the winner comes in at $2.49

Ready-to-eat lasagna is a staple of my diet, especially when it’s colder. There’s nothing like a gooey chunk of meat, cheese, and carbs to make you feel like you just slid into a doona pastry. Eating lasagna under a blanket manifests a beautiful sense of symmetry: I am one with the universe in all its multilayered glory.

Related: No money, no time, no space, no company? Seven tips for eating well on a solo budget

Plus, it’s affordable: You can have a full meal for under $3, though it’s a staggering testament to the speed of inflation that that’s a 20 percent price increase from the last time I wrote about cheap lasagna.

As a public service, I tested eight chilled or frozen lasagna noodles found at Aldi, Coles and Woolworths supermarkets. Most were single-serving beef lasagna, with a gluten-free version included, and were prepared according to the microwave directions on the package. Each was rated on flavor (beef, cheese), appearance (bonus points for a parsley garnish), and, importantly, post-microwave structural integrity. Were my ratings entirely subjective? Yes, but after eating more than 3 kg of lasagna in a week, I’m pretty much an expert.

The best ever and the best value for money

International Cuisine Italian Beef Lasagna 400g, $2.49 from Aldi (frozen), $0.63 per 100g

I had never tried this Aldi before my lasagnethon but now it’s my top pick for flavor and value. There’s a nice contrast in the textures, and it’s meatier and cheesier than some of the others with 14 percent beef and more than 3 percent cheese, according to the ingredients list. The extra cheese gives it a more greasy feel which I personally don’t mind (it’s kind of like how oil and coconut milk separate in rendang), but some may find that off-putting.

The rest of the test

World cuisine beef lasagna 1.2kg, $7.99 from Aldi (cold), $0.66 per 100g

This is incredibly good value. The pasta sheets are thick and soft, the cheddar and mozzarella are rich and creamy without being cloying, and the ragu is hearty and wholesome with tomato, onion, carrot, zucchini, celery, spinach and red wine. It comes in a foil pan so it’s intended for the oven, but as it’s fresh lasagna you could easily cut out a portion and pop it in the microwave, if you need a quicker method. While other lasagnas puff up limply when transferred to a plate, this one’s depth and structural integrity make it a good option to serve with a salad or side dishes. Honestly, if I didn’t live alone, I’d probably buy this on a regular basis. But for one person, a kilogram of lasagna is… a lot.

Coles Frozen Beef lasagna Pasta 400g, $3 from Coles (frozen), $0.75 per 100g

With more sauce than texture, Coles-brand lasagna is best eaten straight off the tray, ideally with a spoon. Despite the four layers of pasta sheets, it has a shallow profile that doesn’t hold together after microwaving. The ragu is quite light on the mince (the ingredients don’t actually specify how much beef is in it, which makes me suspicious) but the overall combination is still comforting.

Woolworth’s Beef lasagna 375g, $4 at Woolworths (frozen), $1.07 per 100g

The sprinkling of parsley and parmesan is a nice touch, but contributes little to the flavor, which comes off pleasantly bland. This features three layers of pasta and a very generous amount of béchamel sauce (39%), but still holds its shape well after cutting. The ragu contains 15% beef, but it’s a finely-textured mince that tastes more like the filling of a meat pie than a bolognese. Not a bad thing, and I would eat it again.

Note: there is supposedly another cheaper Woolworths branded lasagne but it was not available in any of the shops I visited in Melbourne.

McCain beef lasagna 400g, $5.60 at Coles or Woolworths (frozen), $1.40 per 100g

McCain’s version made a good first bite, but after a couple more forkfuls, I felt it was too tough on the tomato. The acidity was overpowering and made me feel flustered instead of welcoming. It’s also intensely salty, which bears out in the fine print: 340 mg of sodium per 100 g (others were in the 200 to 305 mg range). I liked the texture of the parmesan crumb, but otherwise this was my favorite.

On The Menu Frozen Beef lasagna 260g, $4.50 at Woolworths or Coles (frozen), $1.73 per 100g

This is tolerable and nothing more. My complaints are admittedly petty: there’s no cheese, only béchamel; there are only three layers of dough instead of four. But the biggest drawback is the size. I just don’t know when I’ll ever want a 260g serving of lasagna – it’s too small for a meal and too filling for a snack.

All Gluten Free Pasta lasagna 350g, $6.50 at Woolworths (frozen), $1.86 per 100g

This was the cheapest gluten free option I could find and while it’s more expensive than gluten free lasagna, it’s no better. There are four layers here but they disintegrate and melt as you eat because the pasta sheets (rice flour, water, egg, tapioca, corn and xanthan gum) don’t hold together. There’s thick beef, cheese and lots of tomato, but no béchamel, so it tastes more like polenta alla bolognese than lasagne. However, it’s actually quite tasty and reminded me of how much I enjoy a baked polenta.

Latin beef lasagna 350g, $7.50 at Woolworths (cold), $2.14 per 100g

This chilled or “fresh” lasagna is quite satisfying. There’s the innovative design of putting the béchamel in the center instead of on top, and the ragu is flavoursome. As a general rule, pasta sheets tend to have a better texture in chilled lasagna than in frozen lasagna. That said, you can get three times the weight of fresh lasagna for nearly the same price at Aldi.

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