Look, everyone knows cooking from scratch is optimal, but there are times in life when chucking a frozen meatloaf meal in the microwave is your only option. Maybe you needed to work late and never had a chance to stop at the grocery store, or perhaps you ate an edible and forgot what an onion is. Whatever the case, while you gaze longingly through the microwave window at that moist hunk of meat as it spins in slow circles, you want to know that you made the best choice you could, considering the circumstances.
Seeking validation, I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help me rank an assortment of frozen meatloaf meals by how unhealthy they are — from actually okay to get meat-wrecked, son.
1) Amy’s Veggie Loaf Meal: Hunnes emphasizes that this loaf is the obvious winner, “Because vegetables.” Indeed, the ingredients include organic potatoes, organic peas, organic mushrooms, organic corn, organic onions and the list goes on. Due to the absence of meat, Hunnes also mentions that this meatloaf meal is lower in saturated fat (which can damage your heart in high amounts) than any other product on this list. On the other hand it’s also lower in protein, but as Hunnes says, “We don’t need as much protein as we think we do.”
2) Lean Cuisine Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes: Overall, Hunnes says this is another okay choice, since it only contains 240 calories and seven grams of fat, while boasting an impressive 20 grams of protein. However, she emphasizes that, in her book, this frozen meal receives an “automatic downgrade for being real meat, which depending on how it’s prepared, could be tumor-promoting or carcinogenic.”
3) Michelina’s Meatloaf: Again, Hunnes reminds me that the meat in this loaf — beef and pork — are cause for concern, since they up the fat value and may contribute to the development of cancer. But considering the portion size — a whole half pound! — the fact that it only contains 190 calories and seven grams of fat is impressive. While it contains less protein (nine grams) than the Lean Cuisine meatloaf, Hunnes mentions that it also boasts less sodium (850 milligrams) than many of the other products on this list, which is always a good thing considering how much salt can be found in the average American’s diet. Too much sodium, of course, has been linked to high blood pressure, as well as increased risk for heart disease and kidney disease.
4) Banquet Meatloaf Meal: Hunnes says, considering the serving size is three-quarters of a pound, the nutritional numbers for this frozen dish are surprisingly okay — 330 calories, 11 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein. On the flip side, it does contain quite a bit of sodium, with 1,350 milligrams, and even 11 grams of sugar, which is a leading cause of all sorts of ailments. Once again, since this meatloaf contains real meat — chicken, pork and beef — Hunnes says it’s “not high on my list.”
5) Great Value Frozen Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes: “Again, for what it is — a fairly hefty meal — this isn’t as terrible as some of the other brands out there,” Hunnes says. “But it’s certainly not as good as the ones above.” It contains 380 calories, a whopping 21 grams of fat and 10 grams of sugar. All in all, Hunnes says this loaf is “not the worst.”
6) Marie Callender’s Meat Loaf & Gravy: Once more, considering one serving is three-quarters of a pound, Hunnes notes that the calories, fat and protein content “aren’t terrible” — it contains 380 calories, 13 grams of fat and 21 grams of protein. She does mention, however, that it “still contains more than I’d recommend in the fat and sodium groups.” More specifically, it boasts 1,300 milligrams of sodium.
7) Boston Market Meatloaf: We’re starting to see a pattern here. “Again, this is a reasonable amount of food for the calories and protein, but it’s higher in fat and saturated fat than anyone should eat in one meal,” Hunnes says. It boasts 420 calories, 18 grams of protein, 23 grams of fat and a whopping 10 grams of saturated fat.
8) Hungry-Man Home-Style Meatloaf: No matter how hungry you are, man, this is just too much of everything. “This is a lot of food and probably way more calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium than someone should eat in one meal,” says Hunnes. It contains 650 calories, a whopping 32 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 1,450 milligrams of sodium and — holy shit, why? — 23 grams of sugar, which is almost as much as a whole Snickers bar. “Cut it in half and pair it with a salad, then maybe it’s decent,” Hunnes suggests.
9) Hormel Homestyle Meatloaf with Tomato Sauce: This one doesn’t seem so bad at first glance, but it has an absurdly small serving size. “I’m not sure if you’d feel full on only one-third of this item [the recommended serving size], but it’s also fairly high in fat and sodium,” Hunnes says. It contains nine grams of fat and 880 milligrams of sodium, but remember, one serving of this loaf is about one-third of most the other serving sizes on this list.
10) Stouffer’s Meatloaf: Wait, did I say a third was absurd? The recommended serving size here is a sixth. “You’d never feel full from only one-sixth of this loaf — there aren’t any sides, and it’s high in fat and sodium,” Hunnes says. One serving contains 190 calories, 10 grams of fat and 750 milligrams of sodium, which again, should be multiplied numerous times to even compare to the serving size of any other loaf on this list.
All in all, very few of these loaves are actually any good. “In general, I wouldn’t recommend any of these, except perhaps the first three,” Hunnes reiterates. “Even then, I don’t like recommending red meat to anyone.”
I guess that’s what I get for having an edible right before dinnertime.