Frozen Dinners: Friends or Foes?
Today’s frozen dinners are nothing like frozen dinners of years gone by. Take a walk down the frozen food aisle in your grocery store and you’ll be amazed at the variety of frozen meals that you can choose from. There’s something for pretty much everyone – vegetarian, gluten-free, and even organic. Frozen meals are a billion-dollar industry and at least 70% of Americans eat them. And why not? With so many different kinds and flavors available, it’s possible to eat a frozen meal every day or night of the week and never get bored.
While many people shy away from frozen dinners, preferring to prepare meals in their own kitchens, there are reasons to at least consider fitting a frozen meal into your eating plan.
- Portion control. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain better control of your blood sugar, or both, a frozen meal that’s carefully portioned and packaged for you can make it easier to reach your goals. All of the work has been done for you, in terms of weighing and measuring.
- Nothing beats a home-cooked meal, but the reality is that everyone gets busy at one time or another, and taking the time to prepare a healthful meal isn’t always possible. Frozen meals are easily transportable and heat up quickly in the microwave. Add some extra vegetables or a salad, some fruit and perhaps a small dish of yogurt and you’ve got yourself a balanced, nutritious meal that took practically no time to assemble.
- While some frozen meals don’t exactly rate an A+ for good nutrition, many others do. Calories, saturated fat and sodium are the big culprits when it comes to frozen dinners. Yet, certain brands of frozen meals actually provide a respectable level of nutrition, including vitamins, minerals and fiber. No frozen meal will give you all of the nutrition that you need, but it’s good to know that you can help meet many of your nutrient needs with these meals, as long as you choose wisely.
People often think of frozen meals as being some of the worst foods to eat, in terms of nutrition. And they’d be partly right. Fried chicken, potatoes drenched in gravy, and boneless pork ribs are hardly the poster children for good health. While frozen meals can be part of a healthy eating plan, beware of these pitfalls:
- With a name like “XXL Roast Carved Turkey” and a calorie count of 1450, you’d be wise to shy away from a meal like this.
- Saturated fat. Not all fat is bad, of course, but saturated fat is still considered to be an unhealthy type of fat as it may raise LDL or bad cholesterol levels.
- Like most processed foods, frozen dinners can be high in sodium. Too much sodium is linked with high blood pressure, heart disease and fluid retention.
- Lack of vegetables or fruit. A meal based on a fatty protein, a lot of starch and very little, if any, produce is lacking in important nutrients.
Making the Right Choice
So, how DO you know if a frozen meal is nutrition-friendly or not? Use these guidelines to help you make the right choice. Always read the Nutrition Facts panel on the package.
- Calories: between 300 and 500 (less than 300 calories and you may end up feeling hungry a short while later)
- Unhealthy fat: no more than 2 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat
- Protein: at least 15 grams
- Carbohydrate: aim for a meal that contains at least 30 grams; however, know your own carb goal for your meal and decide how a frozen meal can fit in with that goal
- Fiber: at least 2 grams
- Sodium: no more than 600 milligrams
- Fruits and vegetables: most frozen meals won’t provide you with enough. Round out the meal by adding extra vegetables or a salad, and a small piece of fruit.
- Whole grains: look for meals that contain whole grains, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta or quinoa.