You get home from a hectic day at work, and you're starving. A healthy, home-cooked meal would be fantastic, if you only had more time and energy. If you'd planned ahead and meal prepped over the weekend, you could pull one of those meals out and heat it up. But, of course, last weekend you were busy with family and friends. So, what should you do for dinner tonight? You might have a few frozen meals in your freezer. But are any of them really healthy for you? Get ready to check your freezer, because we've gathered a list of some of the best and worst options.
1. WORST: CedarLane Roasted Chili Rellenos
Most Americans go well beyond the American Heart Association's ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. And frozen foods can be a hefty contributor to our salt intake. CedarLane Roasted Chili Rellenos is a prime offender. Three of the first four ingredients in this meal are different cheeses, and that contributes toward its 19 grams of fat (10 of them are saturated, which is about half of your recommended total daily intake). Even though the dish does contain a fair amount of fiber (11 grams per serving), one entree also adds 660 milligrams of sodium to your diet — 44 percent your ideal daily limit.
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2. BETTER: Amy’s Light and Lean Black Bean and Cheese Enchilada
You don't have to avoid frozen Mexican food to stay healthy. Amy's Light and Lean Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas contain valuable amounts of fiber and protein, both of which promote blood sugar and appetite control; and antioxidants, which enhance immune function. With 250 calories and eight grams of protein, this meal will satisfy you without excessive fat or calories, said Colleen Hurley, a registered dietitian in the San Francisco Bay area. Plus, it comes with 0rganic brown rice, carrots and sweet corn on the side, and it's gluten-free, tree-nut-free and kosher.
3. WORST: Boston Market Boneless Pork Rib
If you're craving comfort food, Boston Market's Boneless Pork Rib With Home-Style Mashed Potatoes may seem appealing. If you also hope to keep your wellness in check, however, you'll want to keep shopping. One serving contains 35 g of fat, 640 calories and 1,560 milligrams of sodium — the entire amount of the American Heart Association's suggested ideal daily limit of sodium! Out of the 35 g of fat, 13 are saturated, which is more than half of the recommended daily maximum. A diet high in sodium and saturated fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and obesity.
4. BETTER: Artisan Bistro Ginger Chicken
Some frozen foods that sound healthy truly are. Artisan Bistro's Ginger Chicken is a great example, according to dietician Colleen Hurley. "Starting with antibiotic-free chicken, this meal provides five grams of fiber, 22 g of protein and only seven grams of sugar, while offering potent antioxidants from Matcha green tea and phytonutrients from edamame." The ginger in this zesty entree works as a natural digestive aid, making it a great option for heartburn sufferers. Ginger Chicken also other nutritious vegetables, including green beens, sugar snap peas and carrots.
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5. WORST: Healthy Choice Chicken Parmigiana
At only 330 calories for an entire meal that includes an entree with a side of veggies and a dessert, the Healthy Choice Chicken Parmigiana seems great. Sure, it has 16 grams of protein and six grams of fiber, but with 10 grams of fat and 13 grams of sugars, there are a few red flags with this choice. The syrupy sweet apple dessert is filled with questionable ingredients such as caramel flavor and butter flavor (just the flavor, not the actual ingredient) that we hardly want to call it real food. You'd be better off with a turkey or chicken sandwich on whole grain bread, served with fresh veggies or fruit salad. Don't let the low calories fool you.
6. BETTER: Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake
Whole grains are severely lacking from most Americans' diets, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Whole grains are also lacking from frozen foods. But Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake is an exception, providing a blend of seven whole grains, including amaranth, oats, brown rice and barley. "This meal packs seven grams of fiber and nine grams of protein — and you can pronounce all the ingredients!" said dietician Colleen Hurley. Whole, natural ingredients you can easily recognize and pronounce tend to be healthier than processed foods, which are laden with chemical additives and unhealthy fats. This dish is also moderate in sodium — 390 milligrams per serving — and naturally sweetened with plantains and sweet potato.
7. WORST: Kid Cuisine Carnival Mini Corn Dog Meal
Corn dogs may be fun to eat, but this variety from Kid Cuisine is far from nutritionally uplifting. "If the impossibly long, difficult to pronounce ingredient list wasn't enough to deter you, it provides 20 g of fat, more than 15 grams of sugar, 760 milligrams of sodium and 45 milligrams of cholesterol," said dietician Colleen Hurley, who calls the item one of the worst foods she's ever seen. "I would say this is a poor choice meal for an adult, let alone a small child." The meal comes with French fries, corn and a brownie sweetened with sugar and corn syrup. The corn dog batter is made with refined grains, which are stripped of fiber and other nutrients during processing.
