Nutrition Articles

Fantastic Frozen Dinners

Go from Diet Disaster to Diet-Friendly!

Frozen TV dinners weren’t served often when I was growing up in the 60’s. However, on rare, extra-busy nights, I remember eating my meal out of that small, compartmentalized aluminum tray. They were always heated in the oven (since microwaves were not yet staples in every home). Watery mashed potatoes, tough corn, and greasy fried chicken—in no way was it the finest of cuisines, but the novelty made it enjoyable. Eating in front of the TV was always off limits at my house. “We eat as a family,” my mom would preach.

“But mom,” I whined, “Why do you think they call it a TV dinner?” When we were finished, my mom would wash those little aluminum trays to use when freezing her own leftover meals. Back then, our recycled trays held craft paints and rock collections, germinated seeds, and fed every stray dog and cat in the area. Out of necessity, we were all craftier, more resourceful and conservative back then.

Today, frozen dinners make up a $6 billion industry. As a dietitian you may expect me to tout all the horrors and tragedies of using frozen entrees. WRONG! I am here to share the possibilities as well as ways to make the healthiest choices even tastier. While eating in front of the TV is still a no-no in my house, the ole TV dinner has come a long way. It is now more kindly referred to as the frozen dinner. You can heat it in your own microwave in less than 5 minutes, and choose from selections that are varied and superb. No one had ever heard of “chicken parmesan” when I was a kid!

The Perks of Frozen Dinners
  • Quick & easy. Being a practical mom, I know that there are nights when heating a frozen dinner can be the key to getting everyone in the family fed quickly and efficiently, with very little clean-up. Your family can eat in 15 minutes or so and spend some time catching up on the events of the day.
  • Built-in portion control! In the age of biggie-this and over-stuffed that, the frozen dinner is a portion-controlled delight! Few people will actually heat another dinner, and there's no temptation of going back for seconds.
  • Vegetable servings. Green beans, corn, carrots and more, there is at least one (sometimes two!) veggie servings on that tray.
  • Perfect for the single scene. Very few people like to cook for themselves. Whether you're 18 or 80, living in a college dorm or senior citizen apartment, frozen dinners offer great variety for those eating meals alone.
  • Easy prep for all. For anyone who has difficulty in the kitchen due to joint pain, a physical constraint, balance problems, or post-op healing time, frozen dinners can be the trick for easy-yet-nutritious meals.
  • When the cook's away, dinner still stays. When your family's "head cook" needs to take care of business or is gone for a few days, frozen dinners come to the rescue.
  • Economical. Frozen dinners are less expensive than dining out.

Selection and Serving Strategies
So how do you make the best choice, faced with hundreds of frozen dinners and entrees that are readily available?
  • Frozen meals have gotten tastier over the years, but you still must buy and try before you find your favorites.
  • Beware of potpies with crust, Hungry Man dinners, and stuffed-crust or extra-cheese pizzas.
  • Select dinners that are balanced and contain a lean source of protein, such as Gorton's, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Weight Watchers brands.
  • Choose dinners or entrees with no more than 300-400 calories.
  • Choose meals with no more than 30% of the calories coming from fat. This would be about 10-14 grams of total fat if the meal contains 300-400 calories.
  • Select meals with no more than 6 grams of saturated fat.
  • Aim for a sodium content no higher than 600 milligrams.
  • Add on a side salad with low calorie dressing, a serving of fruit, and a glass of low-fat milk to round out the meal. This will help you boost the fiber, calcium and nutrient contents of your meal.

