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Healthy Convenience Foods

 

A Healthy Approach to Frozen Entrees

By: Jessica Pashko

UVM undergraduate Dietetics Intern

Edited by:  Marcia M. Bristow MS RDN CD

If you have a busy schedule or simply do not like to cook, no longer will you have to give up hope on eating healthy. Thanks to a movement by food manufacturers to meet American public demands, there is now a broader variety of convenience foods that have health and nutrition as a priority. Brands such as Amy’s Kitchen and Cedarlane Natural Foods accommodate the dietary needs of most individuals by utilizing healthy ingredients in their food products. Incorporating a healthy diet into busy lifestyle has become much easier.

Many convenience foods are viewed as a “last resort,” due to their highly processed nature, poor quality, and lack of nutrition. For people with hectic schedules, it’s sometimes hard to choose convenience, frozen foods without feeling guilty about their purchase and concerned about the ingredients. The existing stigma that all frozen-dinners are loaded with sodium, trans fats, refined grains, and excess sugars, is not necessarily the case.

Full Circle, Evol., Glutino, Smart Meals, Kashi, and several other food companies have taken initiatives to provide more nutritious convenience foods to their customers. Some of these initiatives include using a variety of 100% whole grains, such as whole wheat, millet, barley, and brown rice. The choice to include whole grains results in health benefits such as more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition, manufacturers are decreasing the sodium in their products by substituting the excess salt with flavorful spices and substituting butter and high fat cheeses with vegetable oils and low-fat alternatives. These changes greatly decrease the saturated fat content of the food products. More whole grains, and lower sodium and saturated fat have made convenience foods heart healthier.

Another concern has been the packaging of food products and their impact on the environment. Manufacturers such as Full Circle and Amy’s Kitchen have answered this concern by using recycled products and by not supporting GMOs. The movement towards more nutritious, wholesome, and environmentally safe convenience products helps the public to include such healthy food choices into busy lifestyles.

Food packaging labels can be confusing and misleading, which makes it difficult to choose the right frozen product to fulfill dietary needs. Here are a few tips to simplify the process of choosing healthy convenience food options.

 

◆     Calorie Count

Look for products with 350-500 calories because they are substantial enough to keep you full for a long period of time. They also provide adequate nutrients as a wholesome meal. If choosing a frozen product under 200 calories, consider adding a side such as a vegetable, piece of fruit, or yogurt.

◆      Sodium

Try to aim for foods that have below 600 mg of sodium. The recommended daily dietary intake is 2300 mg for healthy individuals, and 1500 for those with high blood pressure. Sodium levels tend to add up throughout the day, so it is important to keep in mind how much you are consuming from a frozen meal.

◆      Whole Grains

Products that use 100% whole grains provide the body with essential vitamins B and E, and minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium. Refined products strip these nutrients and have less health benefits. Keep an eye out for whole grain products by looking for the golden general mills 100% grain sticker that indicates if the product is 100% whole.

◆      Saturated Fat

Healthy fats are an important part of a nutritious diet, so it is important to monitor the intake of those that are saturated. In the aisles, look for products that have less than 3 grams of saturated fat because it will help keep your daily intake to <10%, as recommended by the FDA.

◆      Ingredients

When it comes to the ingredients list, a rule of thumb to live by is that if you can’t pronounce it, it probably isn’t the healthiest. Ingredients are also listed by the amount that they are used in the product. Try to choose products that have a short, recognizable ingredients list. It’s also an indicator that the product isn’t highly processed.

◆      Packaging

Manufacturers that choose to recycle are more sustainable and environmentally safe. Choose compostable and recyclable containers that can be recognized by the green arrow triangle, and are typically cardboard and paper products.

◆      Balance

With any meal, it’s important to keep in mind that a healthy diet is complete and balanced. Products that are wholesome, providing lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables will provide adequate nutrients.

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