Prepared foods are now the rage in supermarkets. But many consumers who don’t want to cook still turn to two old standbys: restaurant takeout and frozen dinners. How do those three types of meals compare nutritionally? Below, we calculated the calorie, fat, and sodium levels for frozen and restaurant dishes that were similar to a few of the prepared foods we tested. (The packaged sizes varied considerably, so we had to make the portions uniform.) And here’s the rub: None of the options was predictably more healthful than the others. Most contained too much sodium. That leaves us to conclude that homemade—where you can at least control the salt shaker—is still best.


Meal

Prepared

Frozen

Restaurant


Mac & Cheese
(1 cup)


Costco
Calories: 275
Fat: 14 grams
Saturated fat: 9 g
Sodium: 374 mg

Stouffer's
Calories: 320
Fat: 15 grams
Saturated fat: 6 g
Sodium: 810 mg

Panera Bread
Calories: 490
Fat: 30 grams
Saturated fat: 13 g
Sodium: 1,020 mg


Chicken Marsala With Potatoes
(12 ounces)

ShopRite
Calories: 441
Fat: 13 grams
Saturated fat: 4.5 g
Sodium: 972 mg

Bertolli Classic
Calories: 330
Fat: 13 grams
Saturated fat: 5 g
Sodium: 920 mg

Olive Garden
Calories: 613
Fat: 27 grams
Saturated fat: 6 g
Sodium: 1,206 mg


Breaded Tilapia
(6 ounces)

Whole Foods
Calories: 389
Fat: 19 grams
Saturated fat: 3 g
Sodium: 612 mg

Mrs. Paul's
Calories: 360
Fat: 17 grams
Saturated fat: 4 g
Sodium: 420 mg

Red Lobster
Calories: 440
Fat: 25 grams
Saturated fat: 10 g
Sodium: 733 mg

Nutritional Information for Prepared Meals

We identified popular dishes sold at six supermarket chains in the New York metro area. We picked four dishes per chain—two main courses and two sides—and sent them to a lab to be analyzed to get the kind of nutritional profile consumers can’t always find. We bought three samples of each dish at different store locations; the nutritional values here are averages of those samples.

Click on the image below to download a our "Nutrition by the Numbers" PDF.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.