Frozen Dinner Rules

Is there such a thing as a healthy TV dinner?

Nothing beats the convenience of frozen dinners. Whether you’re pressed for time, don’t know how to cook, or just need a night off, frozen dinners can be ready in a matter of minutes with the touch of a button. But can they be part of a healthy diet? While frozen dinners have earned the reputation of being high in sodium and calories, recent years have seen an increase in the number of healthy options available.

From pasta and grilled chicken to meat loaf and mashed potatoes, the variety of frozen meals is wide. Thanks to the nutritional label on the package, it’s simple to choose wisely if you know what to look for. Here are a few tips the next time you’re in the frozen dinner aisle at the grocery store.

Low in Calories and Fat

When you’re trying to lose weight, watch out for the number of calories hiding in your chicken Alfredo frozen dinner. Choose meals containing no more than 500 calories depending on your appetite, weight loss goals, and activity level.

You’ll also want to look for meals with less than 18 grams of total fat and less than 4 grams of saturated fat. Sometimes a frozen meal may seem high in fat, but your body needs healthy fats and omega-3 fats to keep you healthy and fill you up, so the main thing to look for is the number of calories. A simple way to limit calories and saturated fat is to avoid options made with fried foods, cheeses, creams, gravies, and sauces.

Easy on the Sodium

Like most packaged and processed foods, frozen dinners are often exceptionally high in sodium. If you have normal blood pressure readings, look for a meal with no more than 500 mg sodium. But if you have high blood pressure, aim for meals labeled “reduced sodium” or “low sodium.” You’re usually safe to choose a meal with turkey, fish, or chicken as the main course with a side of vegetables. Meals with smoked, seasoned, or processed meats, pasta dinners, or pizza often signal high sodium, so be cautious.

High in Fiber and Protein

A meal that’s high in both fiber and lean protein will give you lasting energy and satisfy your appetite so you’ll eat less overall. As you peruse the frozen dinner options, check the nutritional label for meals that contain at least 5 grams of fiber and 10 to 20 grams of protein.

Many dinners go heavy on the carbs (rice, pasta, white bread) and light on the protein. While these meals may cost less and look yummy, they can be dangerous for the waistline. Look for options that are fairly well balanced between the amount of carbs and the amount of protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Watch Serving Size

Not all frozen meals are meant for one person. Be sure to check the nutritional label for the number of servings per package. At first glance you may notice only 400 calories in a meal, but a closer look will show that’s the calorie count for one out of the four servings included in the packaged meal.

When you know you’re the only one who will be eating the dinner, protect yourself from the temptation to overeat by only buying frozen meals with one serving. When you find the meal doesn’t fill you up, add a healthy side like a small salad, piece of fruit, hard-boiled egg, or cup of low-fat yogurt.