What’s the best Stouffer’s frozen dinner? It can be an intimidating question when standing in front of the frozen food aisle with a big, red wall of tantalizing food pictures staring back at you. It’s a little like trying to read the menu at the Cheesecake Factory, except with massive gusts of freezing air blowing at you every time you try and get a closer look. Whether you’re into red sauces, cream sauces, Chinese food, or comfort food, there’s something in that big Stouffer’s display that’s gonna catch your eye. The problem is, sometimes it’s too many.
To help you make your dinner choice without risking hypothermia, we took it upon ourselves to try a whole bunch of Stouffer’s classic frozen entrées. While some taste about as good as you’d expect a meal prepared months earlier and choc full of chemicals and sodium to taste, others actually aren’t half bad. And if you’re on a budget, or just don’t feel like cooking for kids who won’t appreciate it anyway, here are our picks from worst to best.
14. White Meat Chicken Pot Pie
When people talk about letting flavors marry in cooking, it’s usually garlic combining with tomatoes and peppers, or vegetables absorbing the juices from a brisket. What it does not mean, however, is a pot pie taking on the taste of its aluminum cooking tray. But that is sadly what happens in Stouffer’s white meat chicken pot pie.
When you first dip your fork into the pot pie, the flakiness of the crust is impressive. And in all fairness, Stouffer’s absolutely nailed the crust. But beyond that, the pot pie is just flat out gross. The first jolt of flavor you get is a salty creaminess from the sauce inside. But it quickly gives way to a gamey poultry assault, followed by — you guessed it — metal. Granted, the white meat chicken pot pie bakes for an hour in the oven, so the metal has some time to seep into the sauce. But even if we weren’t taste-testing 14 of these frozen dinners, it would have been hard to finish this one. If you’re jonesing for pot pie, there’s better stuff in your frozen foods aisle. And if you must have Stouffer’s, try anything else.
13. Grandma’s Chicken and Vegetable Rice Bake
Presumably, this is supposed to remind people of a Sunday night dinner at grandma’s house, where you’d come in from the cold after a long day of playing freeze tag and warm up with some good old fashioned comfort food. And the effect is reached with this Stouffer’s frozen entrée – if every recipe your grandma made started with the instruction to "open a can of Campbell’s soup." There’s a certain creamy hominess to grandma’s chicken and vegetable bake, though, thanks to the rich, fatty texture of comfort food. And if you’re eating it in your ski chalet after a long day on the slopes, it’ll definitely warm you up.
But we can also question the validity of calling anything a "bake" that cooks in eight minutes. For example, the breadcrumbs that Stouffer’s throws on top of this have about as much crunch as a tortilla chip at the end of a party. The chicken is also chunked and formed –- as in it’s white-meat chicken that’s processed and made into cubes. The result is that some pieces of chicken are pretty good and others taste like balls of gristle that grandma, in her old world wisdom, thought were good for you.
12. Chicken à la King
We’re not sure what king this chicken is supposed to be "à la," but after eating it, we would guess a deposed one that’s being fed this while he awaits his imminent beheading. Okay, that might be a little harsh, but so is the butter flavor in this entrée’s sauce, which is so overpowering it makes it feel like you’re eating a melted butter stick. There are some veggies and chunked-and-formed chicken in there too, though you don’t really taste them. And the overwhelming, artificial richness makes this tough to finish.
If there’s one saving grace of Stouffer’s chicken à la king, it might be the rice. It’s actually got a perfect texture, and when eaten sans the à la king, it’s pretty good. It’s a bit bland to stand on its own, even though it has flecks of what we assume are tomatoes and scallions. But when bland rice is the best thing about a dish, it’s probably something you should give a miss.
11. Escalloped chicken and noodles
"Escalloped" is one of those words like "farm-to-table" that people throw around when talking about food, but have no idea what it actually means. We saved you the trouble and Googled it, and found out that escalloped does not, in fact, mean this frozen dinner comes with expensive shellfish. Instead, the chicken in the dish is cut particularly thin. There, you learned something today.
The buttery sauce in this entrée is commendable, and its talents are almost wasted on the chewy meat and plastic-tasting vegetables. Like most Stouffer’s frozen dinners, this one has heavy sodium in every bite, but the butter eases that a little bit and the thick noodles give this a nice texture. The escalloped chicken pieces (look at us using new vocabulary) are a little chewy, and maybe not the best part of the entrée. Then again, for frozen, microwaved chicken, I guess we shouldn’t expect too much. And as cream-based frozen dinners go, you could do a lot worse.
10. Green pepper steak
The first thing that hits you when biting into Stouffer’s green pepper steak is an overwhelming sweetness — so much so you might be inclined to look at the ingredients on the side of the box to see if they include high fructose corn syrup. This falls under asking questions you don’t want the answer to, but in its list of unpronounceable chemicals, there’s nothing that implies the dish has been sweetened.
