Busy is often an excuse people give for making poor meal choices. Many will hit the drive-thru because they were too busy to pack a lunch. Or others will order pizza or grab pre-made food from under the heat lamps because they simply don’t have time to make dinner.
It’s true that our lives are too busy sometimes. However, there really are healthy options that are as quick and convenient as far less nutritious ones. You may be surprised to know you can find a great meal in your freezer section. A balanced meal can be achieved from frozen food, but the trick is knowing what to avoid and what to look for while shopping.
Our resident nutrition expert, Mary Hartley, RD set some guidelines to follow when choosing a frozen meal.
For a 250-gram serving, you want to look for:
- Calories: 300 – 450
- Trans Fat: 0
- Fat: < 3.5 g
- Saturated Fat: < 1 g or < 15% of total calories
- Fiber: > 5 g
- Sodium: < 600 mg
- Sugar: < 2 g
- At least 10% of the Daily Value for at least three: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium
Hartley also advises that you avoid certain ingredients in addition to the guidelines. “Personally, I strongly dislike and avoid questionable artificial sugars: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K. I [also] can’t see any reason to eat sodium nitrates or food dyes,” said Hartley.
EA Stewart, RD echoed Mary’s avoidance of artificial flavorings, colors, and sweeteners, and to that added trans fat. She also suggested we stick to “ingredients you recognize and can pronounce.”
Dr. Sherry Pagoto is an obesity expert and health scientist. She too pointed out the high content of sodium in frozen meals as a major red flag. Pagoto mentioned that many frozen meals come in such small portions that feeling satisfied is difficult.
“To circumvent these issues, I’m a huge fan of mixing a frozen steamer bag of brown rice with one of mixed veggies and adding low sodium soy sauce, some seasoning, or some Smart Balance so that I can control what goes on it. The veggie portion in the steamer bags is huge and is so much more filling than the tiny portion Lean Cuisine gives you. Plus, you can mix it up with different veggies depending on your mood,” said Pagoto.
And if you’ve ever had a frozen lean meal, you could probably agree with Pagoto. Most look fantastic on the box bit once opened, the portion is tiny, leaving you with a rather high calorie, yet unsatisfying meal.
The frozen veggie and rice combo sounds wonderful, but if you’re still looking for something more traditional, our pros have brands they stand by and recommend. A few they named include Amy’s Kitchen, Cedarlane, Evol Foods, and Saffron Road. Just recently we named Lightlife as the best frozen meal in our first-ever Healthy Food Awards. You just might have to cruise over to your store’s natural section because most of these recommended brands aren’t found in the main frozen food section.
If you’ve got no more than five minutes, you’ve got time to get a healthy and satisfying meal. The time it takes to microwave these meals is less time consuming than your wait in a drive-thru and markedly healthier. Ditch your excuses because you’re never too busy to take the best care of yourself.