20 Popular Whole Foods Prepared Items, Ranked

Prepared food can be a real lifesaver. It's convenient, time-efficient, and gives you a nice breather from cooking (and cleaning) in your own kitchen. If you're looking for food that tastes like it could have emerged from your own kitchen, complete with high-quality organic ingredients, it's time to try the prepared foods counter at Whole Foods. 

Here, you can buy a delicious homestyle meal — complete with apps, entrees, salads, sides, and dessert if you so choose — and have it on the table as soon as you get home. But there's a catch: it's not all perfection. Some of the options are best left for those other customers who don't benefit from having this list on hand. Before your next visit to the grocery store, check out our ranking of the best-prepared foods, from the worst to the must-try. Some items were good enough to have us planning our next no-cook night thanks to Whole Foods Market. 

20. Buffalo Chicken Wings

If you think Buffalo Chicken Wings are the perfect appetizer, you have a point. These weren't the most appetizing ones we've ever tasted, however. There's only so hot the store can keep these, and as per common sense, buffalo wings should be consumed while they're sizzling. The sauce should be warm so it's not watery and sticky, as it ended up in the container. It's almost like the slightly artificial bar-food flavor came through more this way. The better bottled buffalo sauces are preferable. 

Moving on to the chicken: Considering that this is a Whole Foods, the hope was for chicken with a little less filmy skin, fat, and gristle. All those elements are here, which might, in fact, mean that this is the authentic buffalo wing experience ... but that doesn't mean it's the most enjoyable one. Nope, sorry Whole Foods, your talents are better showcased elsewhere. But to be fair, who walks into Whole Foods expecting to pick up a bucket of Buffalo Chicken Wings? 

19. Sweet Chili Popcorn Shrimp

This was one of the few items that tried weren't predominantly impressive. A fun, jazzy "popcorn" snack has every promise of a winner since It's basically just an excuse to fry up small pieces of food and get in as much of that greasy, crunchy crust as possible. Unfortunately, these popcorn shrimp pieces took a good thing too far. 

Many of the bites only included a minuscule amount of shrimp, and what shrimp there was did not lend much flavor to the resulting dish. Instead, each bite was overwhelmingly fried, a ball of slightly soggy breading. The prominent flavor was sweet, not chili, which further reduced the savory shrimp-tasting notes. So, it was overall the sort of thing we'd expect from mediocre take-out.

18. Curry Chicken Salad

Whole Foods offers a few kinds of chicken salad, but the one that caught our attention was this orange-colored mix peppered with carrots, raisins, almonds, and green onions. It's also, crucially, flavored with curry. We had some doubts about how it would all come together, and the results were mixed. We'll give you the details so you can do your best to determine if you're on one side or the other!

Some of us liked it quite a bit, but the majority opinion was that the flavors didn't meld nicely. The carrots, almonds, and raisins more reminded us of, well, cake. Carrot cake, specifically. Obviously, the chicken and onions and all those curry seasonings did not. The cognitive dissonance between sweet and savory is a little too much for us. The sauce, or dressing, is actually pretty delicious, though, and it's certainly a lunchtime changeup. 

17. Chicken Fried Tofu

Chicken Fried Tofu? Even though there's a meat product in the title, this is still a vegetarian dish and one that might be a great gateway to anyone who would like to have a more plant-based diet. The tofu is nothing like chicken, however, at least no particularly appetizing chicken. It's springy, chewy, and light as air — until it gets covered in batter and fried, that is. 

There's not a lot of flavor going on here, admittedly, but it's a solid buy nonetheless, particularly when singling out the hottest, crispiest pieces. The older, more chill nubbins were floppy and unappealing, similar to the worse pieces of popcorn shrimp. Definitely reheat if you can, and if the selection looks like it's been sitting out for a while, maybe go for something else. 

