Bowl meals are deep dishes packed with a mixture of whole grains, vegetables and protein and often tossed with a flavor-packed sauce. Their ingredients tend to be what people think of as “power” or “super” foods, those they should be getting more of in their diets. They’ve been growing in popularity — bowl meal offerings on restaurant menus increased by more than 30 percent over the last seven years — and have now made their way into the frozen food aisle.
“Frozen meals usually don’t get high marks for healthfulness or flavor. But in our tests of grain bowls, we found many exceptions,” says Amy Keating, a registered dietitian for Consumer Reports. “Healthfulness truly didn’t come at the expense of taste, and our team of professional tasters was actually surprised that some of the meals came from the freezer case.”
Of the 26 power bowls evaluated, 15 received a high enough overall score – a combination of nutrition and taste ratings – to make its recommended list, and not one received lower than a “good” overall score. Seven of the bowls got “excellent” ratings for nutrition, because they supplied at least a third of the Daily Value for fiber, contained less than 500 milligrams of sodium, and had little, if any, added sugars.
Many of the top performers were vegetarian or vegan; however, a decent number of better-for-you brands had meat and poultry varieties that received accolades. This includes Evol Fire Grilled Steak, Evol Sriracha Chicken, Grainful Jambalaya (with spicy andouille sausage), Grainful Unstuffed Pepper (with seasoned ground turkey), Healthy Choice Café Steamers Simply Chicken Fried Rice, Luvo Chicken Harissa and Chickpeas, SmartMade Mexican-Style Pulled Pork, among others.
The key with most of the meat-containing meals is that they also include plant proteins. This helps keep fat content down while increasing protein levels. Premium ingredients, along with heat and spice were also part of many formulations.
“Higher-quality ingredients in the top-rated bowls gave them plenty of flavor,” Keating said.