Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time in the day to cook a full meal. Ready-made meals are a convenient, quick option, but not all ready-made meals are a healthy choice. Try following the criteria below to help you identify a healthy ready-made meal. Use the nutrition label and ingredients list to see how your meal stacks up.
How to Choose a Healthy Ready-made Meal
- Look for a meal that has around 300 to 600 calories per meal. Some ready-made meals have more than 800 to 900 calories, which is likely too much for most people. Meals with fewer than 250 calories are unlikely to provide adequate nutrients for an entire meal and won’t keep you full for very long.
- Most ready-made meals are highly processed, but meals that have short ingredient lists and readily identifiable ingredients are likely to be healthier.
- Avoid meals that contain trans-fat. Choose meals that are lower in saturated fat with no more than 4 grams per meal.
- Choose meals that have adequate protein and fiber to improve feeling full. Aim for at least 8 to 9 grams of protein and 3 to 4 grams of fiber per meal.
- Look for meals that have less than 650 mg of sodium. Processed foods such as frozen meals or canned soups are notoriously high in sodium and many contain more than 1,000 mg of sodium per serving.
- Try to include a serving of fruits and/or vegetables with all meals. If your chosen meal doesn’t include a full serving of vegetables, it’s easy to add more by cooking a steamer-pack of frozen vegetables or including raw vegetables like carrot sticks.
Always check the nutrition label prior to purchase, but here are some brands that are more likely to meet the criteria for a healthy frozen meal:
- Bird’s Eye Protein Blends
- Amy’s Kitchen Meals
- Trader Joe’s has some great frozen meals such as the Wild Salmon or the Mandarin Orange Chicken
- Evol brand frozen meals
- Other brands such as Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice also offer nutritious options, but nutrition content varies with each flavor and not all options meet the criteria.
Make Your Own Quick Meal
If you have about 10 minutes to spend on meal preparation, it’s possible to put together a balanced meal made with whole ingredients and very minimal cooking. Check out the recipes below for ideas. Each recipe makes about one serving. Add a serving of fruit to each of these recipes to make a complete meal. The nutrition information for each recipe is provided at the bottom of the article. The maximum portion size for each ingredient was used for the label creation.
Hummus & Veggie Wraps
These hummus and veggie wraps are very quick and easy to prepare!
- One 8-inch whole wheat tortilla
- 4 tablespoons of Hummus (if you are using ready-made hummus, look for one that has less than 140 mg of sodium per serving)
- 1/4 cup diced bell pepper
- Handful of salad mix such as baby spring mix or spinach
- 1/4 cup sliced avocado
Dice the bell pepper. Spread the hummus on the tortilla. Add the salad greens and sliced bell pepper. And roll it up!
Total Fat 19 g
Carbohydrates 39 g
Protein 12 g
Black Bean Tacos
The only cooking required for the recipe is optional.
- Two 5-inch taco shells (low-sodium) or 1 whole wheat soft taco tortilla
- 1/2 cup canned low-sodium black beans (can use other types of beans too!)
- Handful shredded salad mix
- 1/4 cup diced tomatoes (if using canned, choose a low-sodium option)
- 1-2 tablespoons of salsa (some store-bought salsas can be high in sodium, choose a low-sodium option)
- 3 tablespoons of low-fat cheese
Drain and rinse the black beans. If desired, heat the black beans in the microwave on 50% power until warm (about 1-2 minutes). Dice the tomatoes. Grate the cheese, if needed. Add the black beans, shredded salad mix, low-fat cheese, diced tomatoes, and salsa to the taco shell or soft taco, and serve.
Total Fat 11 g
Carbohydrates 42 g
Protein 17 g
Rotisserie Chicken Salad
Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is very convenient but tends to be high in sodium. Decrease the amount of sodium and saturated fat by removing the skin. The options for this salad are endless, but here are some ideas to get started!
- 3 oz diced rotisserie chicken, skin removed
- 2 cups salad mix such as baby spring mix
- Ideas for mix-ins:
- 1-2 tablespoons of dried cranberries
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup canned beans (drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup sliced vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, or cucumbers
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup berries such as sliced strawberries or blueberries
- 2 tablespoons of chopped pecans or walnuts
- 2-3 tablespoons of salad dressing of choice. Choose one that is low in saturated fat and sodium; vinaigrettes can be a great option!
Total Fat 28 g
Carbohydrates 61 g
Protein 36 g
Salmon or Tuna Pita Pockets
If you don’t have pita pockets on hand, whole wheat tortillas or bread can be used for this recipe too!
- One 6-inch whole wheat pita
- 2 – 1/2 oz boneless, skinless pink salmon or light canned tuna (try a seasoned option for extra flavor although this will add sodium)
- 1/3 cup chopped cucumber
- Handful of salad mix
- 2 tablespoons of shredded carrots (optional)
- 3 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 tablespoon of Italian dressing
- Additional seasonings if desired – add more or less to taste:
- Pinch of black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Pinch of garlic powder
Total Fat 6 g
Carbohydrates 42 g
Protein 26 g
Combine the salmon or tuna, Greek yogurt, shredded carrots, and seasonings in a bowl. Stuff the pita pocket with a handful of salad mix and add the chopped cucumbers. Add the salmon or tuna mix, drizzle the Italian dressing on top, and enjoy!
If you would like to talk with a dietitian, ask your primary care provider for a referral.
See more healthy recipes from Samaritan Health Services.