After a long, hard day, sometimes the last thing you want to do is cook. For those times, a frozen meal fits the bill. But does choosing a processed frozen meal mean putting your healthy eating habits on hiatus? Not necessarily. As long as you know what to look for, including an occasional frozen meal in your diet is fine. In fact, prepared meals can make a healthier option than fast food or take-out, and they can be a great way to control portion size. That being said, the portions are often so small they don’t provide enough calories to satisfy you. And it can also be challenging to find a well-balanced meal—containing at least one serving of vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains—in the frozen food aisle.
As with many processed foods, sodium levels can be high in frozen meals—some have more than a half a day’s worth. Fortunately more health-focused frozen food companies are hitting the freezer case and traditional companies are developing “simple” or “fit” lines. These tend to be lower in sodium while incorporating more whole foods, vegetables, and whole grains.
Helpful Hints. Before stocking your freezer with frozen meals, check out these suggestions.
- Fill ‘er Up. To fill you up and keep you satisfied, choose a meal that contain around 300-450 calories and 10 grams of protein.
- Round it Out. To boost nutrient intake and provide a well-balanced meal, consider adding a salad, serving of milk or yogurt, and fresh fruit to round out the meal.
- Salt Check. You might get sticker shock when looking at the sodium content of many of these meals. Keep in mind that this is an entire meal, so the sodium levels may be higher than you’re used to for a snack. Look for meals with no more than 700 milligrams.
—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD