Ahhh, the frozen entree…we’ve come a long way since Swanson introduced the first TV dinner almost 60 years ago; turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, even a little cherry pie, all for 98 cents! Americans continue to love convenience, and with options like black bean tamale verde, truffle parmesan mac & cheese, and pumpkin squash ravioli, who wouldn’t! Today’s “frozen entree” has expanded to “bakes, “bowls,” and bags you can steam, all in containers you can compost.
What do you look for in a frozen entree? What makes them “healthy”? What makes them “unhealthy”?
Let’s discuss the “Big 3″ when it comes to health and frozen dinners: Sodium, Fat, and Whole Grains.
1) Look for Less Sodium- Without a doubt what gives the frozen entree a bad rap. Experts recommend a max of 1,500mg of sodium per day, and most mainstream frozen entrees (think Stouffer’s) will have as much as 800mg – 1,200mg per entree! That’s a big chunk out of your day’s allowance! Look for the “Light,” “Lean” and “Reduced guilt” which contain no more than 600 mg per meal. The key is to read labels rather than trust brand names that market themselves as “healthy.” Some of them may be low in sodium but have way too much fat and/or white flour.
Favorite: Lean Cuisine Honestly Good- Each tray comes with a chicken breast, fish filet, or beef strips, with brown rice or whole grain pasta and veggies. Max sodium is 450mg, and you can reduce it even more by using less sauce, which comes in a separate package. Winner!
Runner-Ups: Artisan Bistro, Luvo, and Amy’s Light in Sodium (watch the fat)
2) Watch the Fat- Always look for options that are lower in fat, especially saturated fat. Watch the mac and cheese, lasagna and enchiladas, which tend to have a higher fat content. You can find options with as little as 1 gram of saturated fat or as much as 16 grams!
Favorite: Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegan and Whole Foods 365 Vegetable Lasagna
Runner-Ups: Amy’s Light in Sodium Black Bean and Vegetable Enchilada and Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Mac & Cheese.
3) The Search for Whole Grains-Search for frozen entrees that have the highest amount of whole grains. The current recommendation is for 48 grams of whole grains per day. Look for the “100% Whole Grain” Stamp, which marks products that contain at least 16 grams of whole grains per serving.
Favorites: Kashi- Kashi’s Pilaf blends go way beyond brown rice; they contain whole oats, brown rice, rye, hard red wheat, buckwheat, and barley with sesame seeds. Luvo has grains like quinoa, wheat berries, brown basmati, bulgur, and buckwheat. Both winners!
So next time you’re walking the aisles and run into the freezer section, ask yourself this: is this THE BEST frozen food I can feed my family?
What’s YOUR favorite healthy frozen entree?