If you’re bored with cereal and PB&J for those nights where you just can’t bring yourself to cook, might we suggest frozen dinners as another possible alternative—especially if you’ve already maxed out your takeout budget?
Yes, frozen entrées don’t have the best reputation—mushy textures, not much flavor, loads of sodium, etc.—but it’s far from fully deserved. Now more than ever, there are plenty of legit tasty options made from wholesome ingredients that will actually leave you satisfied. And registered dietitians agree that it’s worth keeping a few in your freezer for when things get hectic (or, to be honest, you just don’t feel like cooking).
“High-quality frozen dinners can be great,” Phoenix-based nutrition expert Rhyan Geiger, R.D.N., tells SELF. “They come in handy on a busy night when home cooking isn’t an option or used as a backup plan if a meal falls through.”
All frozen dinners are definitely not created equal, though. That’s why there are some factors you might want to consider before stocking up to make sure you’re making the most of your meal—and that your meal will keep you full for the long haul.
How to choose a satisfying frozen meal
1. Make sure it contains enough calories.
Frozen meal serving sizes can sometimes be a little puny, making them feel more like a snack than a meal. Look for options that offer the caloric equivalent of the meals you’d make for yourself, Kelly Jones, M.S, R.D, C.S.S.D, a sports nutritionist based in Philadelphia, tells SELF. If a meal has less, consider how you’ll enhance it to make it more filling. For instance, add sliced avocado on top of a frozen burrito or sprinkle chopped nuts on top of a grain bowl.
2. Look for plenty of protein and fiber.
Protein and fiber work together to help you feel fuller longer, so make sure your meal has both, all of our experts said. Try to choose options that offer at least 15 to 20 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving.
3. Watch the sodium.
A lot of frozen meals tend to go heavy on the salt, which can make it hard to keep your overall sodium intake in check. (The American Heart Association recommends most adults take in no more than 2,300 milligrams per day for a heart-healthy diet.) Try to stick with meals with less than 600 mg sodium per serving, Jones says. (Although the exact number to aim for will depend on your individual health.)
4. Add easy sides.
Rounding out your meal with another serving of veggies adds an extra shot of fiber and nutrients (and also boosts the fullness factor). “I always recommend pairing a frozen meal with a heaping serving of greens,” Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, tells SELF. Sauté some frozen spinach with olive oil and garlic while your entrée is baking, microwave some frozen peas or broccoli, add a side salad, or have a handful of kale chips.
5. Make it look nice.
When your food looks appetizing, you’re more likely to come away from the table feeling satisfied, Rachel Naar, M.S., R.D., a New York City-based dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating. Put that meal on a real plate or in a bowl instead of eating from the package. Add a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs, if you have any around. These little moves can make a pinch hitter meal feel a little more special.
What are some easy frozen meal options to have on hand?
You’ve got lots to choose from. Here are eight picks R.D.s love, plus their tips for turning a decent frozen entrée into a maximally satisfying meal.