16. Herb Roasted Mushrooms

Quite a few people who don't like mushrooms. They have a bit of a weird texture (the mushrooms, that is, not the people). And a bit of a funky flavor. And the whole thing about some of them being poisonous ... But forget all that for just a second, because Whole Foods knows how to get them just right. The Herb Roasted Mushrooms are everything a good, basic mushroom should be when prepared without supporting vegetables like onions or peppers.

They're just salty enough, neither over nor undercooked, and have a nice, smooth consistency that didn't remind us once of an old leather wallet. If you want some other mushroom-forward recipes that use them to their best advantage, try this luxurious pasta. It will definitely make any dinnertime feel more sophisticated. 

15. Paleo Chicken Breast

Could this list have included any food more plain and simple as chicken breast? But before you keep scrolling to something more complex, just know that once again Whole Foods surprised us by cooking up one of the more tender, juicy, and clean-tasting chicken breasts that ever landed on an unsuspecting audience. 

Naturally, it doesn't have the strongest flavor or most clickbait panache, not when there is literally just a handful of ingredients: Olive oil, chicken, salt, and pepper. It's refreshingly home-cooked, letting the inherent flavor of the poultry come through. Endlessly useful, you can easily throw this multifunctional protein source on lunch salads five days a week without complaint. It is the quintessential upgrade to anything from a well-dressed Caesar to a hearty Southwestern-style plate.

14. Kale and Vegetable Potstickers

Potstickers are just the most happy, joyful little dumplings. There's nothing not to love, even in the sad frozen versions that were many individuals' first introduction to the genre. But these Kale and Vegetable Potstickers from Whole Foods are a serious upgrade. We know what you're thinking — kale? And vegetables? Where's the chicken, the pork? Trust us on this one, vegetarian is the way to go. 

The flavors meld so well in a nuanced, seasoned medley that's the perfect savory filling for the lightly fried dumpling wrappers. There was no unpleasant oily taste, as lower-quality fried foods tend to bring to the table, nor was it pasty and underdone. Each potsticker was pretty darn happy, and the team was pretty darn happy to keep eating them. The sauce is no different from your usual soy sauce concoction, but it does its job, and that's perfectly acceptable. 

13. Salad Beets With Tahini Orange

Probably the pinkest of the pink foods, the one perpetrator to rule them all is the lowly beet. That's because a beet becomes a lot less lowly when you realize that if you're not careful, everyone from your fingertips to your lovely white dress shirt will be covered in magenta speckles like Barbie herself ran amuck with a permanent marker. 

Each chunk of beet is soft and velvety, with that rich, fruity, earthy taste of a good root vegetable. But, thanks to the addition of onions that also get feverishly pink by proxy, the salad is a little extra savory, and thanks to the splash of orange and tahini dressing, it's got some uplifting nutty and citrusy top notes. The chefs at Whole Foods did a fantastic job making this humble ingredient sing by surrounding it with good company. 

12. Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breast

It's easy to assume grilled chicken, something relatively easy to make at home, is not the move at Whole Foods. But don't make that mistake, because the Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breast is anything but boring. Note, though, that it's also anything but cheap: the above rang up to a hefty 16.99 per pound [as of date of publication]. Price aside, the meat was very nicely cooked. Those grill marks weren't just for show, and the texture was meaty, juicy, and completely eschewed any of the usual grilled chicken problems (too fatty, too dry, too chewy).

The flavors of lemon and rosemary themselves are subtle as opposed to sharp but combine to make the meat taste boldly fresh and Mediterranean, rounded out by herbs and acid that take a basic grilled chicken to the artisanal territory. If someone served us a plate of this exact chicken at a restaurant, we would have zero complaints. 

11. Sriracha Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts might once have been decreed the most hated of all vegetables, but now it has experienced a major resurgence in popularity. Whole Foods doesn't just throw some sprouts on a sheet pan with salt and pepper and call it good, though. 

