Cruising the freezer aisles in your grocery store in search of dinner? Frozen dinners are convenient and have built-in portion control.
The downside: You'll need to sift through the options to find items that aren't too high in calories, fat, or salt.
Use these tips to find the healthiest options when you're shopping for these five types of frozen dinners.
“The type of pasta in a frozen meal makes a big nutritional difference,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Whole wheat is best.
For instance, Macaroni and cheese made with reduced-fat cheese and whole-grain macaroni is better than the full-fat version with pasta made from white flour.
A frozen pizza's nutritional value varies between brands, toppings, and crust styles, says Torey Jones Armul, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Compare nutrition facts,” Armul says. “Find one that’s low in saturated fat and sodium, and high in fiber and protein, which takes longer to digest and provides you with more sustainable energy after the meal.”
Also check the serving size. “Some are listed as just 1/8 of the entire pizza, which usually isn’t representative of how much people eat,” Armul says.
A good choice is a thin-crust frozen pizza with veggie toppings. Steer clear of deep-dish pizza, cheese-stuffed crust, and “meat lovers” varieties, which can overload calories, sodium, and saturated fat -- all the things you don’t want, especially if you’re watching your weight or managing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
Burritos are a cinch to eat on the run and also offer plenty of vegetarian options. “Beans are a good source of fiber, which help you feel full after a meal and which have been linked to lower risk of some health conditions,” Armul says. Fiber can also help manage high cholesterol.
Choose a frozen burrito made with beans or lean meat, wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. Skip extra-cheese varieties, which have too much saturated fat.