NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Finding the Nutrients in Frozen Meals

Finding the Nutrients in Frozen Meals 

 

          Frozen foods have changed a great deal since 1929, when Clarence Birdseye first offered his quick-frozen foods to the public.  Stroll down any supermarket frozen food aisle and the evidence is clear: frozen meals are big sellers, claiming more shelf space than virtually any other type of frozen food. Beyond the old-standard TV dinners, you'll find ethnic (especially Asian), vegetarian, low-calorie, supersized, natural, and organic meals.

          Frozen meals are convenient and can be helpful for people who have minimal cooking skills. Also, preparing meals from scratch may be difficult for people who don’t have enough cooking space or kitchen utensils. Frozen meals, however, give you the chance to enjoy a delicious meal with a minimal amount of work and time.

          Another benefit of frozen meals is that freezing retains much of the food’s vitamin and mineral content.  The flash frozen methods used by today’s producers of frozen foods helps to maintain the original texture and good taste of foods.  .

          Frozen meals may also offer other health benefits – if you look for them. Since the nutritional content for the entire meal is listed on the food label, you can easily check calories, fiber, fat, sodium, and other important nutrients to make sure you are staying on track.

          Eating frozen meals on a regular basis can be healthy as long as you make good choices.  Remember these basic messages to help you select the healthiest frozen meal for you:

          Choose a well-balanced meal. Select whole grains, lean sources of protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Many manufacturers of frozen meals offer a variety of meal options that include whole grains, lean protein sources, vegetables, and occasionally fruits. Many frozen dinners are loaded with fat, which decreases the nutritional value of your meal. Frozen dinners that contain red meat, sausage or cheese are often high in fat and calories.

          - Keep your health in mind. One of the biggest drawbacks to eating frozen dinners is that the majority of them contain large amounts of salt, up to 1,000 mg or more per serving. A diet high in salt can lead to hypertension and kidney disease.  Look for frozen dinners that contain 600 mg or less of sodium per serving because they are the healthiest option in terms of salt.  Reading the food label can help you select a healthy option for your nutritional goals and needs.  Look for meals with lower amounts of sodium and fat, especially saturated fat, and more than two grams of fiber for added nutritional benefit.

          -  Healthy eating starts with smart shopping.  Cost can be a barrier to purchasing frozen meals regularly. Using coupons and stocking up during a sale are great money-saving options.

          The foods you eat are the best way to ensure you consume plenty of vitamins and minerals, so choosing nutrient-dense frozen dinners is important. Many frozen dinner choices lack vegetables.  Those entrees can be low in important nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and iron. Scan the nutrition label and choose a frozen dinner that contains at least 15 g of protein, as well as plenty of vegetables to get the most nutrition from your meal.

          And lastly, here's a label-reading tip: Make sure you check the portion size, listed on the very top of the nutrition label. Some creative manufacturers measure a portion as something less than the entire contents of the box so if like most people, you eat the entire dinner, and you’ve really consumed two or more portions.

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