Frozen foods can be a lifesaver when you’re short on time. Enjoyed at the end of a busy week or popped in the microwave during a hectic workday, frozen meals are both quick and convenient. However, not all frozen meals are created equal. While some are packed with the highest-quality ingredients like veggies and whole grains, others are filled with fried foods, excess sugar, and high amounts of salt, which doesn’t get you all that much in the health department.
To help you make better decisions as you peruse the frozen foods section, we reached out to two health experts who shared pointers on how exactly to distinguish the healthy frozen foods from the not-so-healthy ones. Whether you want to learn what to avoid when choosing a frozen dinner or you need new recommendations, read on.
where to look
It’s important to remember that some frozen food brands do a better job than others when it comes to making health-conscious products. For this reason, you should always pay attention to nutritional information and lists of ingredients. “Eat a balance of protein and fiber, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables in each serving,” he says Julie LaPiana Evarts, RN, MSN, CRNP, Chief Customer Success Officer at Plantable. “Also, aim for a carb-to-fiber ratio of 5 or less to minimize blood sugar spikes,” she adds.
Evarts also mentions that you should look for products that contain zero trans fats and low levels of cholesterol. This is because trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease, and too much cholesterol can cause both heart attacks and strokes. “Look for ingredients that contain 0 grams of trans fats per serving and foods that contain less than 75 milligrams [of cholesterol] per serving,” adds Evarts.
What to avoid
One ingredient to watch out for in frozen meals is sodium. A high amount of sodium is common in frozen meals and processed foods because it enhances flavor and helps preserve the foods. “The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day to reduce the risk of heart disease,” he says Johna Burdeos, RD, nutritionist and writer. “Some of the processed ready meals out there contain up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium.” While some sodium is fine, Burdeos suggests opting for frozen meals, which contain about 600 milligrams of sodium or less.
Another culprit to be aware of is sugar. “Some of these frozen meals can contain a lot of sugar, up to 20 grams,” says Burdeos. Burdeos explains that excess sugar in the diet has been linked to inflammation and chronic disease. “When choosing frozen foods, look for those with much lower to no sugar content — with sugar either being last on the ingredient list or not at all,” says Burdeos. Also, don’t miss 8 hot dogs that use the highest quality ingredients.
This Buddha bowl, which is brimming with sweet potatoes, kale, chickpeas, and cauliflower rice, has 10 grams of plant-based protein and no added sugar. It’s also a great option for vegans and those who may be following a gluten-free diet.
Get your lean protein fix with this Healthy Choice Chicken and Vegetable Skillet. With 23 grams of protein, lots of vitamin C and only 8 grams of sugar, this dish ticks all the boxes.
Enjoy a delicious steak without having to fire up the grill. Made with black beans, roasted corn and peppers, this delicious frozen meal packs 18 grams of protein and just 2 grams of sugar. We particularly like that the beef used in this dish was raised without antibiotics.
One of the leaders in healthier frozen foods, Amy’s doesn’t disappoint with its brown rice and black bean bowl. With black-eyed peas, assorted veggies, and a delicious tamari-ginger sauce, this option focuses on nutrition. For example, it has no cholesterol, only 290 calories, and only 2 grams of sugar.
Preparing a bowl of quinoa from scratch takes time, while this frozen option from Kashi only takes a few minutes to reheat. This nutritious dish is high in fiber and protein and may well become your favorite meal.
This Mosaic Peanut Tofu Bowl proves you don’t have to choose between flavor and health. It’s made with organic tofu, broccoli, pineapple and bell peppers, packs a whopping 27 grams of protein and provides 28% of the recommended daily iron.
If you are looking for a frozen meal that is high in protein, low in sugar and packed with flavor then look no further. Deep Indian Chicken Vindaloo is made with a fragrant combination of delicious fried chicken, flavorful yogurt sauce and delicious turmeric rice.
Treat yourself to a filling mac and cheese dinner that’s healthier than most packaged varieties. This Sweet Earth Vegan Cauliflower Mac is made with sweet potatoes, a creamy cauliflower sauce, and toasted breadcrumbs and packs 9 grams of protein.
Bring Italian dining right into your home by throwing one of these Healthy Choice meals in your microwave. This high-protein dinner of spinach, tomatoes, and al dente pasta coated in a delicious pea pesto sauce is just 270 calories and low in sugar.
Curried lentils, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and brown rice come together for a frozen meal that definitely has the potential to become an everyday staple. This meal is low in sugar, calories and sodium and one of the highest quality frozen meals on the market.