The Lean Cuisine line of frozen foods was created in 1981 as a healthier alternative to Stouffer's frozen meals. Today Lean Cuisine is sold in the United States, Canada and Australia by Nestlé.
According to the Advertising Age business news article "Lean Cuisine Makes 'Massive Pivot' Away From Diet Marketing," the Nestle-Owned Brand has "embarked on a major overhaul that includes new advertising, packaging and frozen entree options that are designed to link Lean Cuisine to modern eating and health trends rather than calorie counting."
But are Lean Cuisine frozen dinners a health-conscious choice today? And are they a good choice for consumers who are dieting and/or trying to lose weight? Read on and we'll explore the facts.
What Are the Benefits of Lean Cuisine Frozen Meals?
Lean Cuisine frozen dinners are convenient and easy-to-prepare. Consumers also appreciate that they also have a long freezer life and are relatively inexpensive.
As of September 2015, Lean Cuisine offers more than 100 types of frozen dinners and snacks in the five categories of Market Place, Favorites, Craveables, Comfort and Mornings.
The entire Lean Cuisine line-up ranges from 160 to 390 calories.
The different options range from familiar comfort foods to dinner entrees that feature larger portions. The line includes pizzas, ethnic cuisine such as Mexican and Asian, as well as complete dinners and single-entree choices.
Which Are the Healthiest Types of Meals to Choose?
According to ChooseMyPlate.Gov, you should aim to "make half your plate fruits and vegetables."
There are several Lean Cuisine meals that appear to meet this goal. If you eat beef, the Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef appears to contain more than 50 percent vegetables: snap peas, broccoli florets and red bell peppers. At 180 calories, Pomegranate Chicken also appears to contain more than 50 percent vegetables: green beans and yellow carrots.
In its pamphlet "Healthy Eating for an Active Lifestyle," ChooseMyPlate.Gov also recommends that we vary our fruits and vegetables that we eat, and mix it up by choosing plant-based proteins.
As of October 2015, Lean Cuisine offers 17 vegetarian choices. Rather than being made up of plant-based proteins and vegetables, the vegetarian options are dominated by pastas with cheese as the protein (Fettuccini Alfredo, Four Cheese Cannelloni, Cheese Ravioli, Classic Five Cheese Lasagna, Macaroni & Cheese, Angel Hair Pomodoro and Five Cheese Rigatoni) and pizzas and stuffed pretzels with cheese as the protein and very small amounts of vegetables.
At 220 calories, the healthiest vegetarian choice seems to be Cheddar Potatoes with Broccoli because it at least has almost half the plate is made up of broccoli.
Calories and Fat in Lean Cuisine Meals
If you are tracking calories or dieting and aiming to keep your calorie consumption to 1,200 or 1,500 calories a day, a 390-calorie Lean Cuisine meal makes up about one-third of your dietary intake so it makes a helpful portion-sized meal.
THE THREE LEAN CUISINE MEALS WITH THE LEAST AMOUNT OF CALORIES:
1. Steak Portabella (160 calories)
2. Herb Roasted Chicken (170 calories)
3. Sweet Sriracha Braised Beef (170 calories)
THE THREE LEAN CUISINE MEALS WITH THE MOST CALORIES:
1. Deep Dish Three Meat Pizza (390 calories)
2. Pepperoni Pizza (390 calories)
3. Wood Fire-Style Garlic Chicken Pizza (380 calories)
The American Heart Association indicates that your maximum fat intake should be 30 percent of your calories, and that you should limit your saturated fat calories to 7 percent of your total calories. Lean Cuisine meals fall within these general fat recommendations. The fat in Lean Cuisine meals ranges between 2 grams and 9 grams.
Sodium Content in Lean Cuisine Meals
The average American gets more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, and that’s more than double the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams. According to the American Heart Association, more than 75 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed foods.
If you're including frozen meals as a regular part of your diet, you need to check the sodium content on the labels.
Lean Cuisine meals contain sodium amounts that range from 300-730mg. Eating a frozen Lean Cuisine meal that contains 700mg of sodium may give you almost 50 percent of your day's total sodium intake.
THE THREE LEAN CUISINE MEALS CONTAINING THE MOST SODIUM:
1. French Bread Supreme Pizza (730 grams of sodium)
2. Chicken in Sweet BBQ Sauce (710 grams of sodium)
3. French Bread Pepperoni Pizza (700 grams of sodium)
THE THREE LEAN CUSINE MEALS CONTAINING THE LEAST SODIUM:
1. Pomegranate Chicken (370 grams of sodium)
2. Wood Fire-Style BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza (380 grams of sodium)
3. Deep Dish Spinach & Mushroom Pizza (420 grams of sodium)
Lean Cuisine's Gluten-Free and Organic/Non-GMO Options
There are at least 12 Lean Cuisine gluten-free options including Fiesta Grilled Chicken, Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry, Chicken Fried Rice, Chile Lime Chicken and Ranchero Braised Beef.
As of October 2015, there are six Lean Cuisine meals that are organic and non-GMO: Cheese and Bean Enchilada Verde, Cheese Tortellini, Mushroom & Spring Pea Risotto, Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Ravioli, Spicy Mexican Black Beans & Rice and Vermont White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
How to Diet Eating Lean Cuisine Meals
Lean Cuisine meals can be helpful for people who are trying to lose weight, because they are pre-portioned and you know just how many calories you are going to eat.
Plan to eat a Lean Cuisine meal once or twice per day as either lunch or dinner. Give yourself plenty of variety by eating different Lean Cuisine meals instead of the same ones every day. Be wary of sodium intake and avoid eating two Lean Cuisine meals at the high end of the sodium range on the same day.
Don't add salt, but instead add pepper or dried herbs if you are looking to punch up the flavor.
If you find yourself feeling hungrier, you can add extra vegetables to the meals. Though Lean Cuisine dinners often include a full serving of vegetables, you may need to eat a little bit more to stay full since they are small. Vegetables are nutritious, low in calories and yet very filling.
In 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people who ate two frozen entrees per day, along with additions like vegetables, lost more weight than those who dieted on their own. The people in the study who followed the frozen-entrée diet lost more weight (16.3 pounds) compared with the subjects who made their own meals.