Many of us have busy schedules. Between work, commutes and after-school and after work commitments, dinnertime can often sneak up on us. Making homecooked meals from scratch can be difficult, even if you fancy yourself as a good cook. This is when a quick and easy dinner solution like a frozen meal can be clutch.
Frozen dinners have come a long way since TV dinners of yesteryear. Now more than ever, there are plenty of cuisines and cultures represented in the frozen aisle for every dietary preference—including gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. Plus, there are some other perks, like fewer trips to the grocery store.
“Frozen dinners are quick, easy meals that you can have on hand when meal planning and regular grocery shopping isn’t an option,” said Hailey Fox, a registered dietitian with Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon, Nevada. “Additionally, they can be more cost-effective than eating out or ordering take-out.”
But not all frozen dinners are created equal. “Lots of frozen meals and entrees can be high in calories, sodium and hidden fat, with few of the foods that provide the vitamins and minerals we need to maintain optimal help,” Fox said.
Before you stockpile frozen dinners, Fox gives us the skinny on what to look for in a frozen entrée and how to make each meal even healthier and more satisfying.
6 tips to make your frozen meal healthy and satisfying
1. Read the nutritional label
The goal with any meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) is to feel satisfied after eating it. To ensure this is a reality with your frozen meal, you first want to start with the nutrition facts label, paying close attention to serving size per container, Fox said.
“Guidelines can vary, but, in general, aim for options that are 500 calories or less, contain less than 4 grams of saturated fat and less than 600 milligrams of sodium. They should also include10 to 20 grams of protein and 5 grams or more of fiber per serving,” she said.
Seek out frozen entrees with vegetables and lean meats (such as skinless chicken, turkey and fish) in the recipe and steer clear of dinners with gravy, cream or cheese sauces and ones with fried food items, as these can be high in calories and sodium.
2. Toss in more vegetables.
If your meal is looking a little meager, toss in some vegetables. “Any time you can sneak vegetables into meals you’re boosting nutrition by adding vitamins, minerals and fiber that keep you full and satisfied,” Fox said. “They also add some color and texture.”
Fox suggested adding in greens like spinach or kale, sliced avocado, squash, green beans or broccoli. If you don’t have fresh on hand, frozen is the next best thing. “Many frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen soon after harvest and therefore maintain most of their nutrients longer than fresh, however this benefit does diminish over time,” she noted.
3. Pump up with protein and fiber.
For frozen meals lacking in protein, top it with nuts and seeds or a half-cup of beans (drained, of course!) for additional protein and fiber. Or add in some leftover chicken, a can of tuna or other lean protein you have on hand.
4. Add an easy side salad or fruit.
A colorful fruit salad or leafy green salad is a fantastic way to get an additional serving of fresh fruit and vegetables—just mind the dressing! Have extra herbs on hand? Toss those in as well.
While your meal is nuking in the microwave or oven, check out some of these easy breezy fruit salad and green salad recipes you can make while you wait:
- Minty pineapple fruit salad
- Avocado fruit salad with tangerine vinaigrette
- Grilled asparagus salad
- Strawberry spinach salad
5. Plate it.
Let’s face it, part of the unappetizing part of a frozen meal is the plastic or cardboard tray it comes in. Plating prepared meals can make them much more appealing and feel more homemade instead of eating out of the packaging. The better your food looks, the more likely you are to gobble it up.
While we don’t always have time to whip up a homecooked meal, premade frozen meals can be a healthy alternative when in a pinch. Following these easy tips can help keep healthy eating on track.
“Remember that healthy eating is doable, small changes add up and you can fit healthy eating into all routines, tastes and budgets,” Fox said.