Nutrition of frozen dinners

Originally Published: April 21, 2006
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Dear Alice,

Recently I've been eating a lot of frozen dinners like Healthy choice and Lean Cuisine. I like them because they are cheap (about $2.50), easy to make, and help me stick to a reasonable portion size. Are these dinners healthy? How processed are they? Are they considered a well-balanced meal? Thanks.

Dear Reader,

Frozen dinners are great money and time savers and can sometimes be a part of a well-balanced diet.  Many brands produce frozen dinners with appropriate portions of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.  When looking for healthy frozen meals, you want to check the ingredients on the box and look for vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, whole grains, lean meat, and low-fat dairy.  

To be sure you are choosing a balanced frozen meal, it is good idea to look at the nutrition facts label on the box. You want to be aware of serving sizes, the number of servings per container, and also the calorie content of the meal.  Some frozen dinners are high in calories and have over a day's worth of fat and saturated fat.  Though the brands you mention tend to be low in calories and fat content per serving, they may leave you hungry soon after your meal, which makes you more susceptible to binging later in the day.  Also, many frozen meals, including the low-calorie ones, tend to be very high in sodium, where one meal can already meet half your daily sodium intake.  Those with high blood pressure may want to be wary of relying on frozen dinners too often as a main source of nutrition.  Frozen dinners also contain preservatives, which you should probably limit as much as possible.   

While frozen meals can be part of a healthy diet if you read the labels carefully, it is also important to consider what else you're eating during the course of the day.  If you choose to eat frozen dinners on a daily basis, you want to be sure there is variety in your diet.  It may be a good idea to supplement frozen meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, since most frozen dinners do not contain adequate portions of colorful vegetables or fruits.  To find out the appropriate portion sizes of the different food groups you should be taking in every day, use the MyPyramid website to help you design your own personalized healthy eating plan. 

In addition to watching your portion sizes and balancing the nutrients you are taking in with every meal, consider what else you can do to stick to a healthy diet.  Check out the Nutrition archives on Go Ask Alice! to read more about tips for eating healthy.  Eat well and enjoy!