Healthy Frozen Meals for Lunch

March 25, 2014

young woman shopping in supermarketOne of the perks of working in a grocery store is being able to quickly purchase a healthy lunch even on days when my planning or memory (left my lunch bag on the kitchen counter again!) is not the best.  There is, of course, the obvious option of the great salad bar or sometimes I get a couple of slices of 7-grain bread from the bakery (did you know you could buy it by the slice?), some low sodium turkey from the delicatessen and ½ an avocado and have an amazing sandwich.  However, I just as often hit the frozen food aisle and pick up a frozen meal.  You might find it strange that a dietitian would eat a frozen meal at lunch, but with some label reading healthy options can be found.  The things I look at when choosing a frozen meal include:

  1. Is the first ingredient something good for me, like a vegetable, whole grain, or legume? 
  2. How much sodium does it have?  To help in keeping sodium below the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day, I recommend keeping frozen meals below 600 milligrams of sodium (this leaves room for something else with sodium). 
  3. How much saturated fat does it contain?  The recommendations for heart health are for 10% or less of total daily calories to come from saturated fat.  To put this in practical terms, if you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be 22 grams or less of saturated fat per day.
  4. How much sugar does it have (and does some of the sugar come from fruit)? Current recommendations are for no more than 32 grams of added sugar (that’s 8 teaspoons) for someone consuming 2,000 calories.  This one is a little trickier as the current labels only list total sugar. 
  5. Does it contain ingredients that I don’t want such as hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup?

If this seems a little time-consuming to you, you might want to check out our Dietitians Choice frozen meals as Harmons dietitians have already looked at all of these things (plus a few more) to come up with the healthiest options in this category.  Some of the meals that meet our strict criteria include Saffron Road’s Lamb Saag (one of my favorite options), Lean Cuisine’s Honestly Good Red Pepper Chicken, and surprisingly (at least to me), Lynn Wilson’s Bean and Cheese Burrito with Green Chile.

Once I have picked a meal, I usually round it out with a couple of other foods that help me to meet my nutrition requirements for the day and don’t contain a lot of sodium such as yogurt, a piece of fruit, or some Ironman Salad (a current favorite of mine from the delicatessen).