal and a microwave at hand, you will not need more to have a homemade meal ready in 5 minutes.

Dishes to choose from

The food companies have a wide variety of meals to choose from; from Italian food to the dishes of a lifetime, such as stews and meatballs. In your company there are surely diners for all tastes: vegans, traditional food lovers, foodies or paelleros, for example. Choose a company that offers options for each of them.

To socialize

The meal time is ideal for colleagues to socialize with each other and create bonds of union. This aspect is very important, because when we are happy with our colleagues and in our work environment, we are much more productive.

For special moments

Do you want to surprise your employees at special moments? With some prepared meals you have a great lunch in a plis plas. Accompany it with some hors d’oeuvres, a good wine and that’s it. They will be delighted and so will you for having spent little time.


Packaging Company in the World of Frozen Ready Meals

There are bunches of manufacturers that offer specially designed and built packaging machines for frozen ready meals to allow packaging automation from primary to secondary and tertiary packaging.

ULMA Packaging

Since 1961, ULMA Packaging has been dedicated to the design and development of packaging products and services, innovating to offer solutions that adapt to the needs of their customers. What sets us apart is an extensive catalog that incorporates cutting-edge technologies, a close and flexible service and its ability to offer turnkey solutions.

The added value from ULMA’s services is based on innovation, which is why ULMA Packaging has ITS own Research Center where ULMA works on the most advanced design and manufacturing technologies.

ULMA’s global vocation is based on a network of 7 branches and 20 own subsidiaries to offer a close service. In addition, ULMA has a network of local distributors covering more than 130 countries. ULMA offers the widest range of machines and applications on the market including packaging technologies in Flow Pack (HFFS), Thermoforming, Heat Sealing, Vertical (VFFS), Shrink and Stretch Film.



T.Freemantle is a UK-Based packaging machine manufacturer of cartoner, pre-glued sleever and wrap-around sleever.

The name Freemantle has been associated with innovative machinery design for the last 40 years. The company’s commitment to continued development and innovation yielded another industry first with the launch of the Preglued Sleever. This patented machine complemented the already successful range of cartoning equipment and helped the company become the UK’s market leading sleeving machinery manufacturer within two years of its launch.


Jacob White

Jacob White is another UK-based world-well-known brand of packaging machines.

The ready meal is one of sectors that Jacob White covers with their cartoner machines.



Syntegon is one of the largest and most recognized brand in the packaging automation industry. Syntegon’s packaging automation solutions for frozen ready meals and foods cover from flow wrappers to cartoners, handling system and case packer.


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