Frozen meals can be a lifesaver when you’re short on time. Frozen meals that you enjoy at the end of a busy week or pop in the microwave during a busy workday are quick and convenient. However, not all frozen dinners are created equal. While some are full of the highest quality ingredients like vegetables and whole grains, others are full of fried foods, excess sugar, and high amounts of salt, which aren’t doing you much good in the health department.
To help you do better choices while reviewing the frozen food section, we tapped two health experts to share their tips on exactly how to tell the healthy frozen dinners from the not-so-healthy ones. Whether you want to know what to avoid when choosing a frozen dinner or need some new recommendations, read on.
What to look for
It’s important to note that some frozen food brands do a better job than others when it comes to creating healthy products. For this reason, you should always pay attention to nutrition labels and ingredient lists. “Look for a balance of protein and fiber in each serving, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables,” she says Julie LaPiana EvartsRN, MSN, CRNP, Chief Customer Success Officer at Plantable. “Also, aim for a carb-to-fiber ratio of 5 or less to reduce blood sugar spikes,” she adds.
Evarts also mentions that you should look for products that have no trans fats and are low in cholesterol. This is because trans fats may increase the risk of heart disease and too much cholesterol can cause both heart attack and stroke. “Look for ingredients that contain 0 grams of trans fat per serving and foods that contain less than 75 milligrams [of cholesterol] per serving,” adds Evarts.
What to avoid
One ingredient to watch out for, especially in frozen dinners, is sodium. High sodium is common in frozen meals as well as processed foods because it helps enhance flavor and preserve food. “The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day to reduce the risk of heart disease,” he says John BurdeosRD, nutritionist and writer. “Some processed prepackaged meals out there contain as much as 1,500 milligrams of sodium.” While some sodium is fine, Burdeos suggests trying to opt for frozen meals that contain about 600 milligrams of sodium or less.
Another culprit to be aware of is sugar. “Some of these frozen meals can be high in sugar, as much as 20 grams,” says Burdeos. Burdeos explains that excess sugar in the diet is linked to inflammation and chronic disease. “When choosing frozen meals, look for those with much lower sugar or no sugar—with sugar listed last or not at all,” says Burdeos. Also, don’t miss out 8 hot dogs that use the highest quality ingredients.
This Buddha bowl, which is packed with sweet potatoes, kale, chickpeas and cauliflower rice, has 10 grams of plant-based protein and no added sugars. It’s also a great option for vegans and those who may be following a gluten-free diet.
This gives you lean protein Healthy Choice Chicken and Vegetable Roaster. With 23 grams of protein, plenty of vitamin C and just 8 grams of sugar, this dish ticks all the boxes.
Enjoy a delicious steak without having to fire up the grill. Made with black beans, roasted corn and peppers, this delicious frozen meal contains 18 grams of protein and only 2 grams of sugar. We especially love how the beef used in this dish was raised without antibiotics.
Amy’s, one of the leading manufacturers of healthier frozen foods, does not disappoint with the Brown Rice and Black Bean Bowl. It contains black peas, selected vegetables and a delicious tamari ginger sauce, this option keeps nutrition at the fore. For example, it has zero cholesterol, only 290 calories and only 2 grams of sugar.
Making a quinoa bowl from scratch takes time, while this frozen option from Kashi it only takes a few minutes to heat up. This nutritious dish, high in fiber and protein, can become your favorite dish.
This Peanut Tofu Bowl by Mosaic proves that you don’t have to choose taste or health. Made with organic tofu, broccoli, pineapple and sweet peppers, it packs a whopping 27 grams of protein and provides 28% of the recommended daily intake of iron.
If you’re looking for a frozen meal that’s high in protein, low in sugar, and full of flavor, then look no further. Deep Indian Chicken Vindaloo is made from a fragrant combination of delicious roasted chicken, spicy yogurt sauce and delicious turmeric rice.
Treat yourself to a filling macaroni and cheese dinner that’s healthier than most boxed varieties. this vegan cauliflower mac Sweet Earth is made with sweet potatoes, creamy cauliflower gravy and toasted breadcrumbs and has 9 grams of protein.
Bring an Italian restaurant right into your home by checking out one of these Healthy meal choices into your microwave. This protein-rich dinner of spinach, tomatoes, and al dente pasta tossed in a delicious pea pesto sauce is only 270 calories and low in sugar.
Curried lentils, sweet potatoes, broccoli and brown rice come together in create a frozen meal which definitely has the potential to become a weekday regular. Low in sugar, calories and sodium, this dish is also one of the best quality frozen dinners.