If you like sweet beef or sweet Chinese dishes, you may actually enjoy the green pepper steak. The tomatoes and peppers have actual vegetable flavor, though they, too, are a lot sweeter than you’d expect. The steak isn’t bad, but it’s cut so rectangular and flat that they look unnatural. It’s also hard to discern the quality, since the sauce is so overpowering it could cover even the most rancid piece of meat. All of these odd flavors are mixed with a big pile of mush masquerading as white rice. This dish isn’t much for texture, but it’s not painfully rich either. So while it’s not all that enjoyable, at least it won’t leave you feeling sick.
9. Chicken parmesan
There’s a certain delight that comes with cutting into a chicken parmesan at a nice Italian restaurant like Carbone or Olive Garden, where the hot, crispy parmesan crust gives way to your knife and the ensuing bite is a combination of hot, crispy breading and soft, tender meat that makes it absolute heaven. This is not the case, however, with Stouffer’s chicken parm. The bite tastes a little like a chicken breast covered in a piece of soggy white bread, with tomato sauce and cheese drizzled on top. And while it is, in its own way, satisfying, it’s nowhere near the chicken parm experience one usually expects.
The flavor isn’t bad, and the tomato sauce on the noodles has a lot more tomato flavor than you’ll find in other Stouffer’s dishes. Along the same line, the chicken breast in this dish is far and away the best chicken of any Stouffer’s frozen dinner. Low bar? Sure. But if you want to forego the noodles and have a low-carb dinner, this isn’t a bad move. There’s a little more work involved in making this one, as you’ve gotta heat the stuff, then stir the spaghetti, then heat it some more.
8. Spaghetti and meatballs
Texture is not exactly the strong suit of Stouffer’s spaghetti and meatballs. Taking a forkful of the noodles, sauce, and balls is an altogether mushy experience, and while this might be somewhat enjoyable for those who have trouble chewing, if you’re into mouthfeel you’ll want to look elsewhere. The sauce is thick, and as it melds with the processed noodles it creates an almost creamy experience, which is odd for a red sauce-based entrée.
That said, the tomato flavor is pretty solid, though it tastes exactly like you probably remember processed tomato entrées tasting: a lot of salt, a lot of thin tomato, but big enough that you know what you’re eating. The meatballs are made up of a beef and pork blend, according to the ingredients. But it might as well be soy paste, pea paste, or soylent green for all you can tell from eating them. They’re not bad, per se. And definitely not gross. But if you’re trying to sink your teeth into a big, juicy Italian meatball, well, opting for a three-dollar frozen dinner was probably not the best option.
7. Fettuccini alfredo
Alfredo sauce, believe it or not, isn’t really a part of Italian cuisine. Sure, you can find it on the menu in almost any Italian-American restaurant, but according to HuffPost, the sauce only dates back about 100 years to a restaurant in Rome. There, restaurateur Alfredo di Lelio developed a pretty simple dish of pasta and butter for his pregnant wife and later put it on the menu. Douglas Fairbanks tried some when he was in Rome on his honeymoon, it became a hit among Hollywood jetsetters, and in 1977 Alfredo opened a restaurant in New York City.
Stouffer’s offering is, well, not even remotely like the stuff Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford fell in love with on their honeymoon in Rome. First off, it has broccoli, which tastes surprisingly like broccoli for a vegetable found in a frozen dinner. It’s also creamy as opposed to buttery, though we can’t fault Stouffer’s here since that’s more or less become the American adaptation. The chicken and noodles both have excellent texture, and though the dish isn’t gourmet, it hits all the notes you expect in an alfredo. You’ll leave satisfied, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
6. Salisbury steak
Salisbury steak is a close cousin to that great American classic, the hamburger, though it differs in that it’s got a lot more stuff in the patty, like breadcrumbs, eggs, onions, and sauces, according to The Recipe Critic. But as Stouffer’s frozen dinners go, it might be the easiest one to make your own version of at home, if you’re not averse to handling raw meat. We say this because though Stouffer’s Salisbury steak isn’t bad, there’s nothing all that special about it. And as it’s basically a ramped up meat patty, you’re not getting much in this frozen version that you wouldn’t in a fresh one.
If you insist on going frozen for your Salisbury steak, however, Stouffer’s is a winner. Unlike the meatballs in some other meaty frozen entrées, the steak here has a lot of flavor, and could stand on its own even without the rich brown sauce. The sauce might be the best thing on the tray, though, and if you finish your steak early we might suggest sopping some up with bread. The mac and cheese on the other side of the tray is about on par with any boxed mac and cheese you’ll find at the supermarket.
