Healthy Frozen Dinners: 20 Picks
How to choose healthy frozen dinners.
Pair Healthy Frozen Meals With Extras
Most of the healthy branded frozen dinners don’t provide enough calories to keep you full and satisfied. Compliment your meal with a serving of low-fat dairy, side salad, veggie, and/or piece of fruit, says Jane Andrews, MS, RD, nutrition and product labeling manager for Wegmans Food Markets. If you want to boost the protein, add 1/2 cup of beans or a sprinkling of nuts to your meal.
“You need to add additional healthy food to these low-calorie meals to get the entire meal into the 500-600-calorie range, which is what most people need to satisfy nutrient needs and hunger," Andrews says.
Frozen meals are a perfect portable meal to take to work for lunch. Andrews suggest also bringing a smart snack for mid-afternoon, when hunger will likely strike after a meal of only a few hundred calories.
Not Your Mother's Frozen Dinners
Low-calorie does not have to mean no flavor. Forget the old-fashioned TV dinner featuring cardboard-tasting Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Today, you can find ethnic, vegetarian, vegan, low-calorie, supersized, natural, gluten-free, and organic meals on your frozen food aisle.
“One of the most significant improvements in frozen meals is the trend toward less sodium, more vegetables, zero trans fats, more fiber, and 100% whole grains”, says Leah McGrath, RD, corporate dietitian for the Ingles grocery chain. The latest frozen meal choices include snacks, appetizers, mini meals, and single-bag meals.
Not all meals are created equal and you can still find frozen meals that are not recommended because they contain an entire day's worth of sodium and fat.
Manufacturers are developing innovative ways to make these meals tastier, fresher, and good for you. "Steaming is the hottest trend with frozen meals because of a new technology that allows you to steam in the container. And when the container is a bag or a bowl, food size doesn’t need to be as uniform to fit into the compartment, allowing for improved quality," McGrath says. "And that word 'steam' means healthy, lower-fat, and easy to most consumers, so it has been a big seller."
The technology of delivering foods from farm to table has improved dramatically over the years. “Frozen foods in general are better because they pick them closer to ripeness, flash freeze, and transport in conditions that are optimal, not allowing foods to thaw and affect the quality," Andrews says.
How to Choose Frozen Dinners
You'll need to read the “nutrition facts” panel on the package to see whether your choice is a healthy one. Brands such as Kashi, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers Smart Ones, and Amys Light & Lean tend to be among the most nutritious choices.
In general, look for meals that include one or more servings each of vegetables; whole grains; and lean meat, fish, or poultry. These tend to be lower in calories and higher in vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, which helps fill you up.