Yup, a creamy Sriracha-based sauce is simply fabulous on Brussels sprouts — is there anything that hot sauce can't do? Anyway, once again, Whole Foods goes big on flavor and leaves nothing to be desired in texture. The layers of leaves on each sprout get lovely and silky but never oily. If you want to have your leftovers in a new way and own an air fryer, stick them in. They get so impossibly crispy, almost like they were truly deep-fried.

10. Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is not usually a momentous occasion. It's the filler at a potluck next to golden ears of fresh corn or sizzling grilled burgers. But you don't expect hot-off-the-press burgers or same-day harvested corn from the Whole Foods prepared food section, anyway, so at least the store has some pasta salads that are working overtime to taste far better than they have any traditional right to. The first is the Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad. 

This one uses simple penne and a sleek cheesy binding like many pasta salads do, but the differentiating factor is that smoked mozz. That hint of smoked flavor made us do a double-take, and there's a double dose of cheese in every bite. Parmesan, garlic, and roasted red pepper are supporting players that don't disappoint.

9. Achiote Pork

Regular pulled-style pork, which Whole Foods also has, is always a delicacy. A hearty, meaty delicacy but a real treat. The Achiote Pork, however, is unique. That fire-red color is thanks to the annatto seed, which also provides a subtle nutty, savory finish that's less spicy than spiced. Peppery and warm? Absolutely. 

There's enough fat still on the meat to give flavor but not too much to turn us off. And lastly, like all the best meat, the strands of pork are tender, never chewy. It would doubtless taste great in a quesadilla with a blob of guac on top. Cheese is always a must, but when the meat is this flamboyant, even we can admit that it is barely necessary. This pork can stand up for itself. 

8. Macaroni and Cheese

If you want convenient comfort food, there's a high chance that you want pasta. And if you want comfort food pasta, well, why not just lean into the vibe and make that the ultimate comfort food: Macaroni and cheese? Whole Foods has a doozy. This butter-yellow macaroni and cheese is a wallop of true decadence. How is the cheese sauce so darn thick and creamy? You could scrutinize the ingredient list, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. With mac and cheese, maybe you don't want to know, except to maybe try to recreate it at home (even though we do have a few recipes that could give it a run for its money.) 

Since this mac is so rich and filling, consider grabbing a bright, crisp salad from the nearby salad bar or at least some protein. You'll appreciate the cheesy goodness more when you have a palate cleanser in between bites.

7. BBQ Chicken

The most notable thing about the Whole Foods BBQ Chicken is the size of each hunk of meat. Seriously, it was huge, and this wasn't even the biggest piece available at the counter. You might not think of a take-out meal from the grocery store as something super hearty, but trust us, this will keep you full. If you love BBQ sauce, the meat is smothered with a thick, brick-red, sweeter-than-spicy layer of the stuff. It wasn't the best-tasting sauce we've ever tried, but hey, if you'd rather have just a hint of BBQ flavor than a mouthful, feel free to simply scoop it off. 

You can have it your way because, underneath the sauce, the chicken is cooked to perfection. It's so moist, with a subtle smoky flavor and juicy texture. We thought we couldn't get enough of it, but recalling the generous portion size, indeed we could.

6. Hand Breaded Polluck

It is customary to see salmon fillets at prepared-foods counters, but Hand Breaded Pollock? Not so much. This is more delicacy than customary. Fish can be an acquired taste, but this filet of fish was incredible. The breading was light and crisp with plenty of flavor. The fish was buttery, flakey, and fresh-tasting. 

Overall, it tasted restaurant-worthy. The fillet made the most of fresh herbs, infusing them into a golden-brown crumb. The crunchy edges were sensational, too. We completely understand if you tend to choose other proteins over fish simply out of habit, but urge you to give this particular seafood dish a try. This incredible pollock definitely gave many of the chicken and beef options at Whole Foods a run for their money.

