Busy families often struggle with finding the time to cook a healthy and nutritious meal during the week when schedules simply do not allow for more than a few minutes of prep time. Frozen meals provide a quick alternative to that homemade dinner and can be eaten on the run. But unless you are a careful shopper, you may be adding empty calories to your diet without realizing it. Although a dinner may be labeled as healthy, you need to read the nutritional facts label carefully to determine if it is the right meal for you.
Nutritinal Facts Label
The USDA requires manufacturers to include nutritional facts on the product. This includes fat, carbohydrate, protein and sodium content, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Read the label (generally located on the back of the package) carefully before buying.
Light or Regular Entrees
Light entrees contain fewer than 300 calories per serving and no more than 10g of fat, while regular entrees contain fewer than 400 calories and fewer than 25g of fat. For weight loss, sticking to light entries is the obvious choice, but an occasional regular entree is fine, too. Fat content between 25 percent and 30 percent is ideal.
Always check the serving size to determine the number of calories in a serving. Although many are packaged in individual serving sizes, larger family dinners have several servings. The serving size may be smaller than you would imagine.
Check the sodium content, particularly if you are on a reduced salt diet or are being treated for hypertension. Dinners with 600mg to 1,000mg of sodium are the best choice.
Vegetables and Grains
Look for a serving of vegetables, whole grains and lean meats to keep calories down and include healthy fiber in your diet. Look for 3g to 5g of fiber to help you feel full.
Frozen dinners with 10g to 20g of protein provide the building blocks for strong muscles and bones, but should also contain more than 10 percent of the Recommended Daily Value of essential vitamins and minerals to support a healthy body.
Carbohydrates and Sugars
Check total carbohydrate and sugar content if you are on a restricted diet or are diabetic. Frozen dinners are often a source of hidden sugars used to add flavoring. Select a dinner within your specific range of sugars and carbohydrates as outlined in your specific eating plan.
Avoid dinners with heavy sauces or gravies to keep calories down. These are often added to make the meal look more appetizing or to add seasoning to an otherwise bland meal. Opt for one with vegetables and meats seasoned with herbs and spices instead. Add a side salad or a whole grain roll to the dinner to boost nutrition and add fiber.
Resist the urge to purchase dinners with dessert included. These are often high fat and provide unnecessary calories without adding nutritional value. Select fresh fruit to accompany the meal instead.