Frozen Foods: They're Convenient, but Are They Healthy?

Train right with tips and tricks and of the trade from Chris Carmichael and Carmichael Training Systems.

Apr 26, 2006
Outside Magazine

Carmichael Training SystemsTM

Most people know that fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats are solid nutritional bets, but not many people have the time to prepare these items on a daily basis. Because of our constant on-the-go lifestyle, frozen foods have become a staple in the diets of many Americans. But in the age of "the quicker the better," quick doesn't have to mean unhealthy.

Like every section of the supermarket, the frozen food aisles are packed with good nutrition positives and pitfalls. It's just a matter of being choosy.

On the whole, buying frozen foods can have its upside. For example, you can buy foods such as berries and vegetables all year round. Since they're flash-frozen right in the fields or close by, the freshness is preserved, and nutritional benefits are still intact. Simply thaw and eat the berries, or lightly steam the vegetables instead of boiling them, but watch out for added sauces and syrups that can bring unhealthy elements to the table.

Although frozen dinners usually get a bad rap, more and more companies are coming up with healthier versions of your traditional TV dinner. The one good quality all frozen meals have is portion control. You can sit down to a meal and know exactly how much you're eating. However, you have to pay close attention to the nutrition labels on frozen meals. Just because they are small doesn't mean they are good for you. Here's what to look for:

1. Number of Servings: Most people eat a frozen meal in one sitting; however, many of the smaller meals are actually more than one serving. This means that when you are looking at the calories, fat, or anything else on the label, you'll have to multiply it by the number of servings.

2. Calories: Remember, if it's your meal, lower isn't always better. A very low-calorie meal (200 to 300 cals) will leave you hungry and more likely to snack later. Since many frozen meals are low in calories, add some veggies, whole-wheat pasta, or brown rice to them. Of course, also watch the calories on the high end, too. Most frozen meals that are high in calories are also very high in fat.

3. Fat and Saturated Fat: It is common for frozen meals to be very high in fat and saturated fat. Make sure you choose meals that contain less than 30 percent of their calories coming from total fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat.

4. Sodium: As with any processed foods, sodium is something to watch carefully. Choose frozen meals with no more than 200mg of sodium for every 100 calories.

Smart Choices

Amy's Black Bean Burrito
Calories: 280
Fat (g): 8
Sat Fat (g): 1
Sodium (mg): 580

Amy's Brown Rice and Vegetables
Calories: 250
Fat (g): 8
Sat Fat (g): 1
Sodium (mg): 250

Michelina's Lean Gormet - Roasted Red Pepper Spaghetti (100 percent whole wheat pasta)
Calories: 230
Fat (g): 4.5
Sat Fat (g): 2
Sodium (mg): 380

Healthy Choice Grilled Turkey Breast
Calories: 250
Fat (g): 5
Sat Fat (g): 2
Sodium (mg): 500

Lean Cuisine Dinnertime Selections - Grilled Chicken & Penne Pasta
Calories: 340
Fat (g): 6
Sat Fat (g): 2.5
Sodium (mg): 680

Lean Cuisine Dinnertime Selections - Teriyaki Steak
Calories: 340
Fat (g): 7
Sat Fat (g): 2.5
Sodium (mg): 690

Steer Clear

Little Juan's Beef and Bean Burrito
Calories: 350
Fat (g): 14
Sat Fat (g): 5
Sodium (mg): 570

Hungryman Mexican Style Fiesta
Calories: 870
Fat (g): 38
Sat Fat (g): 10
Sodium (mg): 2230

Stouffer's White Meat Chicken Pot Pie
Calories: 1260
Fat (g): 70
Sat Fat (g): 30
Sodium (mg): 1920

Marie Calander's Meat Lasagna
Calories: 600
Fat (g): 23
Sat Fat (g): 13
Sodium (mg): 2375

Hungryman XXL - Roasted Carved Turkey
Calories: 1450
Fat (g): 58
Sat Fat (g): 26
Sodium (mg): 5410

Swanson's Sports Grill, Pulled Pork with BBQ Sauce in Flatbread & Cheese Fries
Calories: 810
Fat (g): 44
Sat Fat (g): 18
Sodium (mg): 1820

Train right with tips and tricks and of the trade from Chris Carmichael and Carmichael Training Systems, at

Filed To: Nutrition