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September 3rd, 2010
10:04 AM ET

What are healthy options to frozen entrees?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Alicia Perry of Cedar Rapids, Iowa: My husband, who is 50, learned he had type 2 diabetes in March 2008. He also has hypertension. Are there any healthy alternatives to the processed frozen entrees we find in the grocery stores? I am trying to make him healthy foods but it is difficult.

Expert Answer:

Hi Alicia. This is a very good question as many people who are pressed for time often turn to frozen entrees, and while they may not always be the healthiest options, they have improved considerably in recent years. Many of them are now lower in sodium (which is important for your husband, who has high blood pressure) and some even contain extra vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta, which are important components of a diabetes friendly diet. If you opt for frozen meals, I recommend trying to limit sodium to 680 mg or less (optimally less than 480 mg), limiting total fat to 15 grams or less (less than 10 grams is optimal, especially if your husband is overweight), and choosing meals with at least 5 grams of fiber. For better blood sugar control, choose meals that contain lean protein and vegetables and limit meals that contain predominantly starch such as noodle dishes or rice bowls.

Other healthy options include frozen vegetables, which are often just as healthy as their fresh counterparts as long as you don't choose products with breading or added sauces, and frozen seafood or skinless poultry (again avoid breaded products or products with added sauces), which can be quickly and economically prepared. Add spices for flavor instead of high fat or high sodium toppings or try to find low-fat, low-sodium marinades or sauces for both lean protein and vegetables. To save time and money, you can prepare a large batch of brown rice, three bean salad, or whole wheat pasta and re-heat for a healthy side dish.

Entrée salads are another fast and easy option. To save time you can use pre-bagged lettuce and top with cherry tomatoes or pre-cut veggies, pre-cooked chicken strips or a can of water-packed tuna, and low-fat dressing. To make salads extra healthy, top with one-third cup of beans (kidney, garbanzo, pinto or black) and/or 2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds. Soups can also be a healthy option, though many are high in salt, so again, try to limit sodium to 480 mg or less per serving, and choose products with vegetables, lean protein or beans, and whole grains such as brown rice or barley.


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Kathy

    There is very little nutrition in a frozen meal, period, especially if you put it in the microwave. You're eating empty calories.

    The best advice here is to find easy ways to prepare fresh food that has all of its nutrition in-tact.

    People need to STOP EATING Lean Cuisines and the like - it's NOT HEALTHY.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sabrina

      That is not true. Empty calories? The microwave does not destroy nutrients. That's a ridiculous rumor. Microwaves simply speed up the water molecules in the food, they don't destroy protein or vitamins/minerals. Eating a Lean Cuisine can be a lot healthier than many other options out there, especially for someone with a busy lifestyle.

      September 3, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse |
    • Esther

      I agree with you 100%- most frozen meals are pumped with chemicals- the heavy processing is nothing short of harmful and would do nothing to help someone get healthier. People need to understand that making their own fresh, healthy food is totally worth the time. Our bodies are not made to eat this processed crap- which explains why so many health issues nowadays are food related. EAT HEALTHY, FRESH FOOD PEOPLE! It's crazy how far we've strayed from eating properly. Frozen fruits and veggies are ok but those microwave meals are no good for your health PERIOD no matter what claims they make.

      September 3, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Kathy, you really have NO idea what you are talking about.

      September 3, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
    • RevMonita

      Kathy, how does heating an entree up in the microwave convert it to an empty calorie dish? As someone who studied nutrition I can tell you that is UNTRUE. Some people who cannot prepare a fresh meal can still eat these pre-prepared meals rather than opt for junk food. I agree eating freshly prepared foods from non frozen ingredients is best but not always possible.

      September 3, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
  2. Lyndi

    I always bring my lunch to work; saves $, but there's days i'm lazy or there aren't any leftovers and I need something quick (that isn't loaded with sodium). Every few weeks I'll make a big batch of a soup (veg. barley is a good healthy one http://healthy.food.com/recipe/tomato-and-barley-soup-280466), lasagna toss (cottage cheese swapped for the ricotta), etc, and freeze them into lunch sized portions in gladware. That way I can grab one of these and maybe an apple and some veggies, and voila, lunch!

    You can find OAMC (once-a-month-cooking) recipes all over the internet.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ruth

    Trader Joes!!! Reasonably priced and no chemical additives in their store entrees.

    September 3, 2010 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gent's Gent

      I like Trader Joe's too!

      still not sure how healthy they frozen option is.

      September 6, 2010 at 23:55 | Report abuse |
  4. Katie

    I love Amy's organic frozen meals: http://www.amyskitchen.com/

    September 3, 2010 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Kathy

    Really??? I don't know what I'm talking about???

    http://www.ops-oms.org/English/CFNI/cfni-caj37No304-art-3.pdf

    Look at what happens to people who eat this crap, vs. people who eat fresh food. Nutritious food does not come in a package with a list of chemicals added.

    I agree that Amy's is better, but it's still processed, and therefore not as nutrition as fresh food prepared yourself.

    But everyone can keep eating this crap as much as they like - you're only hurting yourself, not me...

    September 3, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MeTarzan

      Ahahhahhahaa! You're using blogs as your evidence?

      What a doofus.

      September 3, 2010 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
  6. Kathy

    http://www.rense.com/general70/microwaved.htm

    And more "tasty" effects of the microwave - dig in!

    September 3, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. ogs

    Kathy:
    It still looks like you don't know what you are talking about. The first link is to a a paper entitled "Effect of Processing on Nutrient Content of Foods", but most of the processes described (dehydration, sulphites, salting, smoking, concentration) aren't used in frozen food. The paper just expresses some general opinions about those effects without any kind scientific reference anyway. Your second link is cute, someone's granddaughter watering ONE plant with stove boiled water and ANOTHER one with microwaved boiled water, but it has zero scientific value!

    September 3, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rachel

    @Kathy:

    Actually frozen veggies and fruit can be more nutritious than fresh because fresh fruits and veggies lose nutrition when they sit on shelves or in the fridge. But frozen foods retain nutrition until you prepare them. So you can get more vitamins and minerals from frozen foods.

    September 3, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. budgie girl

    I love snacking on edamame. I let them thaw or nuke them when i am in a rush.

    September 3, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. MeTarzan

    Kathy sounds a lot like the moronic husband of one of my relatives: he thinks "nuking" foods makes them dangerous because "nuke" refers to a nuclear bomb.

    September 3, 2010 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ann

    Make sure the frozen entree does not include Aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal) if you or your kids do not want cancer. Aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal) is correlated with increased risks of cancer. Before you or your kids drink another Diet Soda, make sure you do not want cancer for you or your kids. New Rat Study Links Artificial Sweetener with Lymphomas, Breast Cancer

    June 25, 2007

    WASHINGTON—A new long-term animal test from an Italian cancer institute raises serious safety questions about the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is marketed generically as well as under the NutraSweet and Equal brand names. A dozen toxicology and epidemiology experts and the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to immediately review the study, which found increases in lymphomas, leukemias, and breast cancers in rats.

    September 5, 2010 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. rcamoro

    you can grow vegetables in your own backyard and encourage your kids to eat healthy
    have them watch this video...
    http://www.say-yes.com/how-to-encourage-kids-to-eat-vegetables/

    September 9, 2010 at 04:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Maria Rodriguez

    Hi, I thought this was a great article. Thank you for sharing.

    http://www.poweropen.org

    June 14, 2014 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply

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