Fitness + Well-being

Is Your Frozen Dinner Making You Fat?


We’re all guilty of it: microwaving a frozen dinner instead of preparing a fresh and nutritious meal after a long day. But have you ever wondered what’s really packed inside that frozen box? We went to Registered Dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot to find out.

“Frozen meals can be loaded with calories, fat, preservatives and sodium,” she warns. But it’s not just the nutrition label she wants you to watch out for: “Beware of packing that looks like it has been kicked around, and boxes covered in frost. These are good indications that a meal has been left out for a prolonged period and then re-frozen or mishandled.” To get the most out of your frozen food, Zuckerbrot says to make sure “that any meal you choose has been handled properly throughout its journey to your table.”

Even if you have to stay away from the rumpled microwave boxes, there’s still hope for you die-hard defrosters: Frozen vegetables and fruits are one of the best choices you can make in the frozen food section. Actually, vegetables and fruits “may even be healthier than their fresh counterparts basking on the produce aisle!” Zuckerbrot tells us. “Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that fresh green beans and spinach stored in the refrigerator for a week lost 75 percent of their vitamin C.” And, she adds, “Vegetables intended for the freezer case are flash frozen right as they are being harvested, so there’s a very good chance that what’s in your microwavable meal is still at its nutritional peak.”

But what if you want to eat more than green beans and spinach for dinner? Here’s a breakdown of some of the healthiest brands of frozen meals ... and Zuckerbrot’s personal favorites!

Healthy ChoiceRecommended: Cajun Style Chicken and Shrimp; Golden Roasted Turkey Breast; Pumpkin Squash Ravioli; Roasted Beef Merlot; Portobello Spinach Parmesan.

  • All 300 calories or less
  • Average 4 grams of fiber
  • Average 12.4 grams of protein

Favorite: Golden Roasted Turkey Breast: 290 calories, 8 grams of fiber, 460 mg sodium, and 17 grams of protein

Smart OnesRecommended: Lasagna Bake with Meat Sauce; Szechuan Style Vegetable & Chicken; Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce; Salisbury Steak; Pasta with Ricotta and Spinach; Cranberry Turkey Medallions.

  • All 280 calories or less
  • At least 4 grams of fiber
  • Average 12.5 grams of protein

Favorite: Pasta with Ricotta and Frozen Spinach - 280 calories, 6 grams of fiber, 14 grams of protein

KashiRecommended: Mayan Harvest Bake; Black Bean Mango; Chicken Florentine; Chicken Pasta Pomodoro; Sweet and Sour Chicken.

  • All 340 calories or less
  • At least 5 grams of fiber
  • Average 15 grams of protein

Favorite: Chicken Pasta Pomodoro- 280 calories, 6 grams of fiber, 19 grams protein

Lean CuisineRecommended: Sundried Tomato Pesto Chicken; Santa Fe Style Rice and Beans; Alfredo Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli; Lasagna with Meat Sauce; Spaghetti with Meat Sauce (with mushrooms and basil); Sesame Stir Fry with Chicken.

  • All 300 calories or less
  • At least 3 grams of fiber
  • Average 15 grams of protein

Favorite: Sesame Stir Fry with Chicken - 290 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 19 grams of protein

Amy’sRecommended: Light and Lean Spinach Lasagna; Light and Lean Black Bean Cheese Enchilada; Veggie Loaf Dinner with Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes; Enchilada Dinner with Spanish Rice and Beans; Green Tamale Dinner with Black Beans.

  • 330 calories or less
  • Average of 8 grams of fiber
  • Average of 10 grams of fiber

Favorite: Veggie Loaf Dinner with Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes: 290 calories, 10 grams of fiber, 9 grams of protein.