12 Easy Ways To Upgrade Frozen Dinners

While frozen dinners have been around since the 1940s and offer a convenient way to get dinner on the table in a hurry, they're not known for being the most appealing dinner out there. Still, these convenience meals, which are available in individual servings or family sizes, are easy and affordable, making them a popular dinner option for many. They may not always feature a lot of inventive or fresh ingredients, but a few simple upgrades can go a long way to help turn a basic dinner into a special meal with all of your favorite flavors and textures.

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You can save time and money by starting with a premade meal and putting your own twist on things with additions. Combining frozen ingredients and dinners is not only a great way to transform your meal but it can also help you use up any leftovers without getting tired of the same old thing. Some tricks let you boost the nutritional value of your frozen dinner by adding protein or vegetables and can even elevate kid-friendly ingredients like chicken nuggets or mac and cheese into something that the whole family will love.

Add veggies to mac and cheese

Frozen macaroni and cheese is a popular family dinner that appeals to all but the pickiest eaters and is budget-friendly, even when feeding a large group. But the same old mac and cheese can get boring really fast. The good news is that this simple dish is also one of the easiest to upgrade. Bacon makes a delicious savory and salty addition, but if you're looking to keep the dish meatless (or just trying to get your kids to eat their veggies) try an upgraded mac and cheese loaded with healthy additions. Broccoli, in particular, pairs well with the rich creaminess of macaroni and cheese, but just about any vegetable works, and you can switch things up to keep it interesting without needing to master new skills or preparation steps.

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You can even find many frozen veggies in the freezer section and combine them with mac and cheese for an easy dinner. Sprinkle them over the top of the macaroni and cheese dish before popping it in the oven or microwave for the fastest and easiest prep. You can also defrost the mac, mix in your veggies, and put it in the oven to let the top get extra crispy and gooey. Sprinkle some cheese and bread crumbs on top for an extra touch of crunch that will have your family wondering if you made the entire thing from scratch.

Punch up the protein in frozen meals

Frozen one-dish meals, like chicken stir fry, can be lacking in quantity of key ingredients. They tend to have a lot of starch, whether it's rice, noodles, or potatoes, because these ingredients are generally cheaper for the frozen food company to use. But even if they are light on protein, you can still use the frozen dinner as a base and add your own upgrades to make it a bit more substantial or to stretch the dish to feed a larger crowd.

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You can add just about any protein to a frozen one-dish meal, but the easiest thing to do is boost the amount of the ingredients already included in the dish. Add extra protein from shredded rotisserie chicken or frozen chicken strips to boost a chicken stir fry. Your beef and broccoli might benefit from extra beef and extra broccoli.

Frozen dinner bowls are excellent to work with because you can stir in extra meat, veggies, and even eggs. Most of the time, the meat in frozen dinners is already cooked, so you should cook your add-ins separately before adding them. This is also a great opportunity to sear them in a hot skillet to add texture as well as flavor to the end result.

Transform chicken nuggets

Frozen breaded chicken may seem like a boring entree, but it does offer a lot of possibilities for tasty dinners. Turn chicken nuggets into something new by slicing them and serving over rice, loading them up in a wrap with toppings, as part of a salad, or with inventive toppings like pizza sauce, pepperoni, and cheese. Chicken nuggets can be used as a base for all kinds of interesting combinations, such as barbecue sauce and coleslaw, marinara and mozzarella, or salsa and guac. Try upgrading your chicken nuggets by putting them on small buns with your favorite toppings for easy sliders or with fresh veggies like lettuce, tomato, and sliced onions in a wrap. If you're making dinner for kids, make a scene with dino-shaped chicken nuggets using mashed potatoes as volcanoes, broccoli as trees, and rich delicious gravy as lava.

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Chicken tenders and chicken strips are also good options because they have the same crispy exterior. Their shapes tend to be more irregular than chicken nuggets but the meat inside is tender and flavorful, perfect for putting over salads or using for easy chicken parm. Just about any pre-cooked breaded chicken can transform into an elevated dish because it is so versatile.

