Bowls are in. Panera, Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and countless other eateries have jumped on the meal-in-a-bowl wagon. So why not the freezer case?

The good news: a typical bowl is mostly plants. Many offer whole grains, veggies, beans or another protein, sauce, and maybe nuts or seeds. That often means more fiber, potassium, and unsaturated fat—and less refined grain, salt, and cheese—than typical frozen entrées. Here’s a guide to the best.

The Best Bowls

Bowls can be packed with lentils, greens, and other healthy ingredients (see “The Healthy Cook”). But watch out. Some offer the same old greasy, salty, white-flour mac ‘n cheese, baked ziti, or pad Thai. Here’s how we picked our Best Bites and Honorable Mentions:

Whole grains. We required grains to be at least mostly whole (100% whole-grain pasta is rare in the freezer case). And we allowed no white potatoes. Nutrient-rich sweet potatoes? You bet.

Sodium. We capped Best Bites at 450 milligrams. But few brands get that low, so Honorable Mentions can have up to 600 mg. That’s generous for a typical 300-calorie bowl.

Saturated fat. Our limit (3 grams) cut most cheese, fatty red meats, and coconut curries. We allowed a few grams more if the fat came from nuts, seeds, or healthy oils.

Click here for a chart of Best Bites, Honorable Mentions, and more bowls.

Want to try some of our favorite brands? Read on.

Made Smarter

“Smart ingredient swaps that do not compromise taste,” say SmartMade bowls. Got that right. The Thai-Style Chicken & Vegetables swaps yogurt for some cream. The Roasted Turkey & Vegetables comes with roasted sweet potatoes, not white. And the Roasted Vegetables with Angel Hair delivers 100% whole-wheat pasta.

SmartMade snagged six Honorable Mentions, and six more varieties just missed on sodium. They put the original Smart Ones line—think pizza, mini cheeseburgers, and mac ‘n cheese—to shame.

Luvin’ that Luvo

When was the last time you picked up a frozen entrée full of spiced chickpeas and black lentils? Or green garbanzos, cabbage, and kale? Or black rice, pineapple, mango, and cashews? Luvo sets the bar high for nutritious and tasty bowls. Sky high.

With seven Best Bites, Luvo leads the pack. Nearly all of the company’s Bowls and (vegan) Planted Power Bowls earn Best Bites or just miss. And every Luvo bowl stays under 400 milligrams of sodium. That alone deserves a medal.

It’s not just that many Luvos use potassium chloride, a salt substitute that helps cut sodium and boost potassium. It’s also Luvo’s flavorful herbs, spices, and more.

We’re talking cilantro, ginger, and mango powder in the Chana Masala, pineapple, mango, and tamari in the Hawaiian Un-Fried Rice, tomatillos, poblanos, and jalapeños in the Quinoa & Veggie Enchilada Verde, and shiitakes, raisins, and sumac in the So Cal Kale & Bean. Yum.

Another plus: Luvo tallies the fruits and veggies on the front of each box (typically ½ cup in the regular Bowls and 1 cup in the Planted Power Bowls).

Power Lunch

Healthy Choice is shaping up. Its Simply Steamers have “nothing artificial,” shorter ingredient lists, and mostly whole grains. Eleven of the 16 varieties earn an Honorable Mention or Best Bite.

And we’re not just talking chicken plus broccoli. Check out the Chana Masala (chickpeas, cauliflower, brown rice), Mediterranean-Style Lentil Bowl (lentils, chickpeas, peppers, spinach), and Unwrapped Burrito Bowl (black beans, pinto beans, brown rice). All are high in fiber (7 to 12 grams) and won high marks from our tasters.

So did Healthy Choice’s more adventurous Power Bowls. The four Honorable Mentions—like the Adobo Chicken Bowl over brown and red rice, red quinoa, and black barley with pinto beans, leafy greens, fire-roasted corn, and a guajillo chili sauce—deliver the “bold flavors” they promise.

On the downside, 20 of the 23 Café Steamers lost an Honorable Mention or Best Bite due to white rice, white pasta, or white potatoes.

What’s more, a handful—like the Sweet & Spicy Orange Zest Chicken, Sweet & Sour Chicken, and Barbecue Seasoned Steak with Potatoes—hit 12 to 18 grams (about 3 to 4 teaspoons) of added sugar. You call that healthy?

Keen on Kashi

“Eating well is easier with our entree bowls, which use wholesome plant-powered ingredients, mighty grains, super seeds and yummy roasted veggies,” says Kashi’s website.


Kashi’s reliable line of mostly whole-grain (vegan) bowls offers oldies but goodies like Black Bean Mango (black beans, roasted veggies, whole-grain pilaf) and Mayan Harvest Bake (amaranth polenta, plantains, roasted sweet potato, pumpkin seeds). But Kashi adds welcome newbies like Pesto Chickpea Quinoa (arugula-kale pesto, chickpeas, quinoa, red rice) and Creamy Cashew Noodle (mostly-buckwheat noodles, edamame, cashew butter sauce).

All but two get a Best Bite or Honorable Mention. Too bad the Coconut Lemongrass Rice has enough artery-clogging coconut cream to deliver half a day’s saturated fat.

Amy’s Best

Many Amy’s Bowls have too much salt or refined grains. And the 3 Cheese & Kale Bake and Broccoli & Cheddar Bake each packs more than half a day’s sat fat. But don’t give up.

Try the Brown Rice & Vegetables with tofu (which also comes “Light in Sodium”), the Light & Lean Quinoa & Black Beans (with butternut squash and chard), or our tasters’ pick, the Black-Eyed Peas and Veggies (with brown rice in a zippy ginger-tamari sauce).

The Harvest Casserole piles on sweet potatoes, tofu, red beans, kale, chard, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds, but has a bit too much sodium (640 mg).

Nourish is Delish

“A delicious warm meal with fresh veggies & sauce.” That’s Mann’s Nourish Bowls.

Each fresh (not frozen) bowl starts with a base of shredded or chopped sturdy veggies—like kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, or butternut squash—plus beans or brown rice or sweet potatoes. Just microwave, add sauce, and eat!

The upside: you get more veggies (about 1¼ to 2 cups, by our measure) and less grain (about cup of brown rice, if any) than usual.

And Mann’s is creative. The Cauli-Rice Curry (an Honorable Mention) swaps cauliflower for white rice and green chickpeas for peas. The Spicy Thai subs kohlrabi spirals for rice noodles.

But they’re not perfect. The protein (6 to 11 grams) can be low, and the sodium (290 to 800 mg) and sat fat (1 to 7 grams) can be high. The good news: use half the sauce packet, and all but the Spicy Thai become Best Bites or Honorable Mentions.

Make it a Meal

Unless you’re looking for a light lunch, many bowls need an assist.

Protein. Some plant-based bowls hover at the low end (6 to 11 grams) of protein. Solution: add tofu (10 grams per ½ cup) or beans (6 to 10 grams per ½ cup), or have low-fat greek yogurt (10 to 15 grams per 5 oz.) for dessert.

Veggies. To help reach 11 (½-cup) servings of fruits and vegetables a day, serve your bowl over a bed of baby spinach or kale. Or add a salad or a side of sautéed veggies.

The information for this article was compiled by Leah Ettman.

Photos: LUVO (top), Jennifer Urban/CSPI (Mann’s), Lindsay Moyer/CSPI (all others).