Cooking is great when you have the time, ingredients and energy. But sometimes a frozen meal can be an angel in disguise when you’re in a time crunch. It can be easy to get lost in the frozen meal aisle when trying to find the right one for you. Here are some tips for finding healthy frozen meals.
Guide to Finding Healthy Microwave Meals:
If you’re looking for a quick guide to check if your meal is hitting all the boxes, use the list below to guide your shopping! We’ll discuss each of these criteria in more detail below.
- Calories: 300-500 calories per serving
- Saturated Fat: 4g or less or less than 10% of the total calories per serving
- Sodium: 600 milligrams or less per serving
- Fiber: 4 grams of fiber or more per serving
- Protein: 10-30 grams of protein per serving
- Added Sugar: less than 10 grams of added sugar per serving
How Many Calories Should a Frozen Meal Have?
While calories are one of the main things most people want to focus on, it’s only part of the picture. Frozen meals should be a “meal” and therefore provide us with enough energy to hold us over until the next time we eat. A good rule of thumb is trying to find a frozen meal with about 300 calories. If your choice has less than this, let’s go back to the basics.
Does this meal have at least 3 of the 5 food groups? If not, consider finding a meal that does have at least 3 food groups, or enjoy this meal with a side to bolster the energy it provides. If your choice is mostly protein and vegetables, maybe you want to pair with a side of microwaveable brown rice, or a fruit cup. If you need help determining your calorie requirements, schedule an appointment with one of our dietitians today! If your frozen meal is on the other end of the spectrum, and contains 600 or more calories, remember you can always save a small portion for later or share with a family member.
How Much Sodium Should a Frozen Meal Have?
Sodium is a mineral we need for proper fluid balance and a variety of other functions, but in excess it can lead to high blood pressure and ultimately heart disease and/or kidney disease. Frozen meals can be one of the highest contributors of sodium in a diet, along with foods from restaurants and processed foods. Sodium is measured in milligrams and for someone without any preexisting conditions, it’s recommended to restrict your sodium intake to no more than 2300mg of sodium per day. Do your best to spread your sodium consumption throughout the day!
Choosing Healthier Options
Outside of balancing calories and aiming for lower sodium content, there are a few other items to consider when choosing the best frozen meals. Carbohydrates are often a topic of interest for those looking to improve their health outcomes. A balanced diet should provide appropriate macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) to give your body the energy and nourishment it needs to perform at its best.
Rather than focusing on total carbohydrates for the frozen entrée, pay closer attention to the type of carbohydrates. Aim to choose frozen meals made with whole grains, which provide at least 4 grams of fiber. Getting sufficient fiber is often a challenge for many Americans, so choosing a higher fiber meal will help ensure you get your 25-30g fiber per day.
The other area to pay attention to is the added sugar in your frozen meal. Added sugar may often be found in meals with sauces, so try to choose an option with 10 grams or less of added sugar per serving, as overconsuming added sugar can increase risk of Type 2 Diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Protein, one of the other macronutrients, plays a role in helping stay full and satisfied after meals, and helps balance blood sugar. 3 ounces of meat are often considered 1 serving size, which comes out to be about 20g of protein. A good rule of thumb is to choose a freezer meal with at least 15 gram of protein per serving, and this protein can be sourced from plant or animal options.
Fat, the last macronutrient, provides flavor and richness to our food. When choosing a healthy microwave meal, it’s important to look at the type of fat the meal contains. Diets high in saturated fat are correlated to increased risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and stroke. To decrease overconsumption of saturated fat, look for 4 grams or less saturated fat per serving when choosing frozen dinners.
Don’t Forget Your Fruits and Vegetables
Lastly, research shows that 1 in 10 Americans don’t get their daily servings of fruits or vegetables, so finding meals that incorporate vegetables is a great way to help you meet your goals! We believe all foods fit, including non-starchy and starchy vegetables. These will provide to your vitamins and minerals, fiber, and complex carbs.
If your frozen dinner doesn’t have a vegetable or fruit, considering adding one in or enjoying one on the side. Whether it’s a side salad, a frozen steamed bag of broccoli or pineapple packed in juice, they all have a place at the table.
With so many options, finding a healthy frozen meal that’s right for you can sometimes seem challenging. Use these tips to help you navigate the frozen meal aisle with confidence and invest in healthy and delicious frozen meals on your next grocery trip!
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Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.