8. BETTER: Applegate Organics Turkey Burgers
If you're looking for a lean, protein-rich meal in a snap, Applegate Organics Turkey Burgers may be just the thing. "These lean three-ounce turkey burgers are incredibly pure with only 2 ingredients — turkey and rosemary," said Lauren Schmitt, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. "Compared to other burgers with a lot of added salt and ingredients that you cannot pronounce, these burgers are a wise choice." To create a balanced meal, grill a burger or cook it in your microwave or toaster oven, and then serve it on 100-percent whole-grain bread or brown rice. Then add a handful of greens and a drizzle of healthy salad dressing.
9. WORST: White Castle Cheese Sliders
These are small (and thus may seem fairly harmless), but the nutritional deficits in these small burgers are mighty. "Each White Castle slider carries almost nine grams of total fat and four grams of saturated fat. That is double what the [Applegate Organics] turkey burger hold, and the turkey burger is one ounce larger!" says dietician Lauren Schmitt. This small burger also contains 300 milligrams of sodium. As a low-fiber food, the White Castle bun won't satiate you the way a whole-grain equivalent would. Particularly if you're watching your waistline, seek out a higher-fiber, lower-calorie entree to eat within a balanced meal.
10. BETTER: Healthy Choice Honey Balsamic Chicken
Eating balanced and healthy meals is a proven way to manage your weight and wellness. And meals like Honey Balsamic Chicken from Healthy Choice can make doing so easy. The white-meat chicken is a nutritious protein source. The Russet potatoes provide complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The colorful veggies like Brussels Spouts provide plentiful antioxidants. "It is actually so low in calories – there are only 210 calories in the package — that I would suggest some people add a healthy side dish," says dietician Lauren Schmitt. While the sodium content is somewhat high (480 milligrams per serving), it fits well within an overall healthy diet, says Schmitt.
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11. WORST: Swanson Chicken Pot Pie
Pot pie is a favorite American comfort food, but the nutritional profile of this one is not a good choice. "This pot pie contains 20 grams of total fat and seven grams of saturated fat per serving," says dietician Lauren Schmitt. "Protect your heart and avoid that level of fat in a meal if the primary source is saturated." The entree is also high in sodium, containing 780 milligrams per serving, and the white-flour crust is virtually devoid of fiber. While it does contain a few vegetables, the main ingredients are "chicken filling" — a mixture of ground chicken, salt and fillers — and modified food starch, which is a chemically altered carbohydrate used as a thickener.
12. BETTER: Garden Lites Roasted Vegetable Souffle
Easily as comforting and flavorful as a frozen pot pie, this veggie-loaded soufflé is significantly more nutritious. One soufflé contains only 170 calories and three grams of healthy unsaturated fat. One serving also provides five grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein and 60 percent of adults' daily recommended intake of vitamin C. The eight grams of sugar contained occur naturally in vegetables and whole grains and are much healthier than added sweeteners, such as corn syrup. Each soufflé provides a hearty helping of carrots, broccoli, spinach and red peppers. After heating it in the microwave or oven, serve your soufflé with a healthy side dish, such as mixed greens and balsamic vinegar in a whole grain pita.
13. WORST: DiGiorno Cheese Stuffed Supreme Pizza
Frozen pizzas are some of the most popular grab-and-heat items in the U.S. Unfortunately, most aren't healthy. While this DiGiorno pizza contains fair amounts of protein and calcium, the carbohydrates derived from refined grains and the fats contained aren't of the healthy variety. "Saturated fat in this pizza is one of the main reasons I find it unhealthy, with seven grams in a 5.5-ounce serving," says dietician Lauren Schmitt. "The second reason is an incredibly high sodium level of 780 milligrams per serving, which is more than half of [the maximum that healthy people] are able to eat in a day." One slice, or one-sixth of the pie, contains 350 calories. And most people aren't eating just one slice.
Read more: The 14 Best Foods for Your Heart
14. BETTER: Amy’s Roasted Vegetable Pizza
You can still enjoy frozen pizza without compromising your wellness. Amy's Roasted Vegetable Pizza is topped with marinated organic shiitake mushrooms, roasted red peppers and marinated artichoke hearts. Since it contains no cheese or other animal products, it's also suitable for vegans and those with lactose intolerance. The crust is made with organic flour with added whole-grain nutrients. "I like seeing things like wheat germ and wheat bran toward the top of an ingredients list to give people an extra punch of fiber," says dietician Lauren Schmitt. "For a 4-ounce serving of pizza, 280 calories is not too shabby."
