Senior Copy Editor
Originally marketed towards busy housewives in the 1950s, frozen TV dinners have long been a staple in the typical American home. Loved for their convenience, indefinite shelf life, and tastiness, these meals have come to serve people of all demographics. Gone, however, are the days of options limited to generic meatloaf and Thanksgiving-themed dinners. The frozen TV dinner market has expanded drastically within the past decade with a variety of health-centric and ethnic food choices — and with all those options, it can be difficult to decide where to start.
My search for the best TV dinner consisted of a diverse selection from two grocery stores, Target and Albertsons, and was based on the following criteria: flavor, texture, freshness, and value. Here’s my review of five TV dinners, ranked:
The best part of any pad thai is its complexity of flavor: equal parts sweet, salty, spicy, and sour, each bite of this Thai noodle dish should pack a satisfying punch. Unfortunately, Sweet Earth’s rendition fails to get even one of those flavors right. Despite the fact that frozen food is usually known for being overly salty, this TV dinner was almost shockingly bland.
While I didn’t expect this pad thai to be authentic — as signified by its unconventional use of mushroom and red bell peppers — its complete lack of flavor meant that it placed last in the taste test.
The verdict? You’ll have to drown this TV dinner in Sriracha and lime juice to even begin to enjoy it. At the price of $4.79 at Target, you’re better off paying a few dollars extra for take-out.
Thanksgiving dinners should evoke warm and pleasant memories, but Hungry-Man’s version couldn’t be any further from pleasant. The most notable part of this TV dinner is that it’s a “complete” course that features protein, carb, vegetables, and dessert. However, Hungry-Man does only half of those things right.
While the sides were cooked to perfection, showcasing a beautifully fluffy and fudgy brownie and refreshingly crunchy green beans, the main courses were extremely underwhelming. The meat of the turkey patties were tough and drowned in a gratuitous amount of salty gravy, and the mashed potatoes were a watery disappointment.
This quintessential TV dinner brand unfortunately hasn’t lasted the test of time. The best part of the meal was the brownie, but do you really want to pay $3.99 at Albertsons for a brownie and green beans?
Lovers of buffalo chicken cheese fries will be disappointed by Devour’s rendition of the popular flavor, because this TV dinner tasted nothing like buffalo sauce at all. Tastewise, this dinner was still great — it had the perfect amount of gooey, cheesy goodness that you’d expect from mac and cheese, with the slightest hint of a kick.
However, this meal did suffer from minor texture issues due to its gritty and clumped cheese and slightly mushy shells. The fried chicken had a curious texture that more closely resembled a high school cafeteria chicken nugget; it melted in my mouth, which is an unexpected and slightly alarming characteristic for chicken.
Despite a few notable texture issues, Devour’s buffalo style chicken mac and cheese was still a very tasty and affordable choice, clocking in at $3.50 at Albertsons. If you’re willing to sacrifice some texture for flavor and convenience, this TV dinner will hit the spot.
Healthiness usually isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of TV dinners, but EatingWell’s steak carne asada bowl surprisingly boasts all-natural beef and no preservatives. The quality of the ingredients is reflected in the flavor and texture of the dish.
Featuring perfectly fluffy, soft brown cilantro-seasoned rice and a delightfully crunchy and juicy vegetable blend of corn, red peppers, and black beans, this TV dinner almost made me forget that it was cooked in the microwave. Each component of the dish also held up well when mixed together: savory meat balanced with the freshness of vegetables, bonded together by the lovely intermediary of fluffy rice and roja sauce.
The only con of this TV dinner was its small portion size, but as a delicious and healthier frozen option priced at $4.39 at Target, EatingWell can’t be beat.
Texture is often the most difficult thing to get right in a TV dinner, but Healthy Choice have perfected their art. This Mediterranean-inspired bowl was perfectly balanced: with juicy tomatoes, chewy grains, crunchy corn, and moist and lightly seasoned meat, every bite of this meal was packed with complex textures.
Flavor-wise, this meal avoids the common TV dinner pitfall of excessive saltiness by combining the richness of feta cheese with fresh vegetables and the earthy taste of grains and chickpeas. The variety of ingredients made this TV dinner feel like a complete, balanced meal — and one that also felt surprisingly light and healthy despite being frozen. The only con was that the bowl was an incredibly small serving size for the price of $4.39 at Target.
Frozen food doesn’t get much better than this. If you’re willing to pay slightly more for fresh ingredients and sophisticated flavors, Healthy Choice is the #1 TV dinner choice.