Sure, we’d all love to sit down for a home-cooked, delicious family dinner 7 nights a week. But with two-parent working families and parents driving to and from after-school sports and other extracurriculars, there are too many evenings where the Mom-I’m-staaaaarving question, “What’s for dinner?” ends up in pizza, take-out Chinese, or a furtive trip through a fast-food joint on the way home.
And maybe once a month that’s a reasonable compromise. But if you find your family is eating out of take-out boxes once a week, twice a week, or more, you might want to consider a convenient, economical, and believe-it-or-not healthy alternative: frozen meals!
If you’ve overlooked this category in the last several years because of high sodium, artificial flavorings, and poor taste and texture, you might want to take another look. Today there are hundreds of options that satisfy in terms of nutrition, variety, taste and budget. And if you learn how to supplement these meals with vegetables and fruit, you can enjoy a very healthy, convenient diet that has the added advantage of automatic portion control for any family members who are managing their weight.
In my ebook, A Common Cent$ Diet for Busy Girls, I teach you how you can eat a healthy, portion-controlled diet with a frozen food entree for lunch and dinner, supplementing as needed with a side salad, vegetable, or fruit. My mealplans are carefully constructed to meet your caloric and nutritional requirements, while keeping sodium to less than 2000 mg (or 1500 for lower sodium) per day.
For families, these same frozen meals are a great back-up option for nights when you’re too busy to cook. Toss a quick salad or plate of cut-up fruit for a group side dish, and then let everyone microwave their own entree! If you have a big freezer, you can stock quite a bit of food in advance, saving yourself many trips to the grocery store. And frozen foods are also a great option if you have an older child or teen at home alone for dinner some night.
Frozen foods can also be economical, especially when compared to a typical fast food meal, which is not so cheap anymore. A burger, medium fries, and a soda at a major chain will set you back about $6 in most parts of the country — double the cost of a frozen entree meal. Frozen entree costs range widely — some are quite inexpensive (less than $2) but the cheapest may also be quite ‘skimpy’ on the portions. Some cost more, but they incorporate better, even organic ingredients.
You can also save money by shopping at membership discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club, and by taking advantage of smart coupon clipping at company websites. Weightwatchers’ Facebook page also offers coupons.
Here are my seven favorite healthy frozen food companies, with some of my favorite entree choices:
All of Amy’s foods are made from organic foods, and are vegetarian. Coupons are often available on the website.
Amy’s Bowl: Light in Sodium – Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl:260 cals, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 g fiber, 270 mg sodium: As a lunch (plus a serving of fresh fruit, such as a cup of cubed cantaloupe)
Cedarlane Natural Foods: all natural frozen foods.
Cedarlane Burrito: Low Fat Chicken Burrito: 270 cals, 3 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 6 g fiber, 500 mg sodium: as a dinner, add 3 cups of salad greens plus 2 tbs low-fat salad dressing (approximately 15-30 cals per tbs) or 2 cups frozen veggies (microwave with entrée)
Healthy Choice products are: Low in fat and saturated fat; Controlled in sodium and cholesterol. Coupons often available on the website.
Healthy Choice Complete Meals – Sweet & Tangy Chicken BBQ: 310 cals, 3.5 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 6 g fiber, 470 mg sodium
All frozen entrées served over Kashi® 7 Whole Grains Pilaf
Kashi Frozen Entrée: Black Bean Mango: 340 cals, 8 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 7 g fiber, 380 mg. sodium
There are over 120 varieties to choose from. On the website, sign up for their “Delicious Rewards” program, where you can earn points by entering codes you find in the food boxes, and redeem your points for kitchenware, dining decor, and more.
Lean Cuisine Dinnertime Cuisine: Grilled Chicken & Penne Pasta: 340 cals, 5 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 4 g fiber, 500 mg sodium
Organic Bistro: Meals and Bowls
Single-serving frozen meals and bowls
Organic Bistro, Meal: Wild Alaska Salmon: 380 cals, 13 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 6 g fiber, 240 mg sodium
Smart Ones (Weight Watchers Smart Ones)
Weight Watchers® Smart Ones® has new flavors and many customer favorites have been improved.
Smart Ones, Fruit Inspirations: Cranberry Turkey Medallions: 250 cals/2 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 4 g fiber, 460 mg sodium
Registered and Licensed Dietitian Susan Burke March is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Her latest project is her new eBook for convenient weight loss, The Common Cent$ Diet for Busy Girls, www.thecommoncentsdiet.com. Susan consults with individuals and companies to create personalized and practical weight management solutions. Email her at Susan@SusanBurkeMarch.com
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