We tried 3 different brands of microwave dinners — and the winner was clear

Gabbi Shaw/INSIDERThe three contenders.
  • We sampled three different brands of microwave dinners: two chicken dinners and one turkey.
  • The brands were Lean Cuisine, Boston Market, and Marie Callender’s.
  • We felt that Lean Cuisine’s Herb Roasted Chicken had the tastiest sauce, as well as the healthiest sides thanks to its broccoli, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

While we all wish we could whip up a gourmet dinner every night, reality is a little bit different.

With the rise of time-saving meal delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, we thought it was worth taking a look at the original “easy” dinner option: the microwave meal (once known as a TV dinner).

As a part of INSIDER’s ongoing taste test series, we chose three similar microwave meals to find out which quick and affordable dinner was best. Previously, we’ve tried boxed mac and cheese and microwave popcorn.

The three frozen meals we chose were:

  • Lean Cuisine Comfort Herb Roasted Chicken
  • Boston Market Smothered Turkey
  • Marie Callender’s Herb Roasted Chicken

They were all bought at a grocery store on Long Island, New York. We judged the three options on texture, taste, quality of sides, and price.

We tried Marie Callender’s Herb Roasted Chicken first. The box described the meal inside as “Tender Bone-In Chicken with Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Corn.”

Marie callender's frontGabbi Shaw/INSIDERMarie Callender’s Herb Roasted Chicken.

At 450 calories, 900 milligrams of sodium, and 20 grams of fat, this was not the healthiest option.

As instructed, we cut a slit in the plastic cover over the vegetables and microwaved the tray for four minutes. Then, we stirred the potatoes and put the whole thing back in for another four minutes.

While the mashed potatoes weren’t as fluffy as they looked on the box, the meal looked more or less as advertised.

Marie callender doneGabbi Shaw/INSIDERThe corn was delicious.

It included one piece of chicken thigh, and one drumstick. The chicken was tender and juicy, and definitely our favourite of the meats, even though it could have used more seasoning.

The corn was surprisingly good, too. We were afraid that microwaving it would render it soggy and soft, but it tasted great. In fact, the corn was far and away the best part of the dinner.

The mashed potatoes, on the other hand, were a low point. They were sticky and somewhat bland.

At only $US3, Marie Callender’s was the cheapest option.

Next, we tried the Lean Cuisine Comfort Herb Roasted Chicken, which advertised “tender white meat chicken & creamy herb sauce with roasted potatoes.”

Lean cuisine frontGabbi Shaw/INSIDERLean Cuisine Comfort Herb Roasted Chicken.

Lean Cuisine famously makes “healthy” frozen meals. This one was gluten free, had no preservatives, and boasted only 170 calories, four grams of fat, and 510 milligrams of sodium. Not too shabby for $US3.99, which makes it the most expensive option on this list, but still exceedingly affordable.

This dinner called for the tray to be put in the microwave for six-and-a-half minutes with the film on, followed by a minute to cool off untouched.

Like Marie Callender’s, the meal didn’t look exactly the way it does on the box.

Lean cuisine doneGabbi Shaw/INSIDERThe greens were great.

That said, it was refreshing to have something green on our plates – a lot of carbs were consumed in this taste test. The broccoli, mushrooms, and tomatoes added a healthy component to this meal, which the other two were lacking.

The veggies were flavorful and delicious, but the roasted potatoes were a little mushier than we’d like.

Dog lean cuisine taste testGabbi Shaw/INSIDERAlso, the Lean Cuisine was the only option my dog came over and wanted to try, so it gets two paws up from the canine community.

The chicken was a little chewy, but tasted more “roasted” than Marie Callender’s, plus it had a creamy, herby sauce that added some much-needed moisture.

And finally, we tried Boston Market’s “Smothered Turkey in a Savoury Gravy on Home Style Bread with Mashed Potatoes.”

Boston market frontGabbi Shaw/INSIDERBoston Market’s Smothered Turkey in a Savoury Gravy on Home Style Bread with Mashed Potatoes.

There’s a reason that the 26 grams of protein is advertised on the front of the box – it’s the only relatively healthy thing this dinner has going for it. This smothered turkey boasts 430 calories, 11 grams of fat, and a whopping 1,370 milligrams of sodium. That’s a lot of salt.

This dinner cost $US3.59, putting it right in the middle of the three.

Here, the instructions called for peeling back the film and cooking the dish on high for four minutes before stirring the mashed potatoes and re-inserting it for another four minutes. After it was done cooking, we let the meal stand for another two minutes to cool down.

Here’s what it actually looked like.

Boston market cookedGabbi Shaw/INSIDERThis one had A LOT of sauce.

Maybe mashed potatoes are just impossible to get right in a microwave dinner, but the verdict on these was also glue-like. That said, they were seasoned better than Marie Callender’s mashed potatoes.

The gravy was delicious, but overwhelming. It completely overpowered the turkey (which was a bit chewy), so we weren’t really able to taste anything else. But the best part was easily the gravy-soaked bread, which surprisingly didn’t get too soggy, and was able to soak up a lot of gravy.

The verdict: Lean Cuisine’s Herb Roasted Chicken tasted the best, plus it’s the healthiest option of the three.

Lean cuisine happyGabbi Shaw/INSIDERLean Cuisine put a smile on my face.

While all three are affordable and have at least one component going for them (Marie Callender’s chicken, Lean Cuisine’s veggies, and Boston Market’s gravy-soaked bread), Lean Cuisine was our favourite. We’ll definitely be trying some of their other options.

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