Of course, you know a kale salad topped with a healthy protein and loaded with veggies is what you should be eating for dinner tonight. But as the Covid-19 pandemic still has us socially isolated, concerned about the health of our loved ones and worrying about cutting expenses to stay financially stable in these uncertain times, what we want is something affordable — and preferably cheesy — that can pretty much cook itself.
Stress makes us want junk food
Market research company IRI Worldwide reported in April that frozen food spending was up 31% over a year ago, while packaged food purchases were up 21%. Dr. Alison Mitzner, a family wellness expert, says — no surprise here — stress can lead to emotional eating.
“Stress also causes an increase in hormones such as cortisol, which can in turn increase cravings for sugar, salt and fatty foods,” she says. “Also, in times of stress, many people eat comfort foods and have unhealthier food cravings, as they are often associated with positive memories such as holidays.”
In fact, according to a 2015 Harris Poll, 67% of Americans say they turn to comfort food as a pick-me-up. Their faves? Pizza, followed by chocolate and ice cream tying for second and mac and cheese coming in third. And a study from Cornell Food and Brand Lab found when an environment is cluttered and chaotic, it can lead to choosing more indulgent food. So, we’re bound to cave to cravings occasionally, and especially during times like these.
Should the urge for those frozen pizzas, lasagnas or pot pies you gobbled down as a kid suddenly strike, just remember moderation is key. Mitzner says, “It is normal and OK to want the occasional extra snack or unhealthier option, but you don’t want it to become a way to deal with your emotions or a way to cope.”
Sure, we try to fill our virtual grocery carts with mostly healthy options, but here are a few frozen comfort foods we’re not ashamed to admit to snagging as well. All in moderation, of course.
18 frozen junk food dinners we’re craving
Marie Callender’s Vermont Macaroni and Cheese (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Macaroni and cheese. We’ll take the latter when it comes to the world’s greatest food pairings. We’re not alone: A 2018 survey by Annie’s found one-third of Americans say mac and cheese is their go-to comfort food. But how do you eat the dish? Of those polled, 71% of Americans use a fork, while 25% use a spoon. One thing not up for dispute: This bowl of comfort is delicious no matter which utensil you use.
State Fair Beef Corn Dogs (prices vary by location; target.com)
If you can’t get out to the boardwalk and don’t feel like trying a corn dog recipe at home, then nuke up a couple of these nostalgic and satisfying corn pups in the microwave in less than one minute, literally.
Evol Frozen Truffle Parmesan Macaroni and Cheese Bowl (prices vary by location; target.com)
We could honestly do a whole story on just mac and cheese, but we’re listing a few options here that are so unique they don’t feel repetitive. Like this truffle and Parmesan number that is a bestseller at Target. You know, to help you feel a little bit fancier when you transfer this from the microwave to a real bowl.
DiGiorno Rising Crust Pepperoni Pizza (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
Some say it can make you more productive at work. Some even say it may prevent illness and death. And it also ranks as the most addictive food. No wonder we could eat pizza — frozen, delivered or homemade — every day of the week.
Caribbean Frozen Foods Jamaican Style Beef Patties — Mild (prices vary by location; target.com)
There’s something about the distinct combination of jerk spices and flaky crust in a Jamaican beef patty that we can’t help but crave. It doesn’t hurt that they’re ready after just two minutes in the microwave.
Stouffer’s Classics Party Size Lasagna With Meat & Sauce (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
If Stouffer’s is good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for us during quarantine. According to parent company Nestlé, astronauts were fed frozen meals from the brand upon the 1969 moon landing, and Tektite 2 marine research aquanauts were served Stouffer’s in 1970 while in the Atlantic.
Tyson All Natural Crispy Frozen Chicken Strips (prices vary by location; target.com)
Strips, fingers, nuggets, dinosaur-shaped — who cares? As long as it’s breaded and easy to pop in the oven, some oil, a microwave or an air fryer, we’re in. Add a little ketchup, ranch or barbecue sauce for dipping and dinner is served.
Ore-Ida Golden Tater Tots (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
You can have your french fries. Take your onion rings. When it comes to indulgent side dishes, we’re all about the classic tater tot. Invented in the 1950s by the Oregon-based Grigg brothers, who founded Ore-Ida, tater tots not only work as a yummy side dish but are the stuff of legend when used in a casserole. Just ask Napoleon Dynamite.
Bertolli Frozen Chicken Florentine & Farfalle (prices vary by location; target.com)
Creamy pasta is on the table and ready to satisfy your taste buds in minutes with the ready-made chicken Florentine from Bertolli. There’s spinach in it, so it’s healthy — right?
El Monterey Steak & Three-Cheese Burritos (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
Shredded steak. Cheddar, mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses. Mexican spices. Tortilla. Really, do you need anything else?
Mrs. T’s Mini Classic Cheddar Pierogies (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
Comfort food doesn’t get a whole lot more comforting than pierogies. Little dough pockets stuffed with whipped potatoes and aged cheddar cheese, Mrs. T’s versions work as an appetizer, entree or snack. Or, in our case, all of the above.
Mrs. Paul’s Xtra Large Crunchy Fish Sticks ($5.99; amazon.com)
Popular since the 1950s, fish sticks are generally made from cod, then battered, deep-fried and frozen. “They are especially popular with children, who eat them with ketchup, tartar sauce or other flavorful dips,” writes Sherri Machlin in “American Food by the Decades.” She goes on to write that parents love the food because it saves time and their kids devour them. “In fact, children who do not like to eat fish usually like fish sticks.” Was she spying on our childhood?
Totino’s Pepperoni Pizza Rolls (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
Their website claims that they’re the nation’s top-selling hot snack and who are we to argue? Totino’s Pizza Rolls are notorious for burning the roof of your mouth because no one can wait for them to cool down before cramming them in. OK, maybe that’s just our shame to live with. Either way, these pizza bites are a snack food that just about any ‘80s, ‘90s and even ‘00s kid has satisfyingly called dinner.
Frozen Beef & Cheese Mini Tacos (prices vary by location; target.com)
Taco night is a comfort all its own, but sometimes we just don’t feel like putting in even that amount of minimal effort. These cute little mini tacos go straight from the microwave to your plate. Just add hot sauce, and dinner is fun and done!
TGI Fridays Cheddar & Bacon Loaded Potato Skins (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
Craving your favorite bar snack but can’t go to the bar? Here’s the next best thing. According to the Idaho Potato Commission, potato skins debuted as an appetizer in the mid-1960s and “came from a radio story about sailors eating the vitamin-rich skins to ward off illness.”
Mrs. Budd’s Shepherd’s Pie (prices vary by location; instacart.com)
This meat and mashed potato classic may be high in calories and sodium but man does it taste good.
Hot Pockets Garlic Buttery Crust Pepperoni Pizza Sandwiches (prices vary by location; target.com)
Another pizza-like creation that we gravitate toward when we need a nostalgic trip down Junk Food Dinner Lane is pepperoni pizza Hot Pockets. They’re kind of like the middle child between DiGiorno and Totino’s, but we love them all the same.
Devour Buffalo Frozen Chicken Mac & Cheese (prices vary by location; target.com)
The final mac and cheese variation on our list is this intensely satisfying combination of buffalo chicken wings and macaroni and cheese. A match made in comfort food heaven. It packs an impressive 29 grams of protein too.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.