Healthy Frozen Meals: Nutritionist-Approved Options for Convenient Eating
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This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.
According to Astute Analytica, a global analytics and advisory company, the global frozen food market anticipates growth from its current market of $254 billion to over $500 billion by 2030.
Why? According to its research, that’s partly because the “busy lifestyles of individuals have led to a growing demand for ready-to-eat food products as they are instant, convenient, affordable and equally healthy alternatives to fresh food products.”
In simpler terms, individuals lead hectic lives yet seek nutritious and budget-friendly dining options. This is where prepackaged frozen meals come into play. Admit it, we could all benefit from some meal prep assistance in our kitchens, especially when dealing with busy workweeks.
Convenient and healthy frozen meals
The food sector is producing nutritious frozen meals that are ready to be heated in the oven, microwaved, or quickly sautéed on your stovetop. Another advantage: These meals can contribute to minimizing food wastage, as there's no need to purchase an array of ingredients for a recipe, only to discard unused portions later.
If all of this isn’t motivation enough to start shopping down the frozen food aisle at the supermarket, here’s another incentive: Frozen meals can allow you to expand your taste palates with globally-inspired, culinary cuisines. These fully prepared meals allow you to awaken your taste buds to flavors from around the world without having to purchase a plane ticket.
These African, Latin American, Asian, and Indian heritage cuisines, which are all full of fruit, veggies, and whole grains, along with lean protein foods and vegetable oils, are also receiving the seal of approval from in-the-know registered dietitian nutritionists and cardiologists for their health benefits.
What to look for when choosing a frozen meal
If you're eager to diversify your taste buds but find yourself pressed for time, I've collaborated with my registered dietitian and nutritionist peers to curate a selection of 14 nutritious frozen meals, each boasting distinctive flavor profiles, to simplify your cooking experience.
If you're picking a frozen meal beyond this list, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure it contains adequate calories for a meal. Otherwise, consider enhancing the meal with healthy sides or stretching it with an addition or two. Feel free to add some veggies, dairy, and whole-grain sides to boost the nutrition of the meal.
- Check the Nutrition Fact Panel for the amount of heart-unhealthy, saturated fat content per serving. If a meal provides 20% or more of the daily value for saturated fat, it's considered high in this fat. Adjust the saturated fat intake at your other meals accordingly.
Nutrisystem’s Asian-Style Salmon With Pasta
This particular dish holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. It not only provides a substantial 31 grams of protein, which accounts for over 60% of the recommended daily value, but also features a vibrant mix of carrots, peppers, and edamame, contributing a noteworthy 5 grams of fiber (18% DV) per serving.
The DV represents the recommended daily intake of a nutrient, and the % DV indicates the amount of that nutrient present in a single serving of the food.
The salmon also provides some heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Here’s the best part: I order these babies from Nutrisystem online or over the phone so they're delivered to my doorstep. That's what I call one-stop healthy shopping.
(Full disclosure: I’m a consultant with Nutrisystem, but I’d order these anyway.)
Kathleen Zelman, a Georgia-based dietitian who's founder of No Nonsense Nutrition and co-host of the podcast True Health Revealed, is a fan of this bowl as it's full of vegetables, including cauliflower rice, simmered in a delicious vinaigrette.
She often adds a handful of chopped nuts or leftover vegetables to the low-carb bowl to increase calories and satiety. It’s healthy, has 20 grams of protein and only 170 calories. It’s a winner.
Even RDNs who write cookbooks often need a meal prep break. That's why Toby Amidor, a U.S. News contributor, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of "The Family Immunity Cookbook," stocks her freezer with this spicy frozen meal.
As per Amidor, this widely-loved dish combines the rich Tandoori spices synonymous with Indian cuisine. What makes it even more remarkable is that it offers 11% of the Daily Value (DV) for iron, a mineral that many Americans often lack in their diets.
According to Nicole Rodriguez, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer in the New York area, this frozen meal's taste is on par with her favorite local restaurant's vindaloo, but it's quicker to prepare and much more budget-friendly.
She loves the beef, ginger, and cilantro-infused flavor. Here’s the best part: It serves up only 15% DV of heart-unhealthy, saturated fat so there's room to spare at other meals. Plus it offers 19% of your DV of iron. She rounds out this savory meal with leftover veggies.
This East Asian bowl, featuring curried lentils, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and brown rice, seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, and turmeric, is an easy vegetarian lunch for Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in the Los Angeles area and expert reviewer for U.S. News.
