When it’s warm outside (or not), there’s nothing like something icy cold and sweet from the freezer — but not all frozen treats are created equal. On that note, there are plenty of frozen desserts that you just shouldn’t buy. But if the freezer aisle isn’t all doom and gloom, the question remains: Which frozen desserts should you buy?
This isn’t just about ice cream. It’s not just about cakes. And it’s not just about cheesecakes, bars, or pies (which you may or may not need to defrost before biting into). And it’s certainly not about making you feel bad about craving your favorite pint of the sweet stuff. It’s just about being informed and making the best decision for you on any day of the week –– no guilt, no regret, no judgement –- and enjoying the best creamy, dreamy, rich and satisfying desserts.
So, from a nostalgic frozen chocolate cake to a lightened-up pint, here are the frozen desserts you should and shouldn’t buy.
Should: Outshine Fruit Bars
Made with real fruit and no high-fructose corn syrup, Outshine’s fruit bars are light and juicy. They’re also GMO-free, gluten free, and fat free, but you wouldn’t know they were "healthy" by taste alone. With the first ingredient being fruit and third being cane sugar, but with additional sweetness (and fruit flavor) coming from concentrated fruit juice, they’re a lot more fruit-forward than other fruit-based frozen bars (we’re looking at you, Popsicles). And they get an extra thumbs up for using natural colors like turmeric instead of artificial ones.
While our heart is committed to the strawberry flavor, plenty of people love the other flavors, including peach, pineapple, lime, and coconut. And if you’re thinking you’d prefer something creamy to something that’s just pure fruit and sugar, Outshine also has milk-based bars including strawberry, chocolate, coffee, and mango. Bonus: The milk comes from cows not treated with RBST, a growth hormone.
Should: Halo Top light ice cream
Halo Top has a pretty crazy story. Quick recap: Former lawyers go into debt producing healthier ice cream, one nearly dies from carbon dioxide poisoning from dry ice, and the company goes on to become one of the "25 Best Inventions of 2017" by TIME Magazine and to beat Ben & Jerry’s that year as America’s top-selling ice cream.
But does the Halo Top ice cream actually taste good? Yeah, it does. It’s got a lot of air in there, which might make some people feel ripped off, but the air makes it light and gives it a creamy texture –- along with a bunch of stabilizers and emulsifiers, but relatively natural-sounding ones (e.g. vegetable glycerin and sunflower lecithin). The main sweetener is erythritol, a corn-based sugar alcohol, then stevia, making Halo Top a low-calorie frozen dessert. The whole idea is you can eat a whole pint of it and not feel "guilty" (or sick) -– though there’s a plenty big movement that says "guilty" and "pleasure" are two words that shouldn’t go together.
Back to the flavors. The birthday cake flavor is fun, with sprinkles and a very cake-y taste, but the chocolate chip cookie dough is our personal favorite — considering the taste and texture, you wouldn’t guess there are 6 grams of fiber in there and 6 grams of protein. And there’s also a dairy-free line made with coconut milk, which includes top flavors like birthday cake and peanut butter swirl,.
Should: McCain Deep’n Delicious chocolate cake
Most adults know McCain’s Deep ‘n Delicious frozen cake isn’t good for them, but people love it anyway. And there’s a simple reason for that: It’s delicious!
There’s a marble version, a vanilla version, and the original chocolate version — all of which are essentially nostalgia in frozen cake form. That rich, chocolatey cake with creamy, thick frosting … it’s enough to take you back a decade or so. You know it’s not the highest quality cake ever (sugar is the first ingredient, followed by soya oil, hydrogenated coconut oil, glucose solids and dextrose), but it gets high marks on Family Rated, where reviewers love that you can eat it frozen or defrosted, and plus, it’s affordable.
And somehow, the Deep ‘n Delicious cake stays moist, while the icing doesn’t get grainy when refrigerated — those peaks are genius, because they add much needed texture. Just imagine how much the cake would lose if the frosting on top were flat! Be warned, though: It might be hard to stop at a single piece of this treat, which, if you’re not careful, can lead to cake overload.
