Quick meal options are a necessity for today's busy lifestyles. Frozen meals are a great way to grab a quick bite, and they've come a long way from the TV dinner days of meatloaf covered in foil. General guidelines for selecting frozen meals are to look for foods that are low in calories and fat grams, especially saturated and trans fats. A good rule of thumb is no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 calories.
Frozen meals should also contain at least 2 to 3 grams of fiber per serving. Frozen meals are packaged by portions, which helps eliminate the temptation to overeat, but it's important to note what the portion size is (and how many there are) when you're assessing the nutritional value. If the meal seems low in fat and calories for its contents, the portion size may be small, which will likely leave you feeling unsatisfied. To get you going in the right direction, here are 10 healthy frozen meals.
When shopping for frozen meals these days, you'll be met with a wide variety of ethnic cuisines to choose from. If you're looking for something healthy and delicious, give an Indian dish a try. Indian food incorporates a lot of vegetables in many of its recipes and the meats can be cooked in very little oil. Tandoori chicken, for instance, is marinated in a healthy mix of yogurt and spices and roasted in a clay oven called a tandoor. And speaking of spices, you'll find plenty of them in any Indian dish, meaning you'll be getting your share of antioxidants. For maximum health, look for frozen Indian meals that avoid fried meats and enriched white rice.
The modern frozen pizza is a far cry from the tiny little cubed meat and cheese version you can pop in your microwave. High-end gourmet pizzas are now available on the frozen food aisle, in vegetarian and even vegan varieties. Antioxidant-rich marinara sauce on a vegan whole wheat crust is a great start. Then add everything from peppers to mushrooms and broccoli in the veggie department. Vegan pizzas will use either no cheese or a non-dairy cheese. They'll also feature pizzas with vegan "meats," which are typically soy-based products flavored to taste like the real thing.
Organic and All-Natural
With the importance placed on fitness and good health these days, coupled with the fast-paced lifestyles many people lead, it should come as no surprise that organic and all-natural foods ingredients have found their way into the frozen dinner.
Frozen meals with organic lean meats and vegetables packed with fiber, protein and vitamins are a great way to eat quickly and conveniently without sacrificing good health. And just because it's a packaged food doesn't mean it's loaded with preservatives and ingredients you can't even pronounce. There are quite a few organic and all-natural frozen brands to choose from, so you're likely to find something that hits the spot.
Like many packaged foods, frozen dinners can be loaded with sodium. We're talking up to 2,000 milligrams per serving in some cases, which is close the recommended daily intake maximum of 2,300 milligrams. Check out the nutrition label before you pick out your dinner, and don't forget to multiply everything by the number of servings contained in a single package.
Even though you may be buying a low-calorie meal, it could contain a lot of sodium. Lucky for you, there are more and more companies offering low-sodium varieties these days. Look for meals with less than 140 milligrams per serving ideally, and definitely try and stay under 700 milligrams; anything over that is considered high-sodium content.
Certain weight loss companies have made a name for themselves in the frozen food aisle in your local market for providing diet meals for people on the go. There are myriad options to choose from in a range of cuisines in many different ethnicities.
When it comes to picking through the freezer, check the nutrition label for fat, calorie and sodium content. What you're looking for is less than 400 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 700 milligrams of sodium. Throw in 3 to 5 grams of fiber and you have a reasonably healthy frozen meal on your hands.
It's always tempting to indulge in something sweet after a good meal, but most desserts in the freezer aisle are loaded with sugar and fat. If you have a craving for ice cream, look for low-fat frozen yogurt options instead. Fruit juice bars tend to be lower in calories and in sugar, so they're a good alternative to ice cream sandwiches. Just be sure to look for fruit bars that are made from real fruit.
Sorbet and sherbet are low in fat but still contain sugar, which means they pack some calories. Consider frozen fruit as a great substitute for desserts containing sugar. Frozen blueberries taste like sorbet but contain antioxidants and no added sugar.
