Here's What's Really In Your Frozen Dinner

The simplicity of turning a pre-cooked frozen meal into dinner can be a lifesaver, especially when days are long and busy. With so many options in the grocery store labeled healthy-this and lean-that, it can almost feel like a better option than home cooking. But just how healthy are those frozen dinners? According to LIVESTRONG, they're not as healthy as you might hope.

Prepared frozen meals are often high in sodium. For example, one serving of a frozen pizza can contain 1100 mg of sodium, yet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend for healthy people a maximum sodium intake of 2,300 mg (the equivalent to 1 teaspoon). According to Eat This, Not That!, Americans get more than 70 percent of their sodium from frozen and processed foods, and when over-consumed, this may lead to increased blood pressure. 

If you react with headaches, nausea, or flushing to monosodium glutamate (MSG), you may want to think twice before scooping up those single-serve dinners, as many of them do contain the flavor enhancer (via Mayo Clinic). One report in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Sciences suggests MSG may even cause toxic-like symptoms, but more studies are needed on this.

What to know when choosing a frozen meal

Fat is also important to watch for, according to LIVESTRONG, as some of these meals contain high amounts, which contribute to higher caloric intake. Registered dietician Karen Collins states that most of the marketed low-calorie frozen meals come in small portions, which don't satisfy your hunger for long, and she adds that many of these dishes don't offer a balance of vegetables, fruits, and grains. There are, however, some decent frozen meal options.

When considering a frozen meal, it's important to read the ingredients as well as the nutrition label. The nutrition label will help you decide if the meal is actually on the healthier side by displaying the calories per serving, sodium count, fat amounts, and how much protein you're getting (via FDA). The serving size is important to make sure the meal is one, not two, servings. According to WebMD contributor Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, there are at least 12 good choices to be found in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Zelman's guidelines for choosing a frozen dinner include lower calorie, higher fiber, and meals with fewer than 4 grams of saturated fats.