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When it comes to finding better-for-you items in the frozen-food aisle, it can be tough to determine what's what. Jackie London, registered dietitian, author of "Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked)" and Nutrition Director at Good Housekeeping joins TODAY to show us her favorite frozen-food picks as well as top tips to help you make the healthiest and most nutritious choices.
Many frozen items will seem like nutritious choices, but their ingredients tell a different story. The biggest problem I see when it comes to frozen meals is that everything looks just great from a nutrition standpoint, but the picture on the packaging is triple the size of what's in the box (and therefore, too small or too low in calories to actually fill you up and keep you satisfied). So, here are our top supermarket shopping tips for the frozen aisle, plus some Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab Taste-Test Winners (and Runners-Up) we love.
Frozen Food Shopping Tips
1. Check labels and look for more of the good stuff, aka whole-food ingredients that are recognizable (e.g. 100% whole-grains, eggs, beans, etc. as the first ingredient).
2. Look for meals that pack a good combo of protein and fiber (goal of at least 4 grams each) from veggies and prioritize plant-based protein and seafood.
3. In packaged or frozen meals, aim for under 500 milligrams of sodium (aim for <20% daily value of sodium).
4. Choose snacks that include a veggie or fruit in the box (less work to get little ones to eat after-school veggies if it's already provided for you ... and delicious!).
Best Breakfast You Can Eat with 1 Hand
Winner: Sweet Earth's Get Focused Breakfast Burrito, $4, Instacart
Breakfast is tricky, so having morning meals on hand that are quick to prepare are crucial. The ingredients in Sweet Earth's breakfast burrito may sound like they're too healthy to get the whole family on board, but these were a star top-taste-tested pick and features a combo of nutrient-packed ingredients, like farro, kale and plant-based protein. It's one of the only breakfast burritos out there that satisfies on the flavor-front and satisfies our nutritional criteria, albeit, a little higher in saturated fat (4 grams per serving), but since it's beyond satisfying, you won't need to supplement with additional items — it's got everything you need with 320 calories, 18 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber, and just 430 milligrams of sodium without sacrificing flavor (the smokiness in there is from Gouda cheese!).
Runner-up: Amy's Gluten Free Tofu Scramble Breakfast Wrap, $3, Target
Amy's breakfast wraps (and breakfast burritos) are both old standbys in our kitchens (both the gluten-free version and the traditional version have met our rigorous standards — and palates — in taste tests!). The tofu breakfast scramble is packed with flavor, filled with hearty ingredients and loaded with veggies. Trust us, you won't notice that there's no meat in the mix — tofu is the first ingredient in each burrito, packing in about 11 grams of plant-based protein — and provides a hearty breakfast you can pair with a piece of fruit for a little extra fiber in your morning meal.
Best On-the-Go Brunch
Winner: Healthy Choice Power Morning Unwrapped Burrito Bowl, $5, Instacart
Healthy Choice's Power Morning Unwrapped Burrito Bowl is as delicious as it is nutritious. It's basically a whole burrito served up for a fast, easy breakfast or nutrient-packed lunch and it only takes just a few minutes in the microwave. The unwrapped burrito version is packed with veggies, and you can add in extras from leftover sautés or salads that you've got on hand at home (and bring to the office). It's higher in fiber (with 12 grams) and packs in 9 grams of protein (which becomes 17 grams of protein with an extra egg!).
Runner-up: Evol Creamy Basil Veggie Bowl, $5, Instacart
Evol Creamy Basil Veggie Bowl is an all-in-one omelet-in-a-bowl (that turns into breakfast in 3½ minutes in the microwave (or 40 minutes in the oven). While this one's a little heavy on the cheese and cream (it has 6 grams of saturated fat per serving, about 30% of your daily value), it's super filling for just 240 calories, so you'll fill up from a hearty omelet that packs 12 grams of protein and 3 grams of filling fiber.
Top Swap for Toast
Winner: Kashi Whole-Grain Waffles, $4, Amazon Fresh
Made from a flour blend of seven whole grains, Kashi Whole-Grains Waffles, 7 Grain and Whole-Grain with Blueberries, are filled with fiber and protein, and serve as a fun alternative to traditional toast. Both the plain and the blueberry versions pack 7 grams of fiber (the blueberry uses wild blueberries, which is unique — they have a short-season during the summer, so frozen is a great bet!) and just 3 grams of sugar for two waffles. Swap for sandwich bread with eggs on your way out the door, or top with nut butter (2 tablespoons), a sprinkling of cinnamon and chocolate chips.
Runner-up: Van's 8 Whole Grains, $3, Amazon Fresh
Van's' 8 Whole Grains version is similar in taste profile and provides multi-flavor options. Bonus: they're gluten-free alternatives are tasty and nutritious — which is tough to find in gluten-free griddle cakes!
Top Taco Tuesday Pick
Winner: Love the Wild Baja Style Fish Taco Bowl, $6, Target
If you're one of the (nearly) 3 million people who've posted a #tacotuesdsay dinner pic, Love the Wild's Baja Style Fish Taco Bowl is your new Insta-worthy "cooking" companion. These ready-to-heat-and-eat bowls are an all-in-one combo of deliciousness — and they're ready to serve in just five minutes in the microwave.
These come with an automatic taco-element built-in (the corn tortilla is already in the bowl!) so you'll enjoy a protein-packed meal that's full of flavor (with 5 grams of fiber and 16 grams of protein) with every bite. The combo of whole grains and sustainable fish (barramundi) will fill you up fast for just 320 calories per bowl. And while it's a touch higher in sodium than we'd like (25% of your daily value), it packs key minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium, and 80% of your daily value for iron) which will help to offset the higher salt content. Plus, it's portable — which makes it an easy-to-eat option for workday lunches.
