Things are heating up in the frozen food aisle, but how does a nuked meal stack up nutritionally? Frozen meals tend to have a reputation for being quite unhealthy, however like every section of the supermarket, the frozen food aisles are packed with nutrition pros and cons. It’s just a matter of being choosy.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the frozen food aisle.
First, avoid meals drowning in stodgy carbs and heavy sauces (despite what the appetising picture on the front of the box would have you believe). Look for meals that contain a good portion of vegetables. If lacking in veggies, you can always add your own for an extra vitamin and fibre kick – even if that means adding frozen varieties. In many cases, frozen fruit or vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh because they’re immediately frozen soon after harvesting and don’t need to travel long distances, which locks in nutrients. Choose frozen produce in a variety of colours to maximise your nutrient intake.
Don’t be fooled by packaging that makes health claims to entice you into purchasing the product. The real truth is always revealed in the fine print: the ingredients list. Keep it simple. Choose a frozen meal with a short list, most of which you can pronounce.
Opt for products made with wholegrain carbs (brown rice, quinoa, or wholemeal pasta and legumes). These tend to be higher in vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which help fill you up. Look for a decent amount of protein from lean sources, like chicken, beef, sustainable fish, and legumes (not additives or fillers) – anything over 15g per serve is ideal. As for fat, choose varieties with less than 30% of the total kilojoules from fat, and less than 10% come from saturated (unhealthy) fat.
Many frozen meals are high in salt because it is great preservative for preventing food spoilage. To reduce the sodium, avoid meals that include lots of sauces, cheese and soy sauce which are typically high in salt or saturated fat. Aim for meals with less than 600 mg of sodium per serve.
Always check the number of servings in a meal. Some look like they are packaged for one serving, but there may be two servings in the entire box. Keep in mind that less isn’t always best. Whilst single-serve meals are a convenient portion control for lunch or dinner on busy days, many times, the calories they contain are not enough to fill you up. Alternatively, energy-dense meals often indicate high-fat and the presence of other unhealthy ingredients and fillers. Ideally, you want between 1260 – 2100 kilojoules (300 – 500 calories) per meal.
Kilojoules – Choose between 1260 – 2100 kilojoules (300 – 500 calories). This will vary depending on your activity levels, age and gender.
Fat – Less than 30% of total kilojoules (and less than 10% come from saturated fat).
Protein – more than 15 grams per serve
Sodium – Less than 600 milligrams of sodium per serve
Fibre – more than 3-5 grams per serve
Bottom line? Convenience doesn’t always mean making nutritional sacrifices! Frozen meals can be a part of a balanced diet – the challenge is finding an option that taste good, satisfies your hunger, and won’t sabotage your diet.