Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Top 12 Healthy Frozen Dinners

Roasted poblano chilies, steak tips with Portobello mushroom, pumpkin squash ravioli … these sound like mouth-watering restaurant entrees, but you can get them at your local supermarket. Just stroll down the freezer aisle to find these and many other enticing frozen dinners that can be ready in minutes. Frozen dinners are hotter than ever, claiming more shelf space than most any other type of frozen food. Forget the old-fashioned TV dinner featuring Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Today, you can find ethnic, vegetarian, low-calorie, supersized, natural, and organic meals on your frozen food aisle. Frozen meals these days are trending toward less sodium, more vegetables, zero trans fats, more fiber, and 100% whole grains, says Leah McGrath, RD, corporate dietitian for the Ingles grocery chain. Some of the latest frozen meal choices include paninis/grilled sandwiches, gluten-free meals, and steamer bowls. "Steaming is the hottest trend with frozen meals because of a new technology that allows you to steam in the container," she says. "And that word 'steam' means healthy, lower fat, and easy to most consumers, so it has been a big seller." It's no surprise frozen dinners are popular. They're fast, convenient, and pre-portioned, a boon for singles, busy families, dieters, older people, and office workers. They can also be a money-saver when compared to restaurant meals. "At a time when most people are looking to save money, a frozen meal costing between $2.50-$4 is less expensive than eating out," says McGrath. With so many choices, the challenge is to find frozen meals that taste good, satisfy your hunger , and are healthy. WebMD went to the supermarket to find out which frozen dinners fit the bill. Best Frozen Meals: 12 Healthy Options There are too many healthy frozen dinners on the market to list, but here are 12 of the healthiest to consider when choosing your next frozen entree. All are relatively low in calories and fat, have some protein for satiety, and are not too high in sodium: Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake Healthy Choice Cajun Style Chicken and Shrimp Lean Cuisine Sundried Tomato Pesto Chicken Healthy Choice Pumpkin Squash Ravioli Kashi Black Bean Mango Lean Cuisine Beef Chow Fun Smart Ones Thai Style Chicken Rice Noodles Healthy Choice Sweet Asian Potstickers Lean Cuisine Glazed Chicken Kashi Ranchero Beans Smart Ones Cranberry Turkey Medallions Healthy Choice Café Steamer 5 Spice Beef & Vegetable How to Choose Frozen Dinners Ready to find your own favorite frozen meals? There's no getting around it: You'll need to read the "nutrition facts" panel on the package to see whether your choice is a healthy one. In general, look for meals that include one or more servings each of vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat, fish, or poultry. These tend to be lower in calories and higher in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber (which helps fill you up). Skip frozen dinners with cream sauces, gravies, or fried foods. And although dessert may look like a bonus, experts suggest having a piece of fresh fruit instead, for more fiber, nutrition, and fewer calories. Here are the experts’ guidelines for choosing a healthy frozen dinner. Keep in mind that some healthy meals will meet some, but not all, of these recommendations: 300-500 calories 10-18 grams of total fat, or less than 30% of total calories Less than 4 grams of saturated fat Less than 600 milligrams of sodium 3-5 grams of fiber 10% of the Recommended Daily Value of vitamins or minerals 10-20 grams of protein It's also important to pay attention to serving sizes. Although they may be lower in calories, smaller entrees may leave you hungry. But don't be afraid to add a few extras to boost nutrition and satisfaction, experts say. "Adding fruit, a side salad, and low-fat dairy boosts the nutritional value of the meal [and] adds fiber and calories, so it will fill you up and satisfy your hunger," says, Linda McDonald, MS, RD, editor of Supermarket Savvy newsletter. If you want to boost the protein, add 1/2 cup of beans or a sprinkling of nuts to your meal. The Facts on Frozen Dinners One thing to watch for: Even with a trend toward lower sodium, most frozen meals are high in it, says McDonald. "Sticking with the brands that claim to be lighter and healthier (such as Lean Cuisine, Kashi, Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers Smart One’s) makes it easier to make a healthier choice since they must be low in fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol to meet the Food and Drug Administration requirements for 'healthy' meals," she says. But there are no guarantees. You still need to read the label to be certain. Look for frozen meals with less than 800 milligrams of sodium (that's about 1/3 of a day's recommended allotment). If you're on a low-sodium diet , divide your recommended daily number of sodium milligrams by three, and use that number as a guide. Although most brands of frozen meals are reputable, some labels may use wording that could mislead you. For example, it's not always clear what makes products labeled "natural" qualify for that terminology. And, some labels boast that their dinners are "preservative free" – but most frozen meals don't include preservatives anyway, because freezing prevents spoilage. The bottom line: Don't assume a product is healthy without checking out the nutrition facts panel. Article courtesy of WebMD

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