The lentils help provide legumes in your diet. While the recommendation is for adults to consume two cups of legumes weekly, most of us don’t even come close to this amount. This meal can help.
Amy’s Pad Thai
Amy Gorin, a plant-based dietitian and owner of Master the Media, follows a gluten-free diet so this meal is prepared without wheat-containing soy sauce. Bonus points: It's also dairy-free, lactose-free, vegan, and kosher.
She adds a tossed salad with a ginger dressing for a Thai-themed dinner.
When a chef recommends a flavorful frozen meal, I know she's on to something. Chef and registered dietitian nutritionist Abbie Gellman enjoys this vegan frozen delight.
Chickpeas are the primary source of not only protein but also provide most of the 50% DV of fiber, a ridiculously high amount for one meal. According to Gellman, she loves this brand of frozen meals because they always use whole ingredients, spices, and herbs.
While the latest recommendation is that adults consume at least 8 ounces of seafood weekly, on average, we're consuming only about half of the amount.
That's why Lauren Harris-Pincus, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of "The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook," enjoys this tasty, Mexican-inspired fish dish that is made with a mix of corn, poblano peppers and rice. This savvy RDN serves it on top of a cup of steamed frozen veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans, to soak up the extra sauce and add another serving of Mother Nature’s finest.
Another bonus: This meal is actually modest in sodium with only 440 milligrams. And the Alaska pollock is a good source of important heart-healthy omega-3s.
Who doesn’t love pizza? That’s why dietitian Kathryn Piper enjoys Amy’s Spinach Pizza.
“This pizza’s whole food ingredients, nutrient-dense spinach, and fiber make it a healthy alternative to traditional pizza. Top it off with frozen roasted vegetables to increase the nutrients and fiber. If you want to go gourmet, top it with crumbled goat cheese, figs, and basil."
Eating out of a bowl is still a hot trend. That is why dietitian Lisa R. Young recommends the Tattooed Chef Buddha Bowl. The sweet potatoes and chili-coated chickpeas served over riced cauliflower provide a plant-based meal that is high in beta-carotene and fiber while providing 10 grams of plant protein.
If you are looking for a frozen meal with chicken that has the American Heart Association seal of approval, Kiran Campbell, RDN, recommends the Lean Cuisine Apple Cranberry Chicken entrée. This heart-friendly meal contains white meat chicken in an apple reduction sauce with sweet cranberries and whole-wheat orzo pasta.
According to Campbell, it is “a sweet and savory AHA Heart-Check Certified dish full of flavor.” Eat to your heart’s delight.
As a vegan, dietitian Christine Milmine often reaches for the Sweet Earth Veggie Lo Mein for a colorful Asian-inspired weekday meal that gives this popular take-out classic a run for its money. To round off the meal, she adds some fruit and unsweetened, calcium-fortified soy milk.
Combining the traditional flavor of egg rolls in a bowl, this Tattooed Chef Plant-Based Egg Roll Bowl is a satisfying meal, says dietitian Mandy Endright.
It is low in added sugars and provides a whopping 13 grams of protein. She often adds a side of frozen, cooked spinach or kale or tops it with a cooked egg for even more protein.
If you are looking to dig into some Mexican cuisine from your freezer, try these El Monterey Bean & Cheese Burritos recommended by RDN Sarah Harper.
“Not only are these burritos nutritious, but they are also vegetarian, easy to make, and very inexpensive. Each burrito costs less than $1.”
Each burrito serves up 200 calories and 3 grams of fiber. Harper typically serves two burritos with a side of salsa to add more veggies to her meal.
14 healthiest frozen meals:
- Nutrisystem’s Asian-Style Salmon With Pasta.
- Healthy Choice Greek Style Chicken Power Bowl.
- Saffron Road Chicken Tikka Masala With Basmati Rice.
- Chef Bombay Beef Vindaloo.
- Sweet Earth's Curry Tiger Bowl.
- Amy’s Pad Thai.
- Deep Indian Kitchen Chickpea Masala.
- Tortilla Crusted Fish by Lean Cuisine.
- Amy's Spinach Pizza.
- Tattooed Chef Buddha Bowl.
- Lean Cuisine Apple Cranberry Chicken.
- Sweet Earth Veggie Lo Mein.
- Tattooed Chef Plant-Based Egg Roll Bowl.
- El Monterey Bean & Cheese Burritos.
The opinions shared in the GymNation blog articles are solely those of the respective authors and may not represent the perspectives of GymNation or any member of the GymNation team.