Are packaged meals good for you?

For The HeraldDecember 20, 2012 

Dear Lacy:

Can I eat a pre-cooked microwave dinner or ready-to-eat oven meals and still eat healthy? - Busy Mom

Dear “Busy Mom”:

The short answer is, yes. In an ideal world, we could all spend hours preparing our food from scratch, but in the real world, this is just not realistic for most. Some people truly have no time for even minimal preparation.

The good news is you can still eat nutrient-dense, low -calorie and portion-controlled meals with little preparation.

For breakfast, try a high-fiber cereal. With skim milk and a piece of fruit.

For an on-the-go pre-cooked lunch, you may be surprised to know that eating a pre-portioned frozen entrée is relatively healthy. But you should pair this with some vegetables or fruit for a more-complete balanced meal.

If you do not have time to cook vegetables, you can buy the frozen steamable bag of vegetables. Simply throw a bag in the microwave for about 4 to 5 minutes, and they are done.

And, yes, you can even buy the already made family size meals such as frozen lasagna for a quick family night, or try one of the all-in-one skillet frozen dinners. Again, pair this with some microwaveable vegetables to complete the meal.

Keep in mind, these meals tend to be higher in salt, and because they are pre-made you will not be able to use alternate healthier ingredients such as whole grain pastas or lean meats.

However, compared to many American meals, these meals would still be considered much healthier.

Finally, pick the healthiest versions. If available, choose the precooked meals that are made with whole grains such as whole grain pasta or brown rice.

As long as you portion control and fill half of your plate with vegetables or fruit, your dinner will still be relatively nutrient dense and lower in calories.

Lacy Ngo is a licensed dietitian and nutrition instructor at Winthrop University. Contact her at

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