Nowadays convenience meals at the supermarket can be found in the freezer, fridge and even on the shelves. Like any meal, you want it to be balanced with the right amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, as well as energy and other essential vitamins and minerals. Whether it be a 5pm panic or you need a quick alternative ready in a couple of minutes, here are our top tips to choosing a ready-made meal.
Energy from food gives you the fuel needed to keep you active and your body functioning. An excess of energy over time can lead to weight gain, but an inadequate amount of energy can leave you feeling hungry and likely wanting to search the kitchen for another snack. For a ready-made meal, aim for total energy between 1250-2100kJ (300-500 calories). Make sure to check the serving size of the ready-made meal as the package may contain 2 or more serves. If the ready-made meal is lower in energy, consider adding some frozen vegetables, salad items, microwavable brown rice or canned beans or legumes to bulk up the meal.
A sufficient source of protein is necessary to allow for muscle growth and repair, as well as keeping your bodies full until the next meal. Aiming for 10-20g protein within your ready-made meal is a good guide, and helps to ensure a balance with other macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats).
Fat is an important macronutrient for healthy body functioning, however it is important to be aware of the different types of fat. Whilst unsaturated fats are beneficial in reducing heart disease risk and lowering cholesterol levels, saturated fat can increase the risk of chronic disease. When comparing the fat content of ready-made meals look for two things:
- Aim for 10-18g total fat per serve
- Aim for low saturated fat – less than 4g per serve
Fibre is vital in relation to healthy gut functioning and lowering the risk of chronic disease. Aim for high fibre meals; above 5g fibre per serve. Meals higher in fibre will keep you fuller for longer. Look for ingredients high in fibre including wholegrains (quinoa, brown rice, rolled oats, wholegrain breads), seeds, nuts, and legumes such as beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans) and lentils.
Sodium tends to be higher in ready-made processed foods whereas within homemade meals you can control the sodium or salt you add. Aiming for 120mg or less per 100g, or less than 600mg per serve, will help to ensure you stay below the recommended upper limit of 2300mg sodium per day.
When looking at the ingredients list aim for high-quality whole ingredients. The first ingredient within the list is the highest weight within the product and will usually be shown as a percentage (%). For example, within peanut butter the first ingredient is usually roasted peanuts (> 90%). Other tips when looking at the ingredients list is to see whether fat or sugar is listed as one of the first ingredients as this will indicate if a product is high in this nutrient. More information on ingredients lists can be found here.
The bottom line
At the end of the day healthy eating should be easy. Ready-made meals can be a healthy alternative to takeaway and a great item to have on hand after a long day at work when you are short on time to cook. Saving this guide on your phone or having a look online at what is available can be a great place to start to see what healthier ready-made meals are out there. For more information refer to our nutrition label decoder. Once you have found a few healthier brands and meals, these can be your go to. Another option is to pre-make some of your own meals and freeze them. Check out our healthy, easy recipes for inspiration.