Even the most dedicated healthy cook has to improvise when their schedule is full. Think that frozen meals are totally off-limits? They don’t have to be if you make the right choices. The frozen food industry has come a long way with these convenience items, with many manufacturers offering more balanced and healthier options.
Of course, we still recommend cooking with fresh foods as often as possible. But for days when time is short and energy is low, frozen entrées can pick up the slack.
You still need to be cautious when perusing the frozen food aisle. There are quite a few frozen meals out there that are high in calories, fat, sodium, and carbohydrate. Let the nutrition label be your guide to choosing the best options. Choose meals that have:
Also, it is important to look at the nutrition label and pick meals that have an amount of carbohydrates that fits with your meal plan. Some may actually leave room to add a side of fruit, whole grains, or low-fat milk.
There are so many brands and different meals to choose from, which can make navigating the frozen food aisle confusing. Here are a few to watch out for:
Hungry Man Frozen Meals are meat and starch-heavy. Most have well over 60 grams of carbohydrate, lots of saturated fat, and enough sodium for the entire day. Even the Roasted Carved Turkey meal has 560 calories, 18 grams of fat (6 saturated), 78 grams of carbohydrate, and a whopping 1620 mg sodium.
Marie Callendar’s Fettucine Alfredo with Chicken and Broccoli has 650 calories, 40 grams of fat (16 of them saturated), 1150 mg of sodium, and 41 grams of carbohydrate. Some of Marie Callendar’s one-dish entrees have less than 500 calories and a reasonable amount of carbohydrate. However, most are also packed with sodium and fat.
Stouffer’s Cheese Ravioli has 380 calories, 13 grams fat (8 saturated), 1000 mg sodium, and 47 grams of carbohydrate per serving. Their well-known Mac N Cheese isn’t much better. Much like their friend Marie, many of the Stouffer’s products are particularly high in sodium and saturated fat.
There are a lot of healthier choices out there that fit within the criteria we listed above. In general, Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, Healthy Choice, and Amy’s Low in Sodium line offer many good choices in the world of frozen meals.
You may even be able to add a healthy side dish or two to some of the healthier frozen entrées. If it fits with your plan, add a whole wheat dinner roll, non-starchy vegetables, a side of fruit, or a glass of milk. Here are just a few to keep an eye out for:
Weight Watcher’s Smart Ones Spaghetti with Meat Sauce has just 290 calories, 6 grams of fat (1.5 saturated), 520 mg of sodium, and 44 grams of carbohydrate. Some other meals that fit our criteria from Smart Ones were: Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce, Cranberry Turkey Medallions, and Lemon Herb Chicken Piccata.
Amy’s Low in Sodium Sheppard’s Pie has just 160 calories, 4 grams of fat (0 saturated), 290 mg of sodium, and 27 grams of carbohydrate. At just 160 calories and 27 grams of carbohydrate, you may be able to afford adding some healthy sides to this meal. Try heating up a mix of frozen vegetables and add a side of corn. Amy’s also has several other Low in Sodium options available.
Healthy Choice Spicy Caribbean Chicken has 300 calories, 2.5 grams of fat (1 saturated), 260 mg sodium, and 52 grams of carbohydrate. Many of the healthy choice entrees fit our guidelines, but they vary in their amount of calories and carbohydrates. You should still check the nutrition label and choose what fits best with your own meal plan.
Lean Cuisine’s Butternut Squash Ravioli has just 260 calories, 7 grams of fat (2 saturated), 550 grams of sodium, and 40 grams of carbohydrate. To add bulk and nutrition to this dish, mix in some cooked green beans or a mix of non-starchy vegetables. Most other Lean Cuisine dishes also met our criteria, but check the label to be sure.
by Zonya Foco, RD, CHFI, CSP
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