15. WORST: Smucker’s Uncrustables
These little sandwiches are based on low-nutrient ingredients, including enriched flour and high fructose corn syrup — a sweetener that's been linked with excessive weight gain and triglyceride problems. One sandwich contains 210 calories, almost no vitamins or minerals and only two grams of fiber. For a healthier option that takes little time, make your PB&J. Two tablespoons of almond butter with two slices of whole grain bread provides five grams of fiber and valuable amounts of vitamins, minerals and protein. Make it healthier by swapping in fresh fruit, such as strawberry, pear or apple slices, for less sugar and increased nutrition.
16. BETTER: Luvo Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Did you know that frozen vegetables can be equally or even more nutritious than fresh veggies? Frozen produce is flash frozen at its nutritional peak. This lasagna by Luvo contains butternut squash, tomatoes, red bell peppers and kale, as well as whole-wheat noodles. It also provides 230 percent of adults' daily recommended intake of vitamin A and 120 percent of the RDI for vitamin C. Plus, the healthy fat from the low-fat ricotta cheese ensures that the 250 calories contained in this meal are nutrient-rich and satisfying. To augment the 12 grams of protein contained in this meal, you can top it with leftover baked chicken or serve it with a glass of low-fat milk.
17. WORST: Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese
The labels on this Stouffer's Macaroni and Cheese package proclaiming "no preservatives" and "100-percent real cheddar cheese" may make it seem somewhat healthy, or at least natural. But a peek at the nutrition label proves otherwise. Based on refined grains and rich in artificial additives, this mac and cheese contains 16 grams of fat per serving (there are two servings total), seven of which are saturated, and 820 milligrams of sodium. The partially hydrogenated vegetable oil it contains is a major source of trans-fats. The amount of naturally occurring trans-fats people consume daily leaves virtually no room for any additional trans-fats from processed ingredients, according to the American Heart Association.
18. BETTER: Amy's Light in Sodium Indian Mattar Paneer
This entree is a flavorful Indian dish made with spiced chickpeas, curried peas and paneer. The chickpeas in the chana masala give you the nutritional advantages of the legume dish with the heat-and-eat convenience of a frozen meal. "The sodium is manageable at 390 milligrams per serving," says dietician Lauren Schmitt. In addition to chickpeas, the entree contains peas, tomatoes and organic basmati rice and is seasoned with natural, healthy ingredients, including turmeric, paprika, sea salt and other spices.
19. WORST: Hot Pockets Pepperoni Pizza
Little tantalizes the senses like the smell of pizza. Sadly, the buttery garlic flavored crust advertised on the Hot Pockets Pepperoni Pizza package comes at a hefty nutritional price. "It has only one gram of fiber, and it's also not very high in protein, which may lead an individual to get hungry too soon after eating," says dietician Lauren Schmitt. Like other unhealthy items, the lengthy list of unnatural ingredients indicates that the item is highly processed, she adds, and thus, worth avoiding. As a processed meat, pepperoni itself tends to be high in sodium and trans-fats, and its surrounding crust is made with refined grains. A vegetable-loaded pizza or sandwich made with whole grains provides a much healthier option.
20. BETTER: Amy’s Spinach Feta In A Pocket Sandwich
Not all pockets are unhealthy. The main ingredient Amy's Spinach and Feta in a Pocket is... organic spinach! As one of the most nutrient-dense foods around, spinach makes for a valuable dietary staple. The pocket's crust is made with organic and whole grain flours, and the cheese contained is low in fat. The entree's sodium content isn't particularly low, at 510 milligrams per serving, but as long as the rest of your diet is devoid of salty foods, you should be fine. One pocket also provides 25 percent of adults' RDI for calcium, three grams of fiber and valuable amounts of vitamin C and iron. The 11 grams of protein per pocket can help keep you satisfied between meals.
21. WORST: Hungry-Man Boneless Fried Chicken
No matter how hungry you are, this frozen meal is far from ideal. While the chicken is white and boneless, it's also been rolled in low-nutrient batter and deep fried. The oil used to fry the poultry contains trans-fats and the "potatoes" consist of reconstituted potato flakes, more trans-fats (in the form of margarine), salt and preservatives. The sauce also contains trans-fats. The meal provides 39 grams of fat, seven of which are saturated, and nearly 1,200 milligrams of sodium. The list of ingredients is as long as it is unpronounceable, containing a slew of artificial fillers, preservatives and flavor enhancers. The only way to make this meal healthy is to opt for something else entirely.
What Do YOU Think?
How often do you eat frozen meals? Which ones do you eat most? Did any of them make the list? Do you think you'll make any swaps after reading this list? Are there others that you'd add? Share your suggestions and questions in the comments below!
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