Convenient and relatively inexpensive, frozen meals come with the reputation of being an unhealthy, unwholesome option for your dinner. While perhaps not the best thing you could be eating this evening, it is hard to escape the ease of removing the box from your freezer, throwing the tray on a baking sheet in the oven or popping it in the microwave, for a quickly served hot dinner that requires no real thinking. When life gets hectic, the frozen entrée can save you stress in the kitchen and valuable time. That simplicity doesn’t necessarily have to come at the cost of your health.
By following a few basic guidelines and carefully reading the packaging, you can navigate your way through frozen entrées with ease, and select the best bet for dinner. To be a savvy shopper, know what you need a frozen meal to have before you go to the grocery store in order to pick the ready-made meal that won’t wreck your diet and health.
Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, writing for WebMD, categorized frozen meals into two categories: “light meals” and “regular” dinners. For the first, Zelman says to keep the meal under 300 calories, and with less than 8 grams of fat. The second should not have more than 25 grams of fat, and you’ll want around 360 to 400 calories per serving.
Sodium can quickly balloon out of control when frozen meals are involved, and there are two main ways to approach controlling for sodium. The first is to find meals that do not contain more than 800 milligrams of sodium in a serving. If that is even too high for you, you can divide the amount of sodium you aim to have in your diet each day by three, and find meals that fall under that amount.
We all need sodium in our diets, the Mayo Clinic states, but the average American has too much of the substance. Most people should have 2,300 milligrams or fewer each day, and people over 51 years of age need to aim for less than 1,500 milligrams each day. Other health, age, and demographic factors can play a part in a person needing a lower sodium intake, and individuals need to be aware of their personal limits when shopping in the freezer aisle.
Another consideration is the ingredient list itself. Don’t let yourself be fooled by packaging that makes health claims to entice you into purchasing the product. To do this, you’ll need to be able to sort out the nutrition label. Self has a few items to be wary of when reading the label — like manufacturers listing “galactose,” “dextrose,” or “dextrin” on a label instead of sugar.
With a little bit of Internet searching, you can find diet-specific assistance too. The American Diabetes Association has this reference sheet, tailored to helping diabetics find the best bet. Celiac.com doesn’t do any of the health research for you, but if you cannot consume gluten, the website does have this page where you can see the various options that are gluten-free in the freezer. The advice available doesn’t have to be this narrow though.
Having created lists about the best and worsts frozen meals, many diet and health websites can help guide your selection. The Daily Meal has found what it considers to be the top fifteen choices on the market, and from Consumer Reports you’ll find a ranking of pizzas by taste. Other places combine elements of both. In the pantheon of pizzas, websites abound highlighting positives to be found in some frozen pies.
Eat This, Not That gives all Kashi pizzas a high mark, but it singled out the Kashi Mexicali Black Bean Pizza as the best pizza choice in the frozen food aisle. The serving size is one-third of the pizza. That serving size has 210 calories, 560 milligrams of sodium, and 7 grams of fat. Low on the sodium scale as far as frozen foods are concerned, it also will provide 13 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.
The Whole Foods Market Buffalo Mozzarella with Cherry Tomatoes has 310 calories per serving — which is half of the pie. A tad more sodium (690 milligrams) and fat (11 grams) than the Kashi pizza, Cooking Light points out that the ingredient list is full of fresh, simple items. To that, we’ll add you can actually pronounce everything that is listed too.
Want side-by-side comparisons without clicking through lists or extra commentary? There is a website for that too. Find the Best will take you on a virtual frozen food tour, letting you narrow down your options based on cuisine, calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Out of that list, you can compare choices to see how one meal holds up against a similar entrée. The detailed view of a particular item will give you even more information, including ingredients and sodium per serving.
The easy option doesn’t have to be an unhealthy part of your diet. When you know that a frozen entrée is going to end up in your shopping cart, having all of these facts and ideas sorted before you shop will prevent you from blindly choosing once your in the store. Not only will it save time in the store, but it might remove a bit of the stigma attached to frozen foods, too.
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