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The Best and Worst Microwaved Meals


Let's be honest--most microwave meals are bought for convenience, not nutrition. Nothing is easier than opening a box and simply waiting a few minutes for it to heat up. But unfortunately, for that convenience we often trade taste and quality. There are a few brands, like Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice, which are marketed as healthy options. Are they actually good options? Let's look at which "healthy" microwave dinners to choose, and which to avoid.

As a consumer, keep in mind that these meals are products--the marketing has been designed to entice you. The packaging might feature key words like "natural" or "light," but these words are only displayed prominently to attract your dollars. Which means it's even more important to check the nutrition information so you can make an informed choice.

Some brands have wholesome options, but can also have unhealthy meals in the same range. It's always important to look at the nutrition information on the package, even if the brand has a good reputation.

A Couple Meals to Avoid

Kashi Sweet & Sour Chicken: This meal may seem healthy at first, with 320 calories and 18 grams of protein. But it also contains 25 grams of sugar--more than in two Krispy Kreme donuts!

Amy's Vegan Rice Macaroni & Cheeze: Vegan is healthy, right? While this meal is low in sugar and cholesterol, it contains a substantial 740mg sodium and over 30 percent of daily recommended fat.

It stands to reason that it would be hard to find a tasty, healthy version of unhealthy meals. High-calorie meals like pot pies, sweet and sour chicken, and macaroni and cheese will generally be worse for you in pre-packaged form.

A Few Meals to Enjoy

Amy's Light In Sodium Black Bean Enchiladas (2): 320 calories, 12g fat (1g saturated), 380mg sodium, 4g fiber, 10g protein. Amy's low-sodium range is overall pretty good. Amy's brand meals are all vegetarian and made from mostly organic ingredients. There are no added preservatives, MSG, trans fats or GMO ingredients used.

Healthy Choice Golden Roasted Turkey Breast: 290 calories, 4.5g fat (1g saturated), 460mg sodium, 8g fiber, 17g protein.

Lean Cuisine Beef Chow Fun: 320 calories, 5g fat (2g saturated), 520mg sodium, 3g fiber, 15g protein.

Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake: 340 calories, 9g fat (2g saturated), 380mg sodium, 8g fiber, 9g protein.

Always Take a Look at the Nutrition Panel

If you decide to have a look at your favorite brands, here are some things to look for when scanning the nutrition panel:

  • Low sodium (less than 500mg sodium)
  • The right kinds of fat (meaning low saturated)
  • High protein
  • The right kinds of carbs (whole grain rice or pasta)
  • Low in sugar
It's also a good idea to skim the ingredient list to see if there are any preservatives or ingredients you don't recognize. As always, the shorter the list, the better. If all the ingredients are whole foods, you know it's a good choice.

Frozen meals are often lower in calories than a typical full meal. Include a side salad, extra vegetables or fruit to round out the meal.

While frozen meals can be a convenient option, you don't want to compromise your health to save time. Because most microwave meals are high in sodium, try to minimize the amount that you eat throughout a week.

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Carolyn McAnlis, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a special interest in preventing chronic disease through nutrition. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Science & Dietetics and a minor in Psychology. After completing a full-time dietetic internship at the University of Virginia Health System, she has developed a passion for convincing others that healthy food can be delicious through her blog A Dietitian in the Kitchen.

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