Create custom pizzas

Using a simple frozen cheese pizza as a base, add your own toppings to create a new frozen dinner. Most of the time, you don't even need to adjust the cooking time, although if you really load it up, the pizza might benefit from an extra minute or two to get everything piping hot all the way through. Just watch for the cheese on top to bubble and brown. The simplest upgrade you can do is to add shredded cheese. You can stick with parmesan and mozzarella or branch out with artisanal cheeses. Consider shredding a block of cheese overtop for the freshest flavor.

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Barbecue chicken, bacon, pepperoni, and salami make tasty additions as well. You can take inspiration from the menu at your favorite pizza restaurant and try classic favorites like pepperoni, mushrooms, or extra cheese. The great thing about upgrading a frozen pizza is that you can add just as many toppings as you want or create individual sections for each member of the family with all of their favorites. But don't shy away from trying unexpected toppings, such as potato chips, kimchi, lemon, or even smoked salmon. You can use a similar method to upgrade a giant cookie cake with toppings like sprinkles, fruit, and whipped cream to create a dessert pizza.

Use fish sticks in tacos or nachos

Fish tacos are a popular menu item at many restaurants, but you can make your own version at home thanks to convenient frozen food dinners. Crispy fish sticks get a new life as yummy fish tacos when you put them between small street taco-sized tortillas and top with crunchy slaw and tartar sauce. You can also try adding other flavor combinations, such as lime and pico de gallo or mango and cilantro. Look for fish sticks that are made with flaky fish that will be tender and full of flavor in your tacos.

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You can also use fish sticks to create seafood nachos, and you can customize your extra toppings to suit your preferences. Depending on their size, you may want to cut your fish sticks in half to make them easier to keep on a single nacho chip for a tasty bite full of other toppings and flavors. You can also use frozen fish filets with breading, although these will definitely need to be cut into bite-sized pieces.

Make soup

Soup is a delicious comfort meal that you can throw together quickly thanks to frozen dinner shortcuts. You can combine many frozen ingredients, such as wontons, dumplings, and meatballs to make a truly delicious soup. These are often in the frozen appetizer or frozen dinner sections and come in large quantities to serve a crowd. Just simmer them in broth with extras like sauteed onions, carrots, celery, and garlic for boosted flavor, or add in some frozen veggies if you're low on time. To really take things to the next level, add nuts or croutons on top for a hint of crunch.

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If you're starting with frozen soup, add extra to make it serve a crowd. For example, you can stick with the same ingredients list in frozen chicken soup and just boost them by adding shredded chicken, noodles, or veggies. You may need to add extra broth but the seasonings in frozen soups are often enough to work for larger quantities as well. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try a new addition, such as tortellini, in a soup that's already put together. It can add flavor and texture, plus make the soup go from a boring, expected combination to something one-of-a-kind.

Enjoy frozen waffles as sandwiches

Breakfast for dinner? Yes, please! Use frozen waffles, French toast, or pancakes to make a Monte Cristo sandwich with minimal prep and work or combine crispy chicken with soft pancakes or waffles in a platter or sandwich. Upgrading frozen waffles, pancakes, or French toast is also a good way to turn your basic breakfast staple into something filling with plenty of protein that you can serve any time of the day. 

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Just layer ham and cheese (provolone works well), between two slices of French toast and grill for the perfect Monte Cristo. Spread on some jam, mustard, mayo, or other dressing for extra flavor and to keep the sandwich from being too dry. You can also upgrade waffles with frozen chicken strips to make chicken and waffles. Turn this sweet-savory dinner combination into a sandwich by putting the chicken strips, tenders, or nuggets between two frozen waffles with butter and a drizzle of syrup. If you're making a meal for a large group, using a griddle can make the process go faster. You can even turn it into a layered casserole and bake it in the oven.

Try a casserole

Frozen dinner basics like tater tots, frozen shredded potatoes, gnocchi, and other frozen pasta dinners can be dressed up with extra veggies, sauce, and cheese. Start by placing a starchy base on the bottom of a deep casserole dish and layer your extras on top before popping the dish in the oven and letting all of the flavors meld together. You can also assemble the ingredients ahead of time and keep them in the freezer until you're ready to cook, keeping the convenience of a frozen dinner but upgrading it with extra flavor and nutrients.

