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Healthy Frozen Dinners

August 31, 2009

As you know, I like to cook fresh, seasonal food as often as I can, but sometimes it’s just not possible. If I’m home alone or too tired to cook something up, my choices are either to order in or find something in the freezer. Both of these solutions can have their drawbacks when it comes to good nutrition, but when choosing wisely, you can still have a Nutritioulicious dinner even if you’re not making it from scratch.

Frozen meals have never been my thing — I wasn’t brought up on them and I don’t usually like them. But these days many of the entrées you will find in the freezer aisle are better than TV dinners from the past, so I always keep a couple of options in the house for those lazy nights. This past week I tried a Kashi dinner that I got a while ago. Since I keep a kosher home it’s hard to find frozen dinners without meat that have enough protein and calories to really make up a whole meal, but the Kashi Pesto Pasta Primavera has a decent amount of protein, clocking in at 11 grams.

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Because most frozen dinners don’t have enough calories for a meal, and don’t provide enough vegetables and protein, I added a side of bok choy (from the CSA) that I steamed in the microwave and added some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for added flavor. I also added some goat cheese for some more protein. Here’s what my dinner looked like:

IMG_0620Looks pretty good, right?! The pasta dish was made with whole grain pasta, yellow carrots, red peppers, and peas, with a light pesto sauce and some Parmesan cheese. The veggies were very crunchy, which I loved, and it was a very filling portion size. The Nutrition Facts for the pasta dish were: 290 calories, 11 g protein, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 37 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 750 mg sodium. Other than the very high amount of sodium, these nutrition facts are pretty stellar, and with the added bok choy and goat cheese this meal was about 450-500 calories.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing and eating frozen meals:

  • Check the ingredients. Make sure that the meal is comprised of whole grains, lean meat, low-fat dairy, vegetables and/or fruit. Also make sure there are no ingredients that are unfamiliar to you. If you can’t pronounce it or never heard of it that’s not a good sign!
  • Pat attention to the Serving Size and Servings per Container. Most frozen dinners serve 1, but sometimes they serve 2, in which case if you eat the whole thing you are eating double the calories, fat, etc that are listed on the Nutrition Facts panel.
  • Watch the sodium. Many frozen meals will provide you with more than half a day’s worth of sodium (like the one I had), so be careful. If you have high blood pressure, your best bet is to stay away from frozen meals altogether.
  • Add produce. Supplement the meal with a serving of fresh vegetables or fruit. It will help round out the meal and fill you up without filling you out.
  • Transfer it to a plate. Never eat the meal out of the container. Not only will it feel smaller, but it will also feel less like a complete meal than if you have it on a plate.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel. Follow these guidelines:
    • 300-500 calories
    • 10-15 grams fat
    • 4 grams or less of saturated fat
    • 600 milligrams or less of sodium
    • 3-5 grams fiber
    • 10-20 grams protein

Do you have a favorite frozen dinner?

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