Frozen dinners make a handy, portion-controlled meal for lunch or dinner, particularly for the overscheduled. With hundreds of options on the market, how do you decide the ones that best support your weight-loss efforts? Scan the nutrition labels of your quick meals before tossing them into your shopping basket and look for very specific qualities.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines recommends only 2,300 mg of sodium intake per day—some meals come in at 1,800 mg, leaving you very little room for sodium consumption with other meals during the day. Seek out meals with less than 700 mg of sodium to keep your intake under wraps. Too much sodium can lead to bloating and high blood pressure. With just 560 mg of sodium, choose Smart Ones Fruit Inspirations Cranberry Turkey Medallions with cranberry sauce, stuffing and potatoes, ringing in at a healthy 350 calories with 4.5 g fat, 4 g fiber and 18 g protein.
Watch out for saturated fat, as both the American Heart Association and the USDA recommend you limit it to less than 7 percent of total daily fat calories. Many frozen dinners contain more than 1 day's worth of saturated fat; look for less than 4 g of saturated fat on labels. Scan the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oil to avoid all trans fats, a man-made fat shown to contribute to weight gain and chronic disease. A tasty option is Amy's Tofu Vegetable Lasagna with only 2 g of saturated fat, 310 calories and 680 mg of sodium.
Manufacturers add sugar to many low-calorie meals to make up for the lack of fat. Check your label for grams of sugar and scan the ingredient list for hidden sources (high fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, etc.). For every 5 g of sugar listed, you are ingesting a full teaspoon. Try Sundried Tomato Pesto Chicken by Lean Cuisine with 290 calories, 9 g of fat, 570 mg of sodium and only 10 g of sugar, some naturally occurring in the tomatoes.
Make sure there are between 300 and 400 calories in a meal. Choosing one with fewer than 250 calories can leave you unsatisfied and make it more likely that you will snack later. If you do choose an under-300 calorie dinner, round it out with a large salad and a whole-grain roll. Ensure there are plenty of vegetables; look for at least one serving or 1/2 cup. Seek out whole grains for fiber. Look for brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or quinoa. Focus on getting at least 14 g of protein in the meal. Try Kashi’s Lemongrass Coconut Chicken with broccoli florets, carrots and sugar snap peas and a quinoa pilaf containing 300 calories, 7 g of fiber, 680 mg of sodium and 18 g protein.