Frozen Foods: Off Limits or Fantastic Time-savers?

When we’re in a pinch for time, frozen foods seem to be the perfect answer: a full meal in a matter of minutes! But what do those time saving meals mean for your health?

I find that the freezer aisle is a very love-it-or-hate it area of the supermarket; either you can’t shake the image of a 1950’s family eating mushy TV dinners straight from the microwave and therefore won’t touch the stuff, or you adore the convenience of a pre-made, high-flavor complete meal that requires no prep (though you’ve probably never checked the label).

I fall somewhere in the middle. The health-food wave is slowly spreading throughout most supermarkets, and the freezer aisle is no exception! The trick to shopping here is to know what you’re looking for and how to compare products.

Here’s my Top 5 Freezer-Friendly Shopping Tips:

  1. Sodium Alert
    Salt has been used as a natural preservative since ancient times, which is why so many frozen (and canned) foods are packed with sodium! The American Heart Association recommends most people consume no more than 2000 mg sodium daily (the same as 1 level teaspoon), while those with a history of heart disease should aim for 1500 mg sodium.  For any large meal like a frozen dinner, choose meals with 600 mg of salt or less. Many popular brands have over 1500 mg in one serving, so definitely start eying the sodium before picking a meal!
  2. Well-Balanced Meals
    As tempting as it may be to purchase just frozen truffle macaroni and cheese, try to choose well balanced meals that have some fresh vegetables and whole grains. Many companies are creating more well-balanced meals using organic produce, ancient grains, and lean protein to help your meal be nutritious as well as delicious.
  3. Look Beyond the Label
    Perhaps more than any other aisle, the freezer is full of items marketed towards dieters. Just take a look at how many have words like ‘lean,’ ‘light,’ and ‘healthy’ in the brand name! While those foods very well might be great choices, a title alone doesn’t guarantee that. Always look at the nutrition facts before trusting the marketing, examining the calorie content (I’ve seen meals range from 200 to over 800 calories in a serving), saturated fat content (the goal is as low as possible here), and sodium amount to make sure your meal is actually a healthy choice.
  4. Bulk Up With Veggies
    Some meals look delicious on the cover but are far too small when you actually pop them out of the box (if you ever see a meal for under 300 calories, that’s a red flag that the portion will be petite). Instead of doubling up, bulk up your meal with frozen fresh vegetables! Frozen produce is often flash frozen right after harvest so the nutrients are preserved, and any vegetable on its own (without any sauce or butter added) is still very low calorie, high in fiber, low in sodium, and high in nutrients. You can add a lot of bulk to tiny but delicious meals this way.
  5. Be Adventurous!
    Take advantage of the wild array of recipes available at your fingertips! Food companies have recognized that consumers like to try foreign cuisines and complex meals that we wouldn’t cook for ourselves, so take a walk on the wild side and try some new flavors. I’ve seen Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican dishes as well as meals featuring ancient grains, unique herbs and seasonings like lemongrass, and flavorful curries.

 

Next time you think about ordering take out or driving through the fast food window, consider the freezer aisle for some potentially healthier alternatives. Do you have any brands or lines that are your go-to or that you’re looking forward to trying? Comment below!

 

Bonus: for some insight into frozen breakfasts, take a look at my Low-carb Breakfast post featuring a breakdown of some popular items!