Should: Trader Joe’s Hold the Cone! Mini Ice Cream Cones
The much-loved Hold the Cone! Mini Ice Cream Cones from Trader Joe’s have a lot of things going for them. First, they’re snack-sized, so you can eat just one, or eat several –- and how cool is it to be able to eat more than one ice cream cone in one sitting and feel just fine about it? Second, the ice cream goes all the way down to the bottom of the cone, which, as Elisabeth Sherman of the Kitchn reports, is essential. And third, the vanilla cones have a chocolate coating, so they’re like your favorite fast food dipped cones, except they’re mini and there are a bunch of flavor options, including chocolate, chocolate chip, vanilla, and coffee, plus seasonal peppermint and pumpkin ginger.
How much do other people like these? In 2021, the dessert even came runner-up for "Favorite Sweet Treat" in Trader Joe’s customer choice awards. If that doesn’t convince you that these frozen treats are worth your money, here’s a whole article on the best Trader Joe’s desserts, including why these mini cones are the number one.
Should: My/Mochi in Ripe Strawberry
Ice cream-filled mochi have been rocking freezer aisle shelves since they became trendy in the 2010s. Mochi is originally from Japan and uses a sweet rice flour coating around a sweet filling, and the ice cream version of the treat likely started in the 1980s in Los Angeles. While traditional mochi flavors include red bean and green tea, unique flavor combinations have exploded along with mochi ice cream’s popularity in North America (think horchata and dulce de leche).
But this strawberry mochi ice cream from My/Mochi is at the top. For starters, the mochi taste like real strawberry, thanks to the strawberry puree inside being made with real strawberries. And better yet, they don’t taste cloyingly sweet. My/Mochi also makes dairy-free mochi flavors, including a cashew milk-based strawberry creation that gets good reviews, but the original is for purists.
And if you’re thinking, "Isn’t it My/Mo?" – the company rebranded in February 2021, probably because it makes more sense to put what the product actually is in the name (now that we all know what mochi is). Basically My/Mochi is now big enough to do what it wants, as the California-based company owns 80% of the mochi market in grocery stores in North America.
Should: Annie’s Organic Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches
Remember those ice cream sandwiches that you used to eat as a kid? They were rectangular prisms of rock-hard vanilla ice cream with two soft, chewy, chocolate biscuits on top and bottom. You probably weren’t wondering about the nutritional content as a kid, but years later, you might be thinking a bit more about high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors (did they even contain real vanilla?), preservatives, and what they’re doing in your ice cream bars.
The considerate thing about the ice cream makers at vegetarian-friendly Annie’s is that they did all that wondering for you when creating the company’s ice cream bars. Not only are these treats delicious, but they’re made with all-natural, organic ingredients. And better yet, the quality ingredients don’t take away from the classic ice cream flavor and texture of our childhood favorites. And now, there’s even a cookies and cream option. The only downside of Annie’s ice cream bars is the small size, but that’s why one serving is two sandwiches (hurray!). Besides, even a little goes a long way with these wholesome frozen desserts.
Shouldn’t: Our Finest Tiramisu Mini Desserts
Who doesn’t like tiramisu? The Italian classic with ladyfingers doused in booze and coffee with creamy mascarpone cream is just heaven. It’s easy enough to make your own tiramisu, but a lot easier to buy one, you might figure.
Except, this commercial version from Our Finest, the store brand of Walmart, doesn’t have much of that home-style appeal. It instead features a long, preservative-heavy ingredient list that includes modified cornstarch (which maintains moisture and extends shelf life) and icing sugar (not exactly a usual tiramisu ingredient). If you’re really into portion control, you might like that the product comes in single-serving pieces, since you get six per package, but you also might wonder where there’s canola oil in there, which just seems like a way to skimp on the rich egg yolks that are meant to form the base of the custard.
There’s also a more traditional layered version of this tiramisu, but either way, we’re not so sure nonna would approve.
Shouldn’t: Sara Lee French Style Cheesecake
Sara Lee is a classic brand that’s made many a dinner better over the decades by adding a touch of sweetness. But there’s a big difference between the company’s French Style Cheesecake and a homemade version. (Fyi: French-style cheesecake refers to cheesecake that’s usually more dense as a result of the French cheese used in the recipe, and it can also refer to no-bake cheesecake that doesn’t contain eggs but uses cream to set the filling instead.)