Runner-up: Love the Wild's Rainbow Trout Salsa Seafood Kit, available in-store only, select Whole Foods locations
Love the Wild's Rainbow Trout Salsa Seafood Kit is a ready-to-cook meal in a box. Try it with corn tortillas, like Mission, for a nutrient-packed meal that's mess free and packs in 23 grams of protein (and under 300 milligrams of sodium!) per serving.
Best for a Weeknight Pizza Party
Winner: Green Giant Cauliflower Pizza Crust, $5, Amazon Fresh
Not all cauliflower-crusts/snacks/meals are created equal, but Green Giant Cauliflower Pizza Crust is among the most nutritious products you can find (it's even earned our Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem for its simple, nutrient-dense ingredients!).
Made from a mix of cauliflower and corn flour, the ingredients are light in texture and serve as a perfect base for a healthy, hassle-free dinner that's packed with — and primed for — produce. The crust itself is 80% cauliflower (and has 50% fewer calories than traditional pizza crust — a mere 160 per half pie!), and is tastiest when topped with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and loads of veggies (think: spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers), plus any protein (like grilled shrimp or chicken if that's your bag — though it's a stellar vegetarian-friendly option, too!).
Since the base is lower in calories, you can load 'em up with veggies, sprinkle some cheese and low-sodium sauce and make yourself a personal pizza — or, use it as a base for a family-friendly meal, party app (cut into eighths), or serve the Tuscan version solo and use it as a healthier swap for pita bread with dip.
Runner-up: 365 Cauliflower Pizza Crust, $6, Amazon Fresh
365 Cauliflower Pizza Crust purees mozzarella into the crust — which makes it a more filling option in its own right (1/2 the crust is 220 calories and packs in 12 grams of protein).
Pasta Bowl #Goals
Winner: Bird's Eye Steamfresh 100% Vegetable Penne with Olive Oil, $5, Amazon Fresh
Another super-simple base for any meal: Bird's Eye Steamfresh 100% Vegetable Penne with Olive Oil which is made from lentil flour. These higher-protein, higher-fiber pastas are a great base for any meal — just add in a heap of stir-fried veggies and you'll have a protein-packed dinner on the table in less than 10 minutes, that's loaded with 10 grams per serving. You can add protein to these, too — but you may want to go smaller on the serving size since the 10 grams of protein per 1¼ cup serving makes them satisfying on their own. Serve with a side salad and you've got an easy, delicious meal that's lower in calories and cost (compared to takeout).
Runner-up: Luvo's Roasted Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese, $4, Target
Luvo's Roasted Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese is another veggie-heavy pasta alternative that's creamy, cheesy flavor for 340 calories and only 380 milligrams of sodium (that's lower than most other brands!). Plus, the pasta's made from brown rice pasta, making the whole meal gluten-free.
Winner, Winner, Chicken-Finger Dinner
Winner: Tyson Naturals Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips, $9, Amazon Fresh
If the key to life is compromise, then consider these Tyson Naturals Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips your new side-kick. They have a similar consistency as chicken tenders you'd order at a restaurant, but since they're lightly breaded, the coating is minimal, so you'll get that crispy deliciousness without loads of saturated fat and calories from refined carbs you'd find in the standard versions that are deep-fried in oil. They're made from chicken breast and are an easy family favorite: A 3-ounce serving packs in just 1.5 grams saturated fat per 16 grams of protein.
Runner-up: Perdue Simply Smart Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips, $9, Amazon Fresh
Perdue Simply Smart Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips are also made with all-white meat chicken and have 25% fewer calories compared to their original (aka heavily breaded) version.
Hot for Tots
Winner: Dr. Praeger's Carrot Puffs, $60 for six 9-ounce boxes, Amazon
There's a whopping 45% of your daily value for vitamin A in just one serving of Dr. Praeger's Carrot Puffs — carrots are the first ingredient — but they taste just like tater tots (I think they're even more flavorful, actually!). Plus, they're packed with 6 grams of fiber per 13-piece serving, making for a veggie-packed snack or side dish you can serve with just about anything.
Runners-up: Green Giant Cauliflower Veggie Tots, $4, Amazon Fresh
Garden Lites Superfood Veggie Cakes, $5, Target
Green Giant Broccoli or Cauliflower Veggie Tots are another nutritious tater-tot upgrade, and Garden Lites Superfood Veggie Cakes are perfect for after-school snacks or pre-dinner apps. They're made from a blend of veggies (including zucchini, squash, broccoli, cauliflower and kale), plus egg whites and brown rice to make for a small-but-satisfying savory bite.
Dessert on a Stick
Winner: Diana's Bananas' Banana Babies, $3, Amazon Fresh
Is there really anything better than chocolate-covered fruit? Diana's Bananas' Banana Babies come in two forms — bite-sized and on-a-stick, which turns them from car snacks (for family road trips) to an after-dinner dessert (or even a late night treat!). Bananas are a great snack in their own right (they've got potassium and magnesium, which is crucial for blood pressure), but when covered in chocolate, they're even more delicious and decadent.
Runner-up: Dole Dippers, $4, Amazon Fresh
Dole Dippers provide similar fruit-based treats, and you can choose from banana, pineapple and strawberry versions, all of which are coated in chocolaty goodness.