By Mike Wasyl
“No frozen dinners.”
Despite my mom’s opposition to fattening frozen meals from the box, new, healthy choices have put her age-old philosophy to the test. With both a keen eye for my weekly budget and a voracious appetite for great tasting, nutritionally-sound foods, I venture to find the best frozen meals for under $5.
Guidelines for Your Trip
To find 5 of the best pre-prepared frozen meals for under $5 dollars, there are 5 things to look for when you are shopping according to experts such as Linda McDonald, a registered dietitian and the editor of supermarketsavvy.com, an e-newsletter designed to keep the pros as well as the health enthusiasts in all of us educated.
• Sodium below 600mg
• 3-5 grams of fiber
• Low sugar
• Less than 5 grams of saturated fat
• No fillers, hydrogenated oils (Trans fats), dyes, or preservatives that start with sodium
McDonald recommends “short and simple ingredient lists with words that are easily understood. Preservatives that include the word ‘sodium’ are the first to eliminate.”
Why are preservatives with the word “sodium” bad? Well, for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, research suggests that preservatives beginning with “sodium,” such as sodium benzoate and sodium nitrate, have been linked to certain types of cancers. It is most definitely worthwhile to flip the box or bag to see what the deal is.
Top 5 Picks that are Healthy for you and your Budget
After some investigation, and a lot confused looks, I have combed the local supermarkets to find my top 5 picks for the best frozen meals to stock in your freezer for under $5. And yes, you can eat the whole meal.
1. Kashi Chicken Florentine: Coming in at $3.99, Kashi’s Chicken Florentine boasts 22 grams of protein, 290 Calories, less than 5 grams of saturated fat, low sodium, 31 grams of carbs, and only 1 gram of sugar per serving. With an ingredient list chock-full of vegetables, fiber, and other natural ingredients, this meal will satisfy your hunger and your taste buds.
2. Kashi Chicken Fettuccine: I know what you are thinking . . . Kashi did not pay me to say these things, trust me. The chicken fettuccine tastes great, has less than 3 grams of saturated fat and is even below 500 mg of sodium. With whole grain pasta, barley, and plenty of Parmesan cheese, you can be sure to be filled up and not searching the pantry for more. Price: $3.99.
3. Healthy Choice Cajun Style Chicken and Shrimp: For all of you spicy food lovers, Healthy choice offers a Cajun chicken and shrimp combo for 260 calories, a generous 15 grams of protein, and no preservatives. Don’t be alarmed it’s Weight Watchers ® approved and only $3.89. For that value, you can’t beat it.
4. Healthy Choice General Tso’s Spicy Chicken: Ditch the Kung Pao chicken and get something that you can actually feel good about eating. No artificial preservatives like MSG, 15 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat make this meal a top pick. Price: $3.85.
5. Amy’s Light & Lean Spaghetti Italiano (with meatless meatballs): As to not neglect any of my vegetarian brethren, Amy’s Light & Lean Spaghetti and Meatless meatballs rounds out the list with a meatless twist on your mom’s classic. With only 240 calories, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, and 11 grams of protein, you will hardly miss the meat in this pick. At just under $5, it is a nice alternative to stock in the freezer.
The Bottom Line: For under $5 apiece, you can bet that you will be spending less than takeout and doing your body a favor by buying any of these great picks. The next time you are craving an easy meal, skip the fast food and go to your local grocery store to stock up on some of these great, nutritionally balanced buys.