New! – Your Microwave-Dinner Taxonomy

tv dinner


“Blog what you know about,” say the Internet yentas, and for once I am following their advice! Years of painstaking research yield the following observations…


Healthy Choice: Generally tasty, low in fat, the bigger meals are a good value if they go on sale. The apple- and cherry-cobbler desserts are a nice touch.

Health Choice Cafe Steamers: Some of these — Whiskey Steak, Chicken Marsala — are very good. A bit on the meager side.

chicken fried starch

Weight Watchers: Good quality but too small. Many have fewer than 200 calories, which puts them more in the after-dinner-mint category.

Kashi: Careful! The conventional flavors such as Chicken Florentine are OK. High-quality ingredients. Unconventional and vegetarian dishes tend to be wildly overseasoned. There’s a strong odor of political correctness in all of this, as if putting a lot of cumin and black pepper in faux-indigenous Latin American dishes (“Mayan Harvest Bake”) in brown post-content cardboard boxes makes them taste better.

Marie Callender’s: Good in a meat-and-potatoey way. Favorites include beef tips, pasta medley, and sweet-and-sour chicken (best ratio of calories/$). Caution: The girl in the box illustration may be a space alien. Also, watch out for hidden bacon if you care about such things.

Stouffer’s entrees: Stuffed peppers. Need any more be said?

Swanson Hungry Man Dinners: Avoid.

Any microwave pizza: Ditto.

Michael Angelo’s Frozen Dinners: The high-fat champ. Really heavy, salty and satisfying. The “shrimp scampi” dinner is full of butter and tastes great. Any of the dishes featuring Parmesan cheese is also good. I don’t buy them anymore because they put me to sleep.

Banquet Turkey Meal: A couple of slices of pressed turkey meat, mushy bread stuffing, starchy gravy, runny powdered potatoes. Yet at a mere buck and a quarter each ($1 on sale) they have a certain charm. The peas are surprisingly good too.


Chung’s for 2: Eh. The chicken fried rice was nothing special and required too much “microwave for 3 minutes, then stir, then microwave for 3.4 additional minutes” bullshit. Get real. If we want to put any work at all into preparing a meal we’ll cook something good from scratch.


(Some of these are OK. All are overpriced. I only buy them when they’re 2-for-1.)

Contessa: Not bad. Good vegetables. Sauce isn’t too heavy.

Bertolli: The best bag meals to my taste. Good variety of interesting flavors. Almost like real food.

Birds Eye Voila: Marginal. I think they provide the heavy sauce-in-a-pouch to inflate the calorie count. It might be worth it if the sauce didn’t taste like generic Kraft bottled dressing.

cordon blah

Feel free to add your own observations in the comments!

18 thoughts on “New! – Your Microwave-Dinner Taxonomy”

  1. I differ on the microwave pizza a bit. California Pizza Kitchen single serving Sicilian is excellent. I also found a very nice frozen ravioli in 2 serving size but the box is upstairs and I will post the name later.

  2. I was waiting for Bertolli on your list; that’s the only ‘prepared dinner’ I tried. Agree with assessment.

    Still agreed more with If we want to put any work at all into preparing a meal we’ll cook something good from scratch.

    And we (I) invariably do!

    Especially stuffed peppers.

  3. Must agree about the Hungry Man dinners. They contain over 800 calories and 1800mg of salt. Heart attack in a box.

  4. The Marie Callender Pot Pies are my ‘need to eat, no time to make anything’ go-to. The others all strike me as flaccid imitations of Italian food, even when they try to pretend they’re Chinese or something.

    I can make a meal in under 10 minutes if I have to. I prefer to do serious cooking and then freeze the surplus for later, quick consumption.

  5. The Marie Callendar pot pies have deteriorated in recent years in my opinion. Too bad, they were second only to the turkey pot pie made by Old Pete’s Tavern in Hanover NH. One of those, or the beef stew, with a pint of Guiness would warm me right up. The last time I was there, it was a dress shop. Ugh!

  6. ideal fare for the person who doesn’t mind feeling and looking like crap. you can get an oven roasted chicken (fresh) for $5, and a ready made salad for $3 so what is the point of this garbage? sorry to rain on anybody’s parade. i kept reading down the list waiting for something to be worth trying; no luck. it did save me the trouble of trying any of these items though, so it wasn’t a waste of time or effort. 90% of the population would be better off skipping a meal, than eating this stuff — if nothing suitable is available.

  7. Cjm I was thinking the same thing.

    Yes, that roasted chicken (you can even get them at Target now) probably has a few chemicals and other things in it too but I can’t imagine it is anything close to the crap in these frozen dinners. A whole chicken is a LOT of food – good protein and even better if you don’t eat the skin. When you are done with the chicken, you can make soup out of the carcass – just add water, boil, season and perhaps toss in whatever leftovers you have laying around. It really is a no brainer and this is not a lot of work.

    If you are not a chicken fan there are other prepared/almost prepared foods out there that are similar. Costco has salmon of very high quality at decent prices and all you have to do is put it in a pan with some butter skin side down for a few minutes.

    Fresh produce is also incredibly cheap – a head of lettuce, broccoli, peas, all of it. If you don’t have time, frozen is also cheap – it takes almost no effort to steam veggies and you can do other things while your veggies are steaming away and your chicken would already be done for you. If you want starch you can put a potato in the nuke, or boil some rice for the side. Again, very easy and you can do other things with your time if that is what it is all about.

    So I guess I am not buying (literally or figuratively) the premise that this nuke food is really any more convenient than buying other products that are out there that are most likely better for you and better tasting. ymmv.

  8. One more – after Thanksgiving this year I decided to start making more whole turkeys. Yes, this is more work, but for the cost it is an absolutely enormous amount of food. You can freeze the soup made out of the carcass into containers and have a ready made nuke meal that is actually good for you and delicious. The turkey meat can be used for weeks (or frozen for future use) in everything from casseroles to sandwiches. In fact, I am thinking a whole turkey is one of the best ways to stretch your food dollar.

  9. Is this a food of last resort or out of habit? Some of the residents keep a few frozen dinners in the back of their refridgerator so that they if they are having a really, really busy week, they can just grap one and take it to work with them. The idea being it’s still better than the hospital cafeteria (there are healthy options, but people get tired of eating bland boiled vegetables and sneezed on salad bar fare.)

    True story alert: one snowy horrible day in Boston some years ago, while I was home from work after a long Saturday looking at patient cases, I realized I had nothing in the fridge and nothing in the pantry. I had forgotten to stop by the market on the way home and was exhausted and cold.

    My dad, who had just visited, had secretly left a few Lean Cuisines in the back of the fridge (he knew my work schedule and absent minded professor ways). I almost cried. I called him on the phone and was, all, “Dad, you are the best.”

    I don’t eat “nuked” food as a rule but on that day it was appreciated.

    For quick fixes, I make a quick-and-dirty tuna “curry” or a “curry” with beans. Basically, I open a can of red beans or tuna-in-water and stir fry it quickly with Indian spices, garlic, onion, and olive oil. Well, not all at once. First the onion and garlic in oil, then the spices for a bit, then throw in whatever I have. Serve it with rice.

    I like food but I am not a cook. It’s sandwhiches, salads or things like that for me.

    – Madhu

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