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Frozen dinners have come a long way since the TV microwave dinners of the 1950s. Not only have the flavor options and accessibility of these dinners changed, but there are more healthy frozen dinners available today. At the same time, there are also many unhealthy frozen dinners that are marketed as “healthy,” although they’re actually loaded with sodium, added sugar, fat, and weird preservatives.
When you’re wandering through the frozen food section of the grocery store looking for a convenient, nutritious meal, it can be hard to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy frozen dinners, especially when you’re in a rush. With that in mind, we talked to a few dietitians about what you might want to avoid when looking for a quick, easy, and healthy frozen meal, so you can spot an unhealthy frozen dinner in other disguise when it crosses your path.
Here are six frozen meals that dietitians say are marketed as “healthy,” but are actually terrible for you. And for more tips on how to find a convenient and healthy meal on a busy weeknight, be sure to also read When It Comes To Frozen Foods, These Are The Healthiest.
Per mealCalories: 290, 9g fat (3.5g saturated fat), 790mg sodium, 38g carbs (2g fiber, 6g sugar), 14g protein
“While this meal is low in calories, it lacks protein and fiber to help you feel full,” says Tammy Lakatos Shame, RDN, CDN, CFTand Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFTalso known as nutrition twins. “With just 14 grams of protein and two of the 25-30 grams of fiber you need each day, you’re likely to feel hungry soon after and crave a snack or another meal.”
“Although it’s low in calories, it’s salty with 30% of your maximum daily recommended sodium limit, highly processed with bleached flours and starches, and high in saturated fat with 21% of your maximum daily intake,” add the Nutrition Twins.
Per mealCalories: 320, 9g fat (2g saturated fat), 500mg sodium, 44g carbs (5g fiber, 11g sugar), 16g protein
Another “healthy” choice that isn’t so healthy is Healthy Choice’s Chicken Parmigiana meal.
“This one has 8 grams of added sugar – women should have a maximum of 24 grams and men should be no more than 36 grams. Considering this is not a dessert, an innocent eater probably wouldn’t even think of consider sugar.” explain the Nutrition Twins. “With 500 milligrams of sodium, or about 25 percent of the maximum recommended daily amount, and a long ingredient list that includes lots of additives and preservatives, this meal is best left in the freezer in the frozen aisle.”
Per mealCalories: 300, 11g fat (4.5g saturated fat), 550mg sodium, 36g carbs (4g fiber, 5g sugar), 12g protein
“You’d assume an organic meal featuring a rainbow of colorful veggies would be healthy,” says the Nutrition Twins. “But the downside to this one is that a serving is only a third of the pizza. Not only do a lot of people eat more than that, but even if you stick to the serving size, you’ll be still hit by 4.5 grams of saturated fat – 26% of your maximum daily intake.”
Paying attention to the amount of protein in a meal is also crucial, as this is what will help you stay full longer and satiate your appetite.
“Given that it’s hard to settle for just 12 grams of protein in each serving, it’s no wonder most people easily eat two servings per session,” the Twins say.
Per mealCalories: 420, 29g fat (11g saturated fat), 1150mg sodium, 27g carbs (16g fiber, 2g sugar), 26g protein
“Atkins meals are known to be keto-friendly, and this meal provides a healthy dose of protein and fiber, thanks in part to the oat fiber pizza crust,” the Twins say. “But it comes at a high price related to heart health.”
Consuming too much sodium and saturated fat over time has been linked to higher LDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.
“One serving contains 1,150 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of saturated fat, which is almost half of your maximum daily intake,” the Twins explain.
Per mealCalories: 390, 9g fat (2g saturated fat), 550mg sodium, 63g carbs (3g fiber, 22g sugar), 12g protein
“While Healthy Choice meals are portion controlled and relatively low in calories compared to something like Hungry-Man and Banquet Mega Bowls, some of their frozen meals aren’t really the ‘healthy choice,'” says Lisa Young, Ph.D., RDNauthor of Finally full, finally thin and a member of our medical expert advisory board. “Sweet and sour chicken, for example, has over 20 grams of sugar and 600 milligrams of sodium.”
Per mealCalories: 240, 7g fat (3.5g saturated fat), 630mg sodium, 29g carbs (2g fiber, 11g sugar), 16g protein
Lean Cuisine markets itself as a healthy or “skinny” frozen dinner choice beyond its brand name; it also places the lower calorie count directly on the front of their package. However, Young warns that these meals may not be the best.
“These meals are calorie controlled due to their small portions, but they aren’t very filling and tend to be low in vegetables and whole grains, and high in salt and sugar,” Young says. “This dish, for example, has over 600 milligrams of sodium and 14 grams of sugar. I suggest you cook something simple at home instead.”
With all the other healthy frozen dinners out there, it might be a good idea to skip the six listed above and opt for cleaner, higher-protein options that also contain less sodium and added sugars.
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