Here’s the great thing about microwavable meals in 2018: Companies have pivoted away from packing mystery meat with sodium to mimic a flavorful, nutrient-dense entree and created frozen meals along a variety of international cuisines that are actually good for you—including vegetarian and vegan varieties, low-calorie options, and organic dishes.
You get the convenience, ease, and affordability without taking a health hit. After all, once you’ve done your 9-to-5, finished a workout, and completed the day’s chores, it’s nice to sit down to something quick and effortless that doesn’t come out of a drive-through window.
In fact, those who opt for a frozen meal from a grocery store consume an average of 253 fewer calories and 2.6 grams of saturated fat per day than those who feast at fast-food joints, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Those who reported eating frozen meals had higher amounts of key nutrients in their diet, too, including fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
For starters, you have to check the nutrition label—starting with portion size. Many companies try to trick you by labeling the portion as something less than the entire box of food. In general, aim for entrees that have lots of vegetables, whole grains, and a lean source of protein. You should also look at the ingredient list and nix those that have a bunch of added chemicals or preservatives you can’t pronounce. Keep it clean.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for a healthy frozen meal:
- Fewer than 600mg of sodium
- Fewer than 5g of saturated fat
- Greater than 3mg of fiber
- Greater than 10g of protein
To give you a head-start, we sifted through the frozen food section to find out which meals are worth heating up. Here are the healthiest microwavable meals you can eat right now.
Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., is the coordinator of nutrition and team sports dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.