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Casserole dishes come together quickly, work as a one-dish dinner, and can be made in large quantities to feed a crowd. One of the great things about casseroles is that you can use almost any combination of ingredients, making them a great option to use up things from the back of your freezer or to throw together on a weeknight. They also turn a basic side into a hearty meal that can work as a one-dish dinner if you add protein and veggies that will keep your entire family satisfied.

Boost frozen dinners with beans

If you want to make your frozen dinner more filling, add beans to give it a boost of fiber. You can use canned beans for convenience or prepare dried beans, which are very economical and keep in the pantry for a long time. You can also find frozen bean blends, although there usually aren't as many options. The easiest way to add beans to your frozen meal is to heat them separately and stir the beans in after everything is warm. You can pop it back into the oven or microwave to let it finish cooking so that the flavors can meld together.

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There are plenty of styles and flavors to choose from with basic, salted, and seasoned options out there. Pinto beans, great Northern beans, and kidney beans all work well with many dishes but cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans are also easy to find and take on the flavors of the rest of the dish. If you're starting with a dinner bowl of rice, protein, and veggies, adding beans is the perfect way to elevate this frozen dinner and make it more nutritious. Beans also make great additions to frozen soups, stir fry, and chili. If your frozen dinner already has beans, try adding a different variety to create an even more complex flavor.

Build meatball subs

Frozen meatballs are incredibly versatile, and a package can last for multiple meals — you can cook as many as you need and keep the rest frozen. While you might usually toss meatballs on top of some pasta or in a soup, they also make excellent — and easy — subs. Just simmer them in marinara sauce and put them on crusty bread then top with cheese. For a crispier exterior, sear the meatballs in a hot skillet before you add the sauce. If you want to combine them with pepperoni and pizza sauce, you can create a pizza-inspired sub that has the heft of meatballs with the flavor of your favorite pizza pie. Both marinara and pizza sauce combine well with frozen meatballs in a sandwich or over pasta. 

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If you're working with premade frozen meatball subs, don't be afraid to add extra ingredients to really put them over the top. You can load up extra meatballs, sauce, or cheese as well as sprinkle extra seasoning over the top of the sandwich. A sprinkling of shredded cheese over the top of the sandwich before toasting it in the oven will create a deliciously salty and cheesy crust.

Upgrade frozen lasagna

Frozen lasagna is an easy dinner that feeds a large crowd and combines the flavors of hearty meat, rich cheese, and sweet tomato sauce. You can take this staple frozen dinner and turn it into something even better by adding extra ingredients. Start by sprinkling extra cheese on top. You can use cheese similar to what's already in the lasagna, such as mozzarella and parmesan, or try something completely new, like goat cheese. You can also tuck extra sausage and meat sauce into the lasagna. Just make sure that it's already cooked since almost all frozen lasagna dinners come pre-cooked and any extras that are still raw will not cook thoroughly when you heat the dinner.

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You can also use other types of frozen pasta to make a tasty lasagna. Just layer it with sauce, meat, and cheese for a delicious dinner without the need to boil noodles. Meat ravioli works especially well because it combines two of the key ingredients in lasagna, cutting down on prep time even more.

Look at packaging for serving suggestions

Many frozen dinners look more appetizing in the picture than in real life, but you can use the dish's marketing as inspiration for additions that will make your dinner taste great. Add extra cheese to your dip or toppings to your pizza. Some packages highlight ingredients that you can add, such as chicken, broccoli, carrots, or mushrooms. Packaging can also include suggested sides, such as chips, bread, or rice, that pair well with the frozen dinner. Dipping sauces suggested on the packaging are also helpful to pick up if they're not already included. These are often tailored to pair with the flavors of the frozen dinner.

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Try boosting a stir fry with extra meat and veggies or use fresh lime or lemon to bring out the flavors. You can also add salt or other seasonings, but make sure to sample the frozen dinner before adding any extra salt or pepper since many are already heavy on these two ingredients. Often, just boosting the quantity of the ingredients shown on the package is enough to turn a bland frozen dinner into something delicious.

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