At the end of a long day, it's tempting to call for takeout rather than prepare a fresh meal. But most takeout meals are calorie bombs. While Healthy Choice meals can't beat fresh, whole foods you prepare yourself, they are low in calories and better than many other options.
You can lose weight with Healthy Choice meals if you know how to choose the right ones. But making your own healthy, frozen meals for weight loss is a better option.
Healthy Choice Meals
With today's hectic schedules, there are now a dizzying array of frozen meal options in grocery stores. But not all of them are created equal. Many are packed with saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and other junk, and they don't even taste great — so you might as well go for that takeout.
If you read the labels, you can find better options, including some Healthy Choice meals. Developed in 1989, the Healthy Choice brand aimed to create a line of healthy frozen meals for weight loss that offered convenience to health-conscious consumers.
According to the Healthy Choice website, the brand worked with the FDA to develop guidelines for how a product could qualify to have "healthy" in its name, and claims its meals "remain the only major brand in the frozen meals section that can proudly call all of its food 'healthy.'"
But don't take that claim at face value. It's still important to read each product's label, because not all Healthy Choice meals are the best options for weight loss.
Read more: The Best and Worst Frozen Foods
Choosing the Right Meal
When choosing a weight-loss meal, you should look for products that are adequate in calories, low in sugar, provide ample protein and fiber, and contain whole grains.
So how do Healthy Choice meals stack up? First of all, there are a few different product lines, including:
- Power Bowls
- Cafe Steamers
- Simply Steamers
Scanning the ingredient labels, the Power Bowls and Simply Steamers are the healthiest choices. As a whole, they contain more vegetables and more fiber than the other product lines. Some standouts include:
Both protein and fiber are important nutrients for every meal, because they improve measures of satiety — or the sense of satisfaction and fullness you feel after eating.
Fiber promotes stomach distension, which can delay the release of an appetite-stimulating hormone called ghrelin, reports a review article in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in January 2019. And according to a review article published in Nutrition & Metabolism in November 2014, protein digestion temporarily increases your metabolism by as much as 30 percent.
Some Healthy Choice meals are made with white rice, and others contain brown rice. White rice is a refined grain that has had its bran and germ removed during processing, along with most of its fiber, vitamins and minerals. Brown rice is a whole grain that has not been milled and retains its natural nutrients.
White rice also digests more quickly than brown rice and has more of an effect on blood sugar. Healthy Choice meals made with whole grains are your best option for weight loss.
Healthy Choice Calorie Counts
When it comes to limiting calorie intake, Healthy Choice meals can't be beat. Power Bowls and Simply Steamers average about 200 calories per serving. As a whole meal, that's actually not enough calories.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average woman can lose weight eating 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day. Men and women who weigh more or who are more active need around 1,500 to 1,800 calories daily to lose weight.
If your calorie needs are at the lower end of the spectrum, a Healthy Choice meal might make a sufficient lunch or dinner, if your other meals are more substantial or you eat a couple of healthy snacks in addition to your meals. If you need more calories, a Healthy Choice meal isn't likely to provide enough energy, unless your other meals are quite a bit more substantial.
It may seem like a good idea to to lower your calorie intake as much as possible while dieting, but not eating enough calories can actually backfire. Not only can it lead to nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea, it can also slow your metabolism, according to Michigan Medicine.
When your body isn't getting enough calories, it begins to slow down physiological functions to conserve energy, including metabolism and digestion.
A "Healthier Choice"
In a pinch, a well-chosen Healthy Choice meal can save you from binging on more caloric and less nutritious snack foods and fast foods. But there are healthier options. Healthy Choice meals, as well as most other packaged and processed foods, are high in sodium, with around 600 milligrams per serving. That's 26 percent of the daily recommended limit for sodium, which is 2,300 milligrams, according to the American Heart Association.
Too much sodium can increase your blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease and stroke. For that reason, the American Heart Association recommends cutting back sodium even more, to 1,500 milligrams or less, especially if you already have high blood pressure.
As one Healthy Choice meal may make up only a small part of your daily calorie intake, it increases the chance that you'll go over your sodium limit with the rest of the foods you eat during the day.
With a little planning and minimal preparation, you can make your own healthy frozen meals for weight loss. Make a batch of brown rice at the beginning of the week. Divide it among several containers and top it with steamed veggies and grilled chicken (which you can buy already cooked). Then, dress each container with a low-calorie, low-sodium and low-sugar dressing and store them in the freezer.
- Healthy Choice: "About Healthy Choice"
- Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: "The Role of Fiber in Energy Balance"
- Healthy Choice: "Spicy Black Bean & Chicken"
- Healthy Choice: "Basil Pesto Chicken"
- Healthy Choice: "Chicken Tikka Masala"
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Whole Grains"
- National Iinstitutes of Health: "Healthy Eating Plan"
- University of Michigan Medicine: "Weight Loss by Limiting Calories"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat per Day?"