Environmental Nutrition: A quick look at frozen meals
When you don't have the time, resources, or desire to cook a meal from scratch or order take out, a frozen meal can be a quick solution.
Years ago, the idea of a frozen meal was often some sort of meat, slathered in gravy, usually with mashed potatoes and a dessert. There was little concern about calories, sodium, fat or other nutritional qualities. Then around the late '80s, the consumer world revolved around limiting fat and calorie intake and a new crop of frozen meals came on the scene, often consisting of extremely small portions of food that left you hungry soon after eating. Again, it seemed that nutritional quality was not a priority.
Fortunately, the pendulum seems to have swung into the middle recently. Satisfying frozen meals, many plant-based, have flooded freezer shelves. Saturated fat and sodium levels are down., protein has increased, and calories are in a reasonable range. While this doesn't mean all frozen meals are healthy choices, it does mean you can find several to keep on hand that fit into a healthy eating plan.
If you'd like to keep a couple frozen meals stashed away, consider these tips.
1. Round it out. Even with more veggies, the produce-part of frozen meals is often lacking. Steam or heat up some veggies and grab fresh fruit to create a more well-rounded meal.
2. Calorie count. Choose a meal that will keep you satisfied for a few hours without providing a day's worth of calories in one sitting. For most, a range between roughly 300 and 600 calories does the job, however, higher protein content and supplementing the meal with more fruits/veggies, etc. could help a slightly lower calorie meal work.
2. Look at sodium. Many people may be surprised by the amount of sodium in these meals, and there are certainly plenty out there with shocking amounts of sodium. But keep in mind, these values are from entire meals, not just part of a meal. Therefore, sodium levels in the 600 to 700 mg range can be acceptable.
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)