Warm Up to Frozen Foods

Those Good Old "TV Dinners" Have Come a Long Way

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Every Saturday night when I was growing up, as my folks were putting on their dancing clothes, us kids were eating our favorite "TV dinners."

We delighted in the weekly ritual of these compartmentalized meals. We dreamed of being on an airplane, traveling to an exotic location, as we munched away on fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and last but not least, those yummy apples.

Our choices back then were pretty slim: the chicken, meatloaf, turkey, and a few others.

Today, frozen food aisles are stocked from floor to ceiling with a huge selection of "light: and regular frozen dinners. Along with the traditional selections, you can choose from assorted ethnic meals, healthy cuisine, and super-sized meals.

The good news for dieters is that there are plenty of healthy meals that are really quite tasty.

Perfect Portion Control

The best part about a frozen dinner is the convenience: Pop it into a microwave or oven and in no time, your meal is ready.

But frozen dinners are also an excellent way to insure proper portion control. You can learn a great deal by looking at the package information on portion size and equating this to the foods you prepare at home or eat at restaurants. (Airline meals are another good source of information about portion control.)

Read the Label

If your eating plan calls for a "quick meal, light frozen dinner with a light sauce," we estimate that the dinner will contain roughly equal to or less than:

  • 300 calories.
  • 8 grams of fat.

If the prescription is for a "quick meal, regular frozen dinner with a cream sauce" we estimate that it will contain roughly equal to or less than:

  • 400 calories.
  • 25 grams of fat.

Look for meals that feature lots of vegetables and whole grains -- found in many of the "healthy" brands of frozen dinners. Also, try to choose frozen meals that contain less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium.

The quantity of food found in most frozen dinners may not be enough to keep you satisfied, so chances are your plan will also recommend a side dish.

You can supplement your frozen meal with a tossed green or spinach salad with a light salad dressing, a cup of vegetable soup, and other fruits and/or vegetables. Add a serving of whole grain bread and a glass of skim milk, and you have a perfectly nutritious and delicious dinner.

Do It Yourself

Spend a day making a pot of stew or a family favorite recipe that has been lightened by Elaine Magee, our "Recipe Doctor", and freeze it in individual portions. This is a great and economical approach for people who live alone.

Just pop a portion into the microwave, add the healthy side dishes, and you have a quick and easy meal in next to no time.

Originally published April 25, 2003.
Medically updated Sept. 1, 2004.

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