Fantastic Frozen Dinners

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

Great article Report
Great information. Report
Good advice. Frozen dinners are so convenient on those busy days. Report
Processed food.... NO! Report
I would love TV dinners because I'm disabled and it's hard for me to cook but my goodness they have so much sodium and I'm on a low sodium diet it's very hard if you're on that diet to eat frozen meals I sure wish I could find some that we like under 500 that were filling. I did enjoy this article though! Report
thanks Report
This article got lots of Sparkers to go off on a tangent. If the information works for you fine, use it & if not get your points & move on to something else. Becky clearly is providing guidance for those who choose to use these in moderation. Don't you folks read or do you just rush thru to get points?

I eat hardly any frozen meals but sometimes bought a couple as backup for work. Most times I'd cook & save leftovers for lunch or eat out & bring some home. However as stated there are times when you're helping a sick or dying friend/relative & don't have time or energy to cook. Or maybe you forgot to take something out for dinner. Both hubby & I have had surgery & frozen meals from the grocery outlet came in handy. I often add extra green beans, grab a container of applesauce, & a soy yogurt. Variety is helpful & sometimes you want something different. I worked full time plus was a union steward & sat on negotiating teams. That meant weeks of 75-90 hrs away from home. I love cooking but when my back hurts & I'm brain dead not so much.
Now I'm retired & can cook & eat healthy. It will undo any damage done but frankly many of the tv dinners are not worse than what casual dining or fast food places serve. I don't advise it for all the time but they can be balanced & portion controlled. Not everyone has an issue w/ sodium, my BP can get too low. So TY SP for providing articles for all points of view. Report
Great article! Thanks for sharing! Report
thanks for sharing Report

Great Article! Thanks! Report
Great ideas! Report
So many choices, but so few that are healthy in all tracking ways. Report
I do a lot of frozen food and try to pick good ones but the salt is hard to get down same with canned soup Report
I try to keep a couple of healthy dinners in the freezer, just in case. Report
It is great when convenience and nutrition come together! Report


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.