Frozen meals vs. restaurant takeout: Which is better

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Prepared foods are now the rage in supermarkets. But many consumers who don’t want to cook still turn to two old standbys: restaurant takeout and frozen dinners. How do those three types of meals compare nutritionally? Below, we calculated the calorie, fat, and sodium levels for frozen and restaurant dishes that were similar to a few of the prepared foods we tested. (The packaged sizes varied considerably, so we had to make the portions uniform.) And here’s the rub: None of the options was predictably more healthful than the others. Most contained too much sodium. That leaves us to conclude that homemade—where you can at least control the salt shaker—is still best.

More on Prepared Foods

• Supermarket Prepared Meals: What to Watch Out For
• From Our Experts: Buying Prepared Food
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Nutritional Information for Prepared Meals

We identified popular dishes sold at six supermarket chains in the New York metro area. We picked four dishes per chain—two main courses and two sides—and sent them to a lab to be analyzed to get the kind of nutritional profile consumers can’t always find. We bought three samples of each dish at different store locations; the nutritional values here are averages of those samples.

Click on the image below to download a our "Nutrition by the Numbers" PDF.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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