This one is super processed and gets a 10 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores scale — with 10 being the worst. It contains "food additives of higher concern," including BHA and ingredients "likely derived from antibiotic-treated animals." By comparison, Sara Lee’s New York-style cheesecake just gets an already high 8 on EWG’s scale.
A serving of the French Style Cheesecake also has 26 grams of fat — 15 of which are saturated, 26 grams of sugar, contains palm oil and has an ingredient list longer than a wedding speech (mmm … polysorbate 80).
Shouldn’t: Member’s Mark Cheesecake Miniatures
Cheesecake is a hard product to sell commercially, it seems, because these mini cheesecakes from Member’s Mark should die a respectable death in the Sam’s Club freezer aisle.
Member’s Mark Cheesecake Miniatures come in a variety of flavors, which is fun, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re high in sugar and saturated fat and contain corn syrup (not exactly a cheesecake fixture!), along with what’s most likely not sustainable palm oil. The biggest selling point that the marketing team seems to emphasize is that these bites contain real cream cheese, but shouldn’t that be a given?
The Cheesecake Miniatures taste okay, but not even Cheesecake-Factory-frozen-product good, so it feels like you’re really eating something commercial rather than made with love. The brand’s New York Style flavor seems a bit more "natural" than its other flavors, being made of 98% cream, milk, sugar, eggs and wheat flour – but it’s still crazy high in calories and fat.
Shouldn’t: Blue Bunny Load’d Sundae in Triple Chocolate Malt
This Load’d Sundae from Blue Bunny gets the worst possible score on Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores scale. If you’re wondering what could possibly be so awful about a container of ice cream sundae, the answer is lots of things. From food additives to high levels of trans fats to artificial flavors and containing more than five tablespoons of sugar per serving (over a quarter cup!) — with a ton of that coming from high-fructose corn syrup, this is far from a healthy dessert.
While these treats might be a load of fun to eat, as the family-owned company’s branding suggests, you might be feeling pretty jittery afterwards. So, don’t be fooled by pretty packaging. If you want a really wholesome, high-quality chocolate sundae, just buy a pint of quality ice cream and some corn syrup-free chocolate syrup, and you’ll be much better off.
Shouldn’t: Magnum Ice Cream pints
Magnum Ice Cream is a big brand name in chocolate and ice cream, but you might not even know that the company makes pints and not just bars. The pints are a bit weird, though, because they try to provide that Magnum Ice Cream bar experience in a tub of ice cream by adding a brittle layer of chocolate on top. It’s unique, sure, but also annoying, because you have to wait for it to thaw a bit before eating it or it won’t really break, and you’ll end up with these cracked pieces of frozen topping above your ice cream.
Store-bought ice cream shouldn’t be about patience, which is why we can’t recommend these pints. The ice cream is the same as the bars you’ll find at grocery stores and convenience stores, though, so just get the Magnum bars instead if you love Magnum Ice Cream. You’ll probably also be less likely to overindulge in the super high-sugar and high-fat frozen dessert.
Shouldn’t: Signature Select Variety Cheesecake Tray
Safeway’s store-brand frozen cheesecake variety pack comes with four different kinds of slices in a single container. Hurray for selection, right? Nope! With eight slices, you’re definitely going to try more than one slice at a time (the serving size is likely two slices for that reason), which equals 440 calories and 26 grams of fat, including 10 grams of saturated fat — aka more fat, calories, carbs and sugar than you probably need in a single dessert sitting.
The easy answer to this overindulgence problem might be to buy a single-flavor option instead (unless you have amazing willpower or no sense of flavor curiosity). Except none of Signature Select’s options are exactly "healthy." With modified food starch and vegetable oil as the fourth ingredient (after water, which is just bizarre, because who puts water and oil in cheesecake?), these frozen cheesecakes are a treat that should probably not be eaten regularly.
