I eat a lot of frozen meals, like Healthy Choice or Weight Watchers Smart Ones. I know they’re not natural, but they’re so easy AND they fit into my diet! What are some natural alternatives? – Stuck in the Freezer Section

The freezer section can be very appealing, can’t it?  We’re all busy, and the idea of a pre-made, microwaveable dinner is an enticing offer, especially for those on diets, who will be happy to see calories or Weight Watchers points pre-calculated right on the box.  However, you’re right that these meals are typically not a natural choice and are notoriously high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure.  Remember that calories and fat aren’t the only determinants of what it means to be “healthy” – it’s important to look at the whole picture mapped out in the ingredient list, where you will find what’s really in there, listed in order from most to least.  Many of these frozen meals are filled with artificial sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives that are not are not healthful choices.

So, how can you get a quick, healthy, natural meal when you don’t have time to cook?  Let’s talk leftovers since Thanksgiving is this week and we know everyone looks forward to eating them!  Create your own freezer section!  On days when I’m not in a rush, I like to make plenty of extra food and put the leftovers in the freezer, divided into single servings, for nights when time is short. Soups, chilis, and saucy pasta dishes will hold up well in the freezer, and only take 10 minutes or so to heat up.

Stock your freezer with frozen veggies, like these peas (photo from http://www.cascadianfarm.com)

I also like to keep a stock of unseasoned frozen vegetables on hand, especially peas, which help to quickly add fiber and nutrients to any meal without the extra time needed to prep and cook fresh veggies.  Frozen vegetables are picked in season at their prime and then immediately frozen, so you’ll get all the nutrition and flavor of fresh veggies, even if they’re not in season when you eat them.

Need some protein to make it a meal?  Eggs are great in a pinch: they are a good source of protein, and they can go from shell to plate in 5 minutes flat!  Frozen turkey or veggie burgers are also good to keep on hand.  You can make your own or buy pre-packaged veggie burgers, though I’ll only buy a box if I can read and understand all the ingredients.  Sunshine burgers and Amy’s Organics pass that test.  They cook just as quickly as a frozen meal, but are made with natural ingredients.

What’s your favorite quick meal for busy nights?

– Stacey Antine, M.S. R.D., author, Appetite for Life, and founder, HealthBarn USA

Do you have a confession to share with Stacey?  Want to learn how to improve an unsavory habit?  Send your stories our way to [email protected], and Stacey will help!

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