Frozen meals can be a lifesaver when you’re low on time. Enjoyed at the end of a busy week or popped into the microwave during a hectic workday, frozen meals are both quick and convenient. However, not all frozen dinners are created equally. While some are packed with the highest quality ingredients, such as vegetables and whole grains, others are filled with fried foods, excess sugar, and high amounts of salt, which doesn’t do too much for you in the health department.
To help you make better choices while perusing the frozen food section, we tapped two health experts who shared pointers on how exactly to decipher the healthy frozen dinners from the not-so-healthy ones. Whether you would like to learn what to avoid when choosing a frozen dinner, or need some new recommendations, read ahead.
What to Look For
Something important to keep in mind is that some frozen food brands do a better job than others when it comes to creating health-conscious products. Because of this, 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 lots of fruits and vegetables,” says Julie LaPiana Evarts, RN, MSN, CRNP, chief customer success officer at Plantable. “Also, aim for a carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of 5 or below to minimize blood sugar spikes,” she adds.
Evarts also mentions that you should look for products that have zero trans fat and low amounts of cholesterol. This is because trans fat can increase your risk of heart disease and too much cholesterol can cause both heart attacks and strokes. “Look for ingredients that have 0 grams of trans fat per serving, and foods that contain less than 75 milligrams [of cholesterol] per serving,” Evarts adds.
What to Avoid
One ingredient that you have to be wary of, especially in frozen dinners, is sodium. A high amount of sodium is common in frozen meals, as well as processed foods because it helps boost flavor and preserve the food. “The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day to reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Johna Burdeos, RD, nutrition expert and writer. “Some of the processed pre-packaged meals out there contain as high as 1,500 milligrams of sodium.” Although some sodium is okay, Burdeos suggests trying to opt for frozen meals that have around 600 milligrams of sodium, or less.
Another culprit you should be conscious of is sugar. “Some of these frozen meals can contain a lot of sugar, as high as 20 grams,” says Burdeos. Burdeos explains that a diet excess in sugar has been linked to inflammation and chronic diseases. “When selecting frozen meals, look for ones with a much lower to no sugar content—with sugar listed either last on the ingredients list or not at all,” Burdeos says. Plus, don’t miss 8 Hot Dogs That Use the Highest Quality Ingredients.
Tattooed Chef Buddha Bowl
This Buddha bowl, which is brimming with sweet potatoes, kale, chickpeas, and cauliflower rice has 10 grams of plant protein and no added sugars. It is also a great option for vegans and those who may follow a gluten-free diet.
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Healthy Choice Simply Steamers Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry
Get your lean protein fix with this Healthy Choice chicken and vegetable stir fry bowl. With 23 grams of protein, a high amount of Vitamin C, and only 8 grams of sugar, this dish checks off all the boxes.
Evol Gluten Free Fire Grilled Steak Bowl
Enjoy a delicious steak without having to fire up the grill. Made using black beans, roasted corn, and peppers, this tasty frozen meal has 18 grams of protein and just 2 grams of sugar in it. We especially love how the beef used in this dish was raised without antibiotics.
Amy’s Kitchen Bowls, Brown Rice with Black Beans and Veggies
Amy’s, one of the leaders in healthier frozen foods, doesn’t disappoint with its brown rice and black bean bowl. Featuring blackeyed peas, assorted vegetables, and a tasty tamari ginger sauce, this option keeps nutrition at the forefront. For example, it has zero cholesterol, just 290 calories, and only 2 grams of sugar.
Kashi Plant Based Sweet Potato and Quinoa Bowl
Making a quinoa bowl from scratch takes time, whereas this frozen option from Kashi just takes a few minutes to warm up. High in both fiber and protein, this nutritious dish may just become your go-to.
Mosaic Peanut Tofu Bowl
This peanut tofu bowl by Mosaic proves you don’t have to choose taste or health. Made using organic tofu, broccoli, pineapple, and sweet peppers, it has a whopping 27 grams of protein and provides 28% of the recommended daily iron.
Deep Indian Chicken Vindaloo
If you’re looking for a frozen meal that is high in protein, low in sugar, and packed with flavor, then look no further. The chicken vindaloo from Deep Indian is made with a fragrant combination of mouth-watering roasted chicken, spicy yogurt sauce, and delicious turmeric rice.
Sweet Earth Cauliflower Mac
Indulge in a filling macaroni and cheese dinner that is healthier than most boxed kinds. This vegan cauliflower mac by Sweet Earth is made with sweet potatoes, a creamy cauliflower sauce, and toasted breadcrumbs, and has 9 grams of protein.
Healthy Choice Steamers Creamy Spinach and Tomato Linguini
Bring the Italian restaurant right into your home by popping one of these Healthy Choice meals into your microwave. Featuring spinach, tomatoes, and al dente pasta enrobed in a tasty pea pesto sauce, this protein-rich dinner clocks in at just 270 calories and is low in sugar.
Sweet Earth Curry Tiger
Curried lentils, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and brown rice come together to create a frozen meal that definitely has the potential of becoming a weekday regular. Low in sugar, calories, and sodium, this dish is also one of the highest quality frozen dinners out there.