They may be labelled as ‘lean’ or ‘lite’, but when it comes to choosing a healthy frozen meal, what should you look for? Nutritionist Liz Munn investigates.
Healthy-style frozen meals are a quick, easy alternative to takeaways or fossicking in a near-empty fridge after a long day at work. They fill a large section of most supermarket freezers, and if you choose carefully, they can be a healthy option.
While cooking from scratch is the best way to know exactly what you’re eating – you can use plenty of veges and wholegrains, and control the amount of fat and salt you add – there’s nothing wrong with frozen rather than fresh. In fact, frozen vegetables can have more vitamins and minerals than fresh, especially if the fresh vege has been stored for a long time or not treated kindly on its journey to your table.
Healthy-style frozen meals are generally kilojoule-controlled and low-fat, but to make the healthiest choices, you need to look for meals that also keep the sodium down and the fibre and vegetable contents up.
Show us the veg
We know we need three plus serves of vegetables a day, and even if you manage one to two serves of veges during the day, you need another two or three at dinner.
Unfortunately, many frozen healthy-style meals don’t stack up well in the vege stakes. There are a few meals that contain two or three serves of veges, but most offer only one serve – or less.
The good news is you can easily boost the vegetable content by also keeping some frozen vegetables on hand. Tossing together a quick salad or fresh vegetables are great options, too.
Watch the salt
A low-sodium HFG meal has less than 500mg sodium per serve. While we did find one frozen meal with sodium levels this low, we also discovered some with around 600-700mg sodium. By choosing the lower sodium option and adding more veges yourself, you can keep the sodium down while still enjoying the convenience of a ready meal.
An everyday meal?
You could eat frozen meals every day but you may risk missing out on a variety of foods and a balance of all the food groups, which is an essential part of a healthy diet. So while these meals can be part of a healthy diet, it is important to make sure you are getting all the foods you need each day. Choose wholegrain breads and cereals, reduced-fat dairy, lean protein foods and at least five serves of vegetables and fruit over the day.
Frozen meal safety
It’s important to handle frozen foods safely:
- When shopping avoid any packages that look soggy or as if they’ve melted and then been refrozen.
- Buy frozen food last and get it home quickly – an insulated shopping bag is a good idea, especially in warm weather.
- Place frozen foods in the freezer as soon as you get home – and make sure your freezer is the correct temperature (-18°C) and isn’t overloaded.
- Heat carefully following the packet directions and ensure the food is piping hot right through.
Note: Products with the Heart Tick have 3g or more fibre per serve. Increase fibre content by adding vegetables.