The frozen food aisle is heating up! With frozen food companies revamping their products to include more healthful, flavorful, “real food” ingredients, consumers are responding. For the first time in five years, the frozen food market is growing.
Check out my TV segment “Frozen Meals are Back in Style” with ABC-7 Los Angeles.
Today, thanks to the variety — vegan, natural, gluten-free, organic, ethnic, and even artisan — there is truly something for everyone in the frozen food aisle. However, the challenge remains to choose the frozen meals that will satisfy your hunger and fuel your body properly — without the excess sodium and junk. The good news: is it is possible with a few helpful tips. In fact, research shows when chosen wisely, frozen foods can be just as healthful, if not more so, than their fresh counterparts.
Here are ten tips on selecting the healthiest frozen foods for you and your family.
1. Go for fiber. When selecting frozen meals, try to choose options that have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. This will help with gut health and keep you fuller longer, which means less snacking in-between meals.
2. Ensure adequate protein. Protein is a vital nutrient to include in your everyday diet, so make sure your frozen meals have at least 15 grams of protein. Having an adequate amount of protein in your diet will increase satiety and help with weight management.
3. Watch the sodium. Consuming too much sodium can put a strain on your heart, kidneys, and cause bloating. So, to give your body a break (and reduce water retention), a good guide is to select meals with fewer than 600 milligrams of sodium.
4. Season yourself. Pre-seasoned frozen vegetables can be high in sodium, so just buy plain frozen vegetables and season them yourself at home. They will probably taste better, too!
5. Ignore the extras. Skip the vegetables that have added starch (like rice or pasta) and go for the “plain” options instead. However, if you still want to add a side dish, make your own at home. Not only will this taste better, but it will also help with reducing sodium and fat content.
6. Stick with just fruit. Frozen fruit, which is picked and flash frozen at the peak of ripeness, can be even more nutritious than fresh. The key is sticking with 100 percent fruit. Avoid frozen varieties with added sugar or syrups.
7. Avoid fried foods. While they may taste good, fried foods add excess calories, sodium, and fat to any diet, so try and avoid purchasing fried chicken or fish. Instead, choose the non-fried option and sauté or bake it yourself at home with fresh herbs and spices for added taste and increased nutrition.
8. Choose sustainable, low mercury level fish. When it comes to choosing frozen fish, go for more sustainable options that have lower mercury levels, such as salmon, tilapia, shrimp, and oysters. (See what seafood choices are lowest in mercury and best for the ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program).
9. Balance it out. To get the most out of your frozen meals, select choices that give you a good balance of vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. This will help give you the best bang for your nutrition buck while still satisfying your taste buds.
10. Don’t overdo the calories. To keep a handle on your calories, choose a meal that contains about 400-500 calories, or to personalize it, about a quarter of your daily calorie needs (assuming you eat three meals a day and one or two small snacks).