Frozen meat dishes aren't typically the best thing to buy if you're looking to eat healthy. But if you're set on a frozen meal containing some kind of meat protein, there are some things you can look for on the healthier side.
One rule of thumb to always follow is to steer clear of stroganoffs and casserole dishes that come floating in heavy cream sauces and gravies. You should also look for meat dishes that have vegetables as sides. Watch out for anything that contains ham and bacon, especially in breakfast foods. These dishes tend to be higher in calories, sodium and saturated fat.
Just like with the non-frozen varieties, poultry and seafood meals will contain less fat than most red meats and pork. Look for turkey- and chicken-based meals. In the end, the best thing to do is to carefully read the labels and look out for fat, sodium and caloric content.
Pasta has gotten a bad name because of its carbohydrate content, but it's really the accompanying cream sauces that typically make pasta something to watch out for. So while a serving of linguini isn't the worst thing, that decadent sauce of butter and vodka cream sauce is where you load up on calories and fat. Marinara sauce is a much healthier option to top your pasta with.
Look for dishes with whole grains and a surplus of complementary vegetables. The good news about frozen pasta meals is that you won't over eat. Pasta is all about moderation, and most frozen dinners containing pasta serve modest-sized portions.
Seafood is always a good protein choice in a frozen meal. One reason is because it's the best dietary source of the omega-3 fats, which lower your risk for heart disease and possibly bone loss, depression, memory loss and more.
The trick with frozen seafood is to avoid the fried stuff. Those fish sticks you're baking in the oven were deep fried long before they landed in your kitchen, so don't fool yourself into thinking they're low in fat. And don't forget about shellfish --some studies have shown that eating shrimp can actually help to lower your cholesterol -- and it's also low in mercury. Eating fish can help you avoid stroke and high blood pressure as well, so look for frozen meals containing baked fish or boiled shrimp.
Frozen vegetables actually have a lot of nutritional content, sometimes even more than what's available fresh at the supermarket. This is because vegetables are frozen at the peak of their ripeness. Packages marked with the USDA "U.S. Fancy" shield designates vegetables that had the best size, shape and color, which means they also have more nutritional content than lower grades like U.S. No. 1.
Frozen vegetables are best eaten soon after you buy them, because they will eventually lose nutrients sitting in the freezer. Steamer bowls are great choices when looking for vegetarian meals because they typically contain more vegetables than regular frozen entrees.
Are you looking for some salad recipes that save you money? Check out this article and get 5 salad recipes that save you money.
- Gorman, Rachael Moeller. "Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables. Eatingwell.com, 2009.http://www.eatingwell.com/health/qanda/fresh_vs_frozen.html
- Kam, Katherine. "Beware of the Salt Shockers." Medicinenet.com. Jan. 12, 2012. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=61018
- Men's Health. "10 Ways to Eat Healthy at the Indian Restaurant." Jan. 26, 2010. http://eatthis.menshealth.com/content/10-ways-eat-healthy-indian-restaurant
- MSNBC. "Should you defrost your diet?" Jan. 12, 2012. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11992264/ns/health-fitness/t/should-you-defrost-your-diet/#.TxGuGsmF-Po
- Somer, Elizabeth. "Need a quick meal? Don't freeze out frozen food." MSNBC.com, June 8, 2005. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8147754/
- Vegan Pizza Day. "Vegan Frozen Pizzas!" Jan. 12, 2012. http://veganpizzaday.com/resources/vegan_frozen_pizzas/
- Women's Health Magazine. "The Best Frozen Dinners And Meals." Jan. 12, 2012. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/nutrition/frozen-food-meals
- Women's Health Magazine. "Frozen Assets." 2009. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/nutrition/frozen-food-meals
- Zelman, Kathleen. "The Best Frozen Dinners." Medicinenet.com, 2005. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56243
- Zelman, Kathleen. "Top 12 Healthy Frozen Dinners." Webmd.com, 2009. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/top-12-healthy-frozen-dinners