There's no arguing the convenience of a frozen dinner; it doesn't get much easier than opening a box and poking a fork into the plastic film covering the food tray. But the downside is that we often trade quality for convenience. When hungry and in a rush, we're not always inclined to read the nutritional small print on a box, but as evidenced by our recent list of the 10 Unhealthiest Frozen Dinners, sodium levels are oftentimes through the roof in frozen dinners, and sky-high fat levels and crazy calorie amounts can quickly negate any convenience.
Click Here for The 15 Healthiest Frozen Dinners Slideshow
With sales declining recently, largely due to an increasingly health-conscious public's perception that frozen entrées aren't healthy, the frozen food industry is working to get the word out that frozen food can be tasty and good for you. A "Frozen Food Roundtable" with the American Frozen Food Institute and companies like General Mills and Heinz is planning an advertising campaign to try and change the way consumers think about frozen foods, and hopefully increase sales.
But while plenty of freezer meals still aren't good for you, there are many choices that actually are. With good ingredients and low levels of sodium and fat, frozen meals can be the great idea they're meant to be, combining convenience with nutrition. You can find organic frozen dinners without preservatives, entrées with no artificial ingredients, and meals that actually have vegetables with nutrients (and some snap) left in them.
No longer are we stuck with a three-compartment tray of mystery meat, potatoes, and a vegetable. Ethnic foods, organic dinners, vegetarian, and even gluten-free entrées are just some of the options available now. From samosa wraps to wild salmon, frozen meals allow you variety at a fraction of the cost of eating out. Keep an eye out for meals with whole grains and at least one serving of vegetables, as well as fiber and protein to fill you up. Fried dinners or those with gravy or cream sauces are not good bets, and avoid chemical preservatives like polysorbate, propylene glycol, and BHT.
Are Smart Ones really that smart? Is Lean Cuisine lean enough? Is Healthy Choice actually a healthy choice? We trolled the aisles of the frozen food section to find out which meals are worth sticking a fork in, and ranked the healthiest by sodium, fat, protein, and calorie levels, as well as the amount of wholesome ingredients. Just because a dish is low in fat and calories doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy; our ranking takes into account the overall level of healthy, real ingredients as well as fat and calorie content.