Health Food v. Frozen Food: The Best Frozen Meals



You’re busy, but you want to keep an eye on your budget… and your waistline. You’ve thought about buying frozen foods, but they get a bad rap because they don’t sound as healthy.

At least, that’s what you’ve been told.

Chew on this: Frozen foods can sometimes be even fresher than fresh produce! That’s because your frozen veggies are flash-frozen right when they’re picked. Modern frozen foods are not the gross TV dinners of the 50s.  Here’s what you need to know:

1. Know When Frozen Beats Fresh.

Frozen fruits and vegetables get a big thumbs up from Vicki Koenig, a masters-level registered dietitian. She told us that frozen broccoli, for example, keeps more of its nutrients (especially vitamin C) than days- or weeks-old “fresh” broccoli. That doesn’t mean you should stop buying fresh, particularly if it’s local or organic, but it does mean that frozen produce can be a decent, affordable, and easy way to add more fruits and veggies to your daily diet. Try to choose frozen packages in which the veggies feel loose rather than frozen in a big clump, which might be a sign that they thawed and were refrozen.

2. Stay Away From The Gross Ready-Mades.

Some ready-to-microwave premade meals may seem like a bargain, but not when you’re thinking about your health, says Koenig. For instance, Stouffer’s Vegetable Lasagna runs about $11 and serves 12, according to the box. But, each serving has 13 g of fat and 1010 mg of sodium (a whopping 42% of your recommended daily allowance!). And that presumes you’ll only eat one portion, which most people don’t. WebMD suggests that you aim for frozen foods with calories in the 250-300 range that have less than 4 g saturated fat, less than 800 mg sodium, and at least 3 to 5 g fiber.

3. Check Out The Best Frozen Meals.

Read on for a slide show of our favorite frozen finds.

Click the first image to start the slide show. >>

View Slide Show

Veggie Burgers, about $4.50 for a pack of 4.

Chop up some lettuce and tomatoes, microwave a frozen veggie burger (like Garden Burgers or Morningstar Farms) in a whole wheat pita, and voila.

Frozen Shrimp, about $19 for 40 shrimp.

Frozen shrimp is another friend to the rushed chef. Check out a myriad of easy ways to prepare it, from food writer Mark Bittman.

Kashi Black Bean Mango, about $4.50.

This choice is much lower in sodium than the Stouffer’s, not too high in fat, and has good fiber and protein content. The box is one serving, which still beats the cost of a restaurant meal. Plus, it’s tasty.

Lean Cuisine Assorted Entrees, $3-$5.

Sodium is just a little higher than the Kashi option, but it’s still not bad. We love the wide variety of options, such as apple cranberry chicken.

Healthy Choice Roasted Sesame Chicken , about $3.

Healthy Choice tries to keep their sodium content low. We like that this meal contains a main course, brown rice with vegetables, and a gingersnap peach crisp dessert…and still comes in at only 330 calories.

Amy’s Kitchen Tofu Vegetable Lasagna, about $5.

“I like Amy’s Organics because they use quality ingredients,” says Koenig. They have a ton of additional tasty and flavorful options.

Tabatchnick Frozen Soups, prices vary.

All lower in sodium and fat than most other store-bought soups.

Don’t forget to make extra and freeze your own food whenever you do cook! Whip up a big batch of chili or some vegetarian burritos and wrap up in individual portions. Cost: pennies per serving. Health benefit: priceless!

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  • iLikeShoes

    I used to buy some frozen meals for a quick lunch at work, but have not in the past couple years. While there are brands like lean cuisine, etc. I still think you can do better when it comes to sodium, fat, etc. by making things yourself. When we make dinner, we put all the ingredients together ourselves. I do buy frozen fruit to supplement fresh fruit in smoothies, there are some good frozen veggie mixes out there for stir-fry dishes, and I've bought frozen pre-cooked Shrimp.

  • Akrieg15

    My life can get super busy and I frequently don’t have time to cook and I really hate the big box grocery stores frozen food sections. But I often have a choice frozen food or fast food, because I don’t have time to shop, cook, and clean up; not to mention I am a terrible cook who lives alone so things take me twice as long for half as much food! Cooking all the time is just a little unreasonable. I finally found Trader Joe’s which has affordable and healthy frozen and packaged foods. Most of the ones I get are about $2, which are usually the vegetarian ones and the rest are between $3 and $5 for the ones with meat or seafood. But they are the perfect size for one person, have the recommended amount of calories. They are still heavy on the sodium, but if you limit yourself to just one for lunch or dinner and keep the rest of your foods low in sodium you could balance it out.

  • Akrieg15

    My life can get super busy and I frequently don’t have time to cook and I really hate the big box grocery stores frozen food sections. But I often have a choice frozen food or fast food, because I don’t have time to shop, cook, and clean up; not to mention I am a terrible cook who lives alone so things take me twice as long for half as much food! Cooking all the time is just a little unreasonable. I finally found Trader Joe’s which has affordable and healthy frozen and packaged foods. Most of the ones I get are about $2, which are usually the vegetarian ones and the rest are between $3 and $5 for the ones with meat or seafood. But they are the perfect size for one person, have the recommended amount of calories. They are still heavy on the sodium, but if you limit yourself to just one for lunch or dinner and keep the rest of your foods low in sodium you could balance it out.

  • Akrieg15

    My life can get super busy and I frequently don’t have time to cook and I really hate the big box grocery stores frozen food sections. But I often have a choice frozen food or fast food, because I don’t have time to shop, cook, and clean up; not to mention I am a terrible cook who lives alone so things take me twice as long for half as much food! Cooking all the time is just a little unreasonable. I finally found Trader Joe’s which has affordable and healthy frozen and packaged foods. Most of the ones I get are about $2, which are usually the vegetarian ones and the rest are between $3 and $5 for the ones with meat or seafood. But they are the perfect size for one person, have the recommended amount of calories. They are still heavy on the sodium, but if you limit yourself to just one for lunch or dinner and keep the rest of your foods low in sodium you could balance it out.

  • Akrieg15

    My life can get super busy and I frequently don’t have time to cook and I really hate the big box grocery stores frozen food sections. But I often have a choice frozen food or fast food, because I don’t have time to shop, cook, and clean up; not to mention I am a terrible cook who lives alone so things take me twice as long for half as much food! Cooking all the time is just a little unreasonable. I finally found Trader Joe’s which has affordable and healthy frozen and packaged foods. Most of the ones I get are about $2, which are usually the vegetarian ones and the rest are between $3 and $5 for the ones with meat or seafood. But they are the perfect size for one person, have the recommended amount of calories. They are still heavy on the sodium, but if you limit yourself to just one for lunch or dinner and keep the rest of your foods low in sodium you could balance it out.