What’s Hot in the Frozen Food Aisle?
When you walk through the frozen food aisle of the grocery store you will find more and more choices for frozen meals. Back in 1954 Swanson introduced these meals as a convenience and their popularity has certainly grown since. Frozen meals can be a quick go-to and as a registered dietitian, I sometimes eat them too. Most people think all frozen meals are unhealthy, however like most foods, there are better choices. Another common misconception is that they are highly processed and very high in sodium. While all frozen meals are “processed,” it is not always the case that all brands are extremely high in sodium or unhealthy. After reading this blog on how to assess and select better frozen meals, you can be the judge!
The sodium count in many frozen meals can climb to 800 to 1,200 mg of sodium. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. That said, one meal takes a big chunk of your daily sodium allowance. When a product is marketed as “light” or “lean,” it may still have upwards of 700 milligrams of sodium. Try to look for less than 600 milligrams of sodium per entree. You might be surprised to find that many of the lower sodium dinners do not come up short in the taste department. Food companies use flavorful ingredients to spice them up.
Low Saturated Fat
Excess fat and saturated fat can be a big issue with “traditional” frozen meals, especially those containing cheese such as lasagna, mac and cheese and enchiladas. Luckily there are “lighter” options to choose from. Look for 3 grams or less saturated fat per meal or sandwich.
Most frozen meals are skimpy when it comes to vegetables. A typical entrée may contain at the most 1/2 cup of cooked veggies which is only one serving of the five to nine fruit and vegetable servings recommended for the day! Here are some things you can do to get more veggie bang for the buck. You can add a salad with greens, nuts and a light salad dressing. Try microwavable steamed vegetables in single serving packages, such as broccoli or green beans. Some of the newer entrees provide protein and salad fixings and all you have to do is add your own lettuce. How easy is that!
Go for Lean Protein
Our protein needs go up as we get older. Many low-fat frozen meals have 10 to 20 grams of protein that usually comes from chicken breast, fish, turkey or lean beef. When you opt for vegetarian meals the beans or low fat cheese are the main protein sources but you may only get 9 grams of protein or less per entrée. Go ahead and supplement the vegetarian meals with a non-fat Greek yogurt to bump up the protein content of the meal (it’s also a delicious dessert!).
Check out healthier frozen meal options below that contain no more than 450 milligrams of sodium and 3 grams of saturated fat per entree. They also contain whole grains.
So if you’re in the market for a frozen meal you can indeed find healthier choices as long as you know what to look for! What are a few of your favorite frozen meals that meet the criteria for “healthy?” Please share your comments.
Learn how to navigate the grocery store with a Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian to make healthier food choices and achieve your nutrition goals. Download our brochure, call 972.560.2655 or request an appointment online. Book your tour today!
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