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Member Comments

  • Making my own is a far more pocket and health friendly way to go about it.
  • the only problem with the Lean Cuisine and other "healthier" tv dinners there is way too much sodium in them versus the originals. i like stouffers fit meals they have a lot of protein compared to the others and they taste pretty good my favorite is the oven roasted chicken.
  • I find that the frozen meals have much more sodium content in them than I would like, so I make my own meals and then freeze them in smaller containers to pull out for a quick meal. Even 600mg. sodium in one meal is more than I would like to have whenever possible. I also make big batches of soup rather than purchase the canned soups.
    Can you eat these 2 times a day 7 days a week? I had been doing that, but I've switched to cooking my foods. Honestly, I like my food better. But if it's not ready when it's
    time to eat, it's late when supper is ready and I'm hungry when it's supper time. I'm the
    only one in my household. I usually eat at 7:00PM. But I've gone from 191lbs. to 195 lbs.
    since last Friday, if anyone has a answer, I appreciate the help! Have a Fabulous and
    Blessed Friday!
    I do buy frozen meals because they are there when I come home and am hungry and they keep me from eating something that's not good for me. I have made many of my own frozen meals, and they are healthy, but not delicious. Maybe I will get better at making them healthy AND delicious.
  • I have stopped purchasing convenience frozen meals, and make my own. No preservatives, and I control the sodium content.
  • I agree with the fruit, salad, and milk suggestion, but 300-400 calorie dinners? I'd lose weight FAST at that rate
    A good option is to purchase frozen meals from a company such as http://www.marks-
  • Honestly Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice frozen meal have really helped me. Are the they the Most nutritional choice I can make? No. However they are vastly better than my old habit of eating fast food for lunch or ramen, chips and a dessert. They have helped me with portion control and are much more satisfying to my than a sandwich.
  • Very nice article. I stocked up on frozen broccoli's and green beans this week!
  • Since I haven't been able to stand too long I have been using more TV Dinners. Hope when things improve I will do more of my own cooking Do add more frozen veggies and fresh fruits. Found the article hepful as well as other suggestions. Want to check Amy's products. Have used Amy's pizzas.
  • 34PAYTON
    I never eat frozen meals at home, but they do come in handy - in moderation - at lunchtime during the work week. I usually add some fresh veggies or salad as a side. Moderation is key to my successful dieting, and as long as I don't use frozen meals as an everyday part of my diet, I feel good about myself.
  • I'm with the anti-frozen dinner bunch. Nix on the chemicals, especially sodium. I work two jobs. If I can make fresh meals, anyone can. Here's how: Do most of your cooking in one day. I do simple veggies, like steamed carrots and green beans. Then mix and match with a couple of lean proteins, like ginger stir fried chicken or turkey patties or pan grilled fish fillets. I match one protein with a variety of veggies or take it with a salad. Add yogurt with fruit and you have even more combinations. That way I get a variety of meals by using a few basic items every week. Meals for 5 days takes me a couple of hours one day per week. I put them in Tupperware containers in the fridge.
    Honestly, this person is delusional. The TV dinner or frozen dinners are the bottom of the barrel when it comes to nutrition. Most of these ready to eat meals are more processed then something you would get at Wendy's these days. Don't get me started on the sodium levels!

    I really hope people don't read this article and think it is ok to start chowing down on Hungryman TV dinners!
  • Unfortunately, the stark and now proven side effect to many of those frozen dinners is cancer ... processed foods that have been made from foods with pesticides, preservatives and bpa plastic film. So, not only do you have try to find a tasty, lo-cal, balanced one, you have to find out who is paying attention to organics, bpa free plastic film, low preservative, etc. For example, if I HAVE to eat frozen, I now know that Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice use bpa free plastic film, but Weight Watchers does not (at least last time I checked ... when I also said, "well, I won't be buying your dinners until you do"). And, I know that most ingredients I read on Lean Cuisine, I know what they are (following the "if you can't read it, don't eat it rule), where as Weight Watchers has preservatives I cannot pronounce, much less understand what they are. I prefer to make extra of everything I make fresh and freeze dinners myself. Then I know what's in them, I can control the fat, calories and sodium, and I know what I'm cooking them in. Starting to do this takes a little effort and a little organization, but it's worth it in the end.

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.