A guide to healthy frozen meals

Frozen meals don’t exactly have a reputation for being the bee’s knees of modern health and wellbeing foods. For the time poor, a frozen meal is a lifesaver. However, these microwavable dinners are often loaded with sodium, packed with processed meat, full of trans fat, and lacking in any decent levels of vitamins and minerals. But, with the boom of the health and fitness industry, the frozen meal of the past now has some serious, healthy competition.

So, if you’re a fan of the frozen meal, read on to find out how it’s possible, somehow, someway, for these pre-prepared, supermarket frozen dishes to actually be healthy. Let’s start by taking a look at what’s on offer in the supermarket.

Delicious Nutritious by Michelle Bridges

Michelle Bridges’ caused quite a stir when she released her range of frozen meals last year. Known as a leader in the health and fitness industry, Bridges has always been outspoken about the importance of eating fresh, whole foods. But, despite the media meltdown over her deal with Woollies to create the Delicious Nutritious range, Bridges stands by her products and says they are perfect for the health conscious, busy Australian.

According to Bridges’ website, the range of Delicious Nutritious frozen meals are “high in protein, a good source of fibre and have three serves of veg in each meal” while also focused on keeping saturated fat, sugar and sodium levels down. There are eight unique meals to this range. These are:

  • Asian Style Chicken
  • Beef & Tomato Casserole
  • Spicy Chimichurri Beef & Vegetables
  • Italian Style Chicken
  • Mild Massaman Beef
  • Moroccan Style Chickpea Tagine
  • Chicken Pesto Pasta
  • Salmon Fish Cakes

If you’d like to learn more about the Delicious Nutritious range, you can check out this short video Bridges made with Woollies that looks at the nutritional profile of the products in more detail.

Overall, the meals look pretty good and if it’s a matter between one of these and a take-away pizza, then one of the above takes the cake every time. If frozen meals are a staple in your diet that you don’t want to give up, then switching to the Delicious Nutritious brand is a healthier option than some of the others available in the supermarket freezer. Let’s look at some more of these now.

Created by Jamie Oliver

Much like Michelle Bridges, Jamie Oliver caused a little heat over his own range of supermarket pre-packaged and frozen meals, but as far as boxed meals go, these products are actually pretty good.

“Jamie is working with Woollies to promote a healthy Australia” says Kerri Palmer, Head of Brand Licensing for Jamie Oliver “as part of that we’ve developed a co-branded range of food which is affordable and delicious, nutritious, and will help busy people eat better”. For a closer look at the range, check out this behind the scenes look at Jamie’s partnership with Woollies for the Created range.

Not all options are single serve meals, making frozen dinners an option for the whole family with products like Jamie’s Chilli, Garlic & Rosemary Chicken Fillets or Jamie’s Crumbed Chicken Parmesan & Tomato fillets, which can be paired with a fresh side salad or a few raw vegetable sticks (try chopped carrot, cucumber and celery) to add some freshness.

Lean Cuisine

As far as frozen meals go, Lean Cuisine is probably one of the most well-known. The Lean Cuisine brand has stood the test of time, however in recent years has been forced to improve the quality and nutritional standard of its frozen meal products. According to the Lean Cuisine website, their products are “97% fat free meals that are also free from artificial flavours, colours and preservatives” and don’t forget the “delicious extra time on the side”.

The Lean Cuisine product range is divided into five categories, these are:

  • Steam
  • Balanced Serve
  • Classic
  • Pots of Goodness
  • Soups

Some of the range includes the following options:

  • Chicken Chickpea Curry with Brown Rice and Quinoa
  • Atlantic Salmon with Pasta
  • Beef Penang Curry with Rice
  • Lamb and Rosemary Hot Pot
  • Rich Beef Lasagne
  • Indian Tandoori Chicken

Although these flavours sound great, this range probably isn’t the healthiest in the supermarket fridges. For example, the Classic Chilli Con Carne with Rice contains firming agent (509), thickener (1422), sugar and brown sugar, caramel colouring and soy, wheat and whey which can cause bloating and tummy upsets in some people. When choosing a frozen meal, check the packaging for the cleanest, most basic nutritional label and try and pair a frozen meal with some kind of fresh side, even a handful of crisp spinach leaves can give your meal a boost in nutritional value.

Which brand is healthiest?

Have a look at the below table to compare some of the available brands in your local supermarket. Looking at fat content alone, Weight Watchers Beef Lasagne comes in best at 5.2g, with The Good Meal Co’s Cottage Pie in second place at 6.2g. Lean Cuisine has the most carbs at 57g per serve and a very high sodium level of 905mg. It also has the highest calories by far, with 390 per serve.

Although the nutritional label is very important and will help you manage your food intake, don’t forget the ingredients list too. Avoiding additives, flavours and preservatives will help you on your quest to better nutrition and improved health and wellbeing.

Brand Protein Fat Carb Sodium Sugar Calories Serve
Delicious Nutritious Italian Style Chicken 15.8g 9.1g 38.4g 855mg 8.7g 345cal 396g
McCain Healthy Choice Butter Chicken 13.5g 9.0g 41.4g 750mg 5.4g 306cal 300g
Lean Cuisine – Indian Style Butter Chicken with Rice 18.1g 8.5g 57g 905mg 5.2g 390cal 370g
Weight Watchers Beef Lasagne 18.1g 5.2g 37.7g 815mg 11.8g 280cal 370g
The Good Meal Co – Cottage Pie 13.4g 6.2g 26g 952mg 6.4g 214cal 280g

Make your own freezer meals

Ironically, the nutrition side of the fitness industry is built on a combination of fresh and frozen meals – although not the frozen meals like the ones you will find in the supermarket. ‘Meal Prep’ is a common term amongst fitness and health enthusiasts, and basically means taking a little chunk of time on the weekend to cook, bake and batch up a week’s worth of healthy meals, then freeze them for later in the week. Preparing your upcoming weeks food on the weekend has so many benefits, some of these include

  • Saving heaps of time during the week because you don’t have to cook
  • Saving money otherwise spent on take out or restaurants/bars/cafes
  • Reducing unnecessary calorie intake from snacks and food bought on the go
  • Never being hungry because you’ve always got a healthy meal ready to go
  • Improved nutritional quality in your diet from well-planned meals
  • Easy, quick meals that don’t require worrying about what’s for dinner!

For a successful meal prep, you need to make it fun! Turn up your favourite playlist and set aside two hours to cook up a storm. All you need is a big batch of vegies, your favourite lean meat and some freezeable containers. Coles and Woolworths sell these great little glass dishes which you can use again and again and again! Here are some staple ingredients you can pick up this weekend if you’re interested in making your own, healthy frozen dinners

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef mince
  • Fish
  • Sweet potato
  • Peas
  • Carrots

Another time saving trick is to invest in a food processor and make a big batch of vegetable salad to keep you going through the week. Try combining one red cabbage, one cauliflower, x2 zucchinis and a few carrots in a food processor and storing the mixture in a big dish for up to a week. Toss a few handfuls of this bright and nutrient-dense mix into a lightly greased pan, cook for a few minutes and enjoy with scrambled eggs or some baked chicken or fish. It’s a quick and easy way to increase your vegie intake over a variety of meals and a perfect side to any breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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