5. Veggie lovers lasagna
If you’re a vegetarian and have been perusing this list and thinking, "Boy, this cornucopia of frozen dinners looks like such a delight, but there’s nothing on here for me!" Well, fret not, vegetarian friends. Stouffer’s has not forgotten about you. The Veggie Lovers Lasagna is full of carrots, spinach, and broccoli, and if you try really hard, you can actually find them inside.
While we applaud Stouffer’s efforts at having something other than mac and cheese for vegetarians, calling this "veggie lovers" is a bit of a stretch. If you love veggies, it probably means you love the crisp, cool taste of a carrot and the crunch that comes with eating it. In this lasagna, you will neither taste nor feel your veggies. Which means it might be a smart way to get kids to eat them. But "noodle and cheese lovers lasagna" probably would have been a better name.
Pro tip: Bake this instead of microwaving. Yes, it takes an hour. But the noodles are much more crisp and the burnt cheese on the outside of the tray is a guilty pleasure.
4. Swedish meatballs
If you’re spending your Sunday assembling an entire living room of Ikea furniture and want to try and recreate that Ikea store magic at home, Stouffer’s Swedish Meatballs are a good place to start. Are they as good as the ones in the Ikea cafeteria? No. Do you have to wait in line behind a family with four screaming kids and fight for a parking spot to get them? Also no. And that pulls them pretty much even.
Much like assembling Ikea furniture, there’s a little more effort than usual involved in making these Swedish meatballs. You’ll have to heat them for three-and-a-half minutes, take the tray out, stir it up again, and heat it for another five. Whether it’s worth the effort is debatable, but the meatballs taste considerably meatier than their spaghetti brethren. And the onion and mushroom sauce over the noodles is also rich with flavor. Stouffer’s has captured the essence of the Swedish meatball here, and while it’s not the best version of it you’ll ever have, it’s definitely a top tier frozen dinner.
3. Chicken and mushroom marsala
Wine sauce in a frozen dinner is an ambitious trick, and while we wouldn’t compare this to anything you’d find in an Italian restaurant, Stouffer’s does a pretty commendable job. Mushrooms are really the key in any good marsala, and the ones here are surprisingly flavorful for coming from a frozen dinner. They enrich the flavor of the sauce, which definitely gives off marsala notes in a rich, buttery base.
The chicken in Stouffer’s chicken and mushroom marsala might be the unsung hero of the dish, though, and definitely the biggest pleasant surprise. The whole-breast slices have a texture that’s not at all chewy like in some other dishes. And while we’d hesitate to say it could stand on its own, at the very least it’s not dragging the dish down. Though we never expect a whole lot from a frozen entrée, this one still exceeds expectations. And if you’re a fan of this dish in restaurants, you won’t hate this frozen interpretation.
2. Stuffed peppers
Some things in life are worth the wait: true love, the remake of "Top Gun," and, surprisingly, Stouffer’s stuffed peppers. It takes a staggering 16 minutes to make these things in the microwave — a venerable eternity in an appliance that can pop a whole bag of popcorn in a minute. You’ll also be doing some actual "cooking" too, as the directions tell you to baste the peppers in sauce about seven minutes into this frozen food odyssey.
If you’re looking for a full, satisfying meal from Stouffer’s, you won’t do much better than the stuffed peppers. Though it might not be the overall winner in flavor, the two generous peppers are filled with a considerable amount of rice and beef, and if you and your roommate don’t have big appetites and are on a budget, you could probably split a single package. The peppers actually taste like peppers, the beef and rice are seasoned just enough to know they’re there. And the red sauce gives a nice tomato overlay to the whole thing. The only drawback is that the sauce is a little thin. But the rest of the meal is so hearty, you’ll barely even notice.
1. Lasagna with meat and sauce
Before we get into the superlatives for our top-ranked Stouffer’s frozen dinner, a word to the wise: If you bake this one, open up the oven about 20 minutes into the 56-minute bake time and make sure the sauce is covering the noodles. If you don’t, you might end up with a bunch of sauceless, crunchy noodles that don’t do much to help the entrée.
If you do that, though, you’re in for a treat with Stouffer’s lasagna with meat and sauce. Assuming you have time, baking it is the way to go. You’ll be greeted with a lovely ring of crispy, burnt cheese along the outside of the tray. Take a forkful of that and delve into a sea of rich, red sauce below. The meat cooks with the sauce to give it a far more robust flavor than you’ll find in any other tomato-based Stouffer’s frozen dinner. The meat isn’t all that noticeable, which may be a negative to some, but it’s the odd Stouffer’s frozen dinner with some legitimate texture and a lot of taste, and for that, it gets the top spot.