5. Chili Lime Sweet Potatoes

These Chili Lime Sweet Potatoes have far more of a flavor impact than meets the eye. Full disclosure, it's easy to love sweet potatoes in just about any form, and many are probably aware of the warm, cozy cinnamon casseroles at Thanksgiving. But flavoring sweet potatoes in the classic spicy and acidic flavors that are found in nachos or ceviche is a new angle. It turned out to be a great idea, because the small amount of heat balances out the small, inherent sweetness of the spuds, plus the fresh acidity of lime balances that earthiness.

They melted in our mouths and tasted like they had been roasted or baked low and slow, letting every ounce of flavor develop and bloom. Also, they are a pleasantly healthy mode of eating complex carbohydrates, full of nutrients and vitamins. Eating them cold from the fridge is great, too.

4. Salmon and Dill Tortellini Salad

Salmon is well-loved as a pretty, cohesive roasted filet. Maybe as lox on a cream-cheese schmear bagel. But beyond that, it can stay in its place. Or, at least, that's what was top of mind before tasting this Salmon and Dill Tortellini Salad. Truth be told, the anticipation was low. But one bite convinced us to rethink how we eat our salmon. The fish is flakey and flavorful, almost like butter that clings to the starchy tortellini pasta and makes it much more delicious than the sum of its parts. 

The frills of kale are a nice touch, too, providing a little chew and texture. The salad isn't too creamy as to be wet, nor too loose to be dry. It's very balanced with all that umami from cheese, fish, and kale. If you're still skeptical, we don't blame you, but just give it a try anyway and see if it delights you, too.

3. Dolmas

Stuffed grape leaves, or dolmas, are always worth keeping in your pantry. But even still, they are very hit-or-miss. At least they are in this country; it's more than likely that they're all hits if you're nibbling them in the Mediterranean. That being said, our Whole Foods is not located in Greece, and we were primed for the worst. No need for pessimism, because these dolmas are delicious. 

Nuggets of briny, umami-rich grape leaves wrap around soft, savory rice to make an elegant yet convenient mouthful bursting with more flavor than our taste buds knew what to do with. We can only imagine what the real deal can deliver when the Whole Foods version is so enjoyable. Time to schedule a flight to Greece, apparently.

2. Vegan Spinach Dal

On an introductory level, dal is a simmering, savory Indian take on blander Western cousins like oatmeal, porridge, or cream of wheat. Lentils are the foundation of the dish, and they take on the flavors of whatever "broth" they get steeped in. In this case, it's a vegan coconut-based stew laced with spinach and savory seasonings. 

It's amazing that a vegetarian — let alone vegan — dish has so much mouthfeel. Whole Foods offers a slew of Indian-inspired dishes around their prepared foods section, and though we weren't able to try every single one of them, this Vegan Spinach Dal came out of left field and made us want to try cooking this vegan sweet potato dal recipe. Scoop it up with fresh, pillowy flatbreads and purchase enough so that you can reheat the leftovers for lunch the next day.

1. Garlicky Kale Salad

The best result of these taste tests is finding dishes that far exceed expectations. For better or worse, what screams "Whole Foods" more than a kale salad, particularly one with very few accouterments? And also, what food is less exciting? But this Garlicky Kale Salad was one of the best things, salad or otherwise, that we put in our mouths during this taste test. Fair warning: There's a reason that "garlic" is the first word in the title. How in the world did the chefs at Whole Foods manage to rub so much aromatic, warm, slow-roasted garlic flavor into every leafy green? If you don't like garlic, you might want to steer clear, but if you're a garlic fiend, you might suddenly find it much easier to eat kale on the regular. 

Parmesan is a natural partner, and each shred of cheese clings nicely to the greens and coats them with a little extra luxury. There is a crouton topping, too, which is always appreciated. The kale is tender and soft, not at all tough or cruciferous like it can sometimes be. Basically, this salad tastes absolutely divine and will actually make you look forward to eating it. A true success story!