Shouldn’t: The Cheesecake Factory At Home Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake
Just because this at-home version of The Cheesecake Factory’s super-indulgent red velvet cake cheesecake doesn’t contain trans fats or high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean you should eat it. Because what it does contain is just as unappetizing: refined corn oil, sodium tripolyphosphate (a cleaning ingredient that’s also a food preservative), palm oil, and artificial color — plus 33 grams of sugar, 480 calories, and 33 grams of fat. That includes 70% of your daily saturated fat. All those ingredients might mean this cheesecake is pretty tasty, but think of your health!
It’s one thing to have the odd slice of cheesecake at your local Cheesecake Factory for a special occasion — heck, split it with someone who’ll appreciate it with you, but to have a whole cheesecake of this at home? You’re going to need some willpower or a strong desire to share if you don’t feel like downing way more than what’s good for you.
Shouldn’t: WonderSlim Creamy Cheesecake
There’s a really good reason not to buy these WonderSlim low-fat mini cheesecakes. There’s a warning on this box that the product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. If that’s not enough to convince you to stay away, it also contains sucralose and corn syrup solids. For those reasons alone you shouldn’t buy this frozen dessert.
But you should also not buy this because it just doesn’t taste good. Take out the creamy, dreamy fat and replace it with non-fat milk, konjac, cheddar cheese (huh?), sucralose and artificial flavors, and cheesecake is just not as good. Not this one, anyway — and not even corn syrup solids can save its bland taste.
You might even be better off with a full-fat New York-style version from Sara Lee, which itself is mediocre in terms of health. A much better option would be to make your own cheesecake and keep the corn syrup out of it.
Shouldn’t: Icee Freeze Squeeze Ups
These Icee Freeze Squeeze Ups from Sam’s Club are a little bit…unappealing. The mixed package comes with flavors that aren’t fruit, like blue raspberry, which is a mix of corn syrup and artificial flavor ending in numbers (e.g. FD&C Blue #1). We all know that food is more delicious when flavors don’t end in numbers, don’t we? There’s also enzyme modified soy protein in here, and if you’re thinking that’s a bit weird considering they’re ice pops with 0 grams of protein in them, that’s because modified soy protein is often used as a stabilizer and preservative.
On the upside, we suppose, Icee Freeze pops are low-calorie and low-fat, and the serving size is small enough that each one contains less sugar than most of the frozen desserts above. But they’re still a preservative-laden sugar rush waiting to happen, and you might be better of freezing some mango chunks or banana and chucking them in the blender. For a treat on the go, go with the first option on this list: Outshine bars, which really do outshine these sugary freeze ups.
Shouldn’t: Barq’s Frozen Root Beer & Vanilla Ice Cream Float
Take an indulgent treat and make a frozen version that can be eaten on the go (with no spoon required), and you might think "Genius!" But these frozen root beer floats are not something to be celebrated. They’re mostly high fructose corn syrup, thickeners, artificial flavors, and caffeine (which is not normal for root beer, with Barq’s being an exception). Skip.
To be fair, the homemade version of a root beer float, where you pour root beer over vanilla ice cream, isn’t the best for you either, because the soda will still contain a lot of those ingredients (unless you’re going to get all fancy and make your own root beer). But you shouldn’t have to pay for the packaging, and you can definitely buy a better ice cream without all the corn syrup solids this one comes with.
Still, these are unique because there aren’t any other convenient root beer frozen options, so do what you have to do.
Shouldn’t: Sundae Shoppe Minis Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches
You know we have a soft spot for Annie’s ice cream sandwiches (above), and if you read that section, you now know the downsides of other commercial ice cream sandwiches — but these ones from Aldi’s store brand are some of the worst, in our opinion.
These say "vanilla" on the packaging, but there’s no actual vanilla listed in the ingredients –- real or artificial. And if that has you raising your eyebrows, you should know Aldi has already been the subject of a lawsuit over the lack of real vanilla in their Sundae Shoppe and Belmont ice creams.
Sundae Shoppe’s ice cream cookie sandwiches should also be avoided on the grounds that they use artificial flavor, which is just not that delicious compared to real vanilla beans. Sure, these treats are cheap and tastes all right, but the texture also isn’t as good as other options. We say you should just buy Annie’s.