You know the feeling: you’ve had a tough day at work, you finally get home and the last thing you feel like doing is cooking a meal. So, you resort to the frozen meal you’ve had stashed in the freezer for weeks, and dinner is on the table in less than five minutes. Winning.
From a convenience point of view, you can’t get much better, but the health-conscious people among us might be wondering how a frozen dinner stacks up from a nutritional standpoint. So, here you go.
How healthy are frozen meals?
You might be surprised to hear me say that frozen meals have come a long way in recent years. Some are actually quite nutritious – and can certainly be better than many takeaway options you might resort to instead.
Sure, there are frozen meals in those supermarket freezers that are less than ideal (read: frozen pizzas, pastries and dishes that are nothing but pasta). But, if you know what to look for, chances are your frozen dinner might actually provide you with some good nutrition.
What to look for
1. Veggie packed
A meal with a lot of veggies will help you reach your five a day. It’ll also provide fibre to keep you feeling full and a range of micronutrients. Plus, veggies are low in energy, so you can fill up on lots of them for little energy cost.
2. A source of protein
There’s no need to go overboard on protein, but it’s important to include some in each meal to help maintain and build muscle mass. Look for lean options like fish or chicken and avoid fatty cuts of meat. FYI – beans, chickpeas and lentils count as protein, too!
3. Fibre-filled wholegrains
To round out a well-balanced meal, try to find an option with a sensible portion of wholegrains (think brown rice, quinoa or wholemeal pasta). This will provide satisfying carbohydrates that will keep you feeling full (and help you to avoid reaching for that 9pm row, or block, of chocolate).
4. Watch the salt
Packaged foods are notorious for their high sodium content, which should be limited with heart health in mind. Use the nutrition panel and try to find one with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g – this can be pretty hard, but do your best to go as low as possible.
Here are some I would recommend
Now, I’m not saying you should eat frozen dinners every night for the rest of your life – but it’s okay to have a healthier option in your freezer for those occasions when you really can’t deal with cooking.
With that in mind, here are three healthier choices:
1. Lean Cuisine Pots of Goodness Japanese Garlic & Ginger Chicken
2. Super Nature Super Slim Wellness Bowl Lemon Tahini Hummus Chicken with Red Quinoa & Vegetable Mix
3. Woolworths Delicious Nutritious Beef & Tomato Casserole
What are my other options?
If it’s convenience you’re after, you certainly don’t have to resort to frozen dinners. There are plenty of quick and easy options you can prepare in a matter of minutes. Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at my dietitian-approved ideas below:
1. Frozen veg in a microwave steam pack + tin of tuna + microwave brown rice cup
2. Eggs on wholegrain toast + avocado + handful of spinach + cherry tomatoes
3. Pre-chopped salad mix + tinned chickpeas + reduced fat feta cheese + balsamic vinegar
4. Low sodium baked beans on wholegrain toast
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can follow her @honest_nutrition.
For more like this, this is the one-step diner Chrissy Teigan swears by for when she can’t be bothered to cook. Plus, this miso eggplant and greens bowl is so simple to whip up and will leave you feeling full without the bloat.
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