The frozen foods aisle houses a lot of convenient and nutritious time-savers like frozen veggies and healthy frozen meals—but it also gives refuge to some of the saltiest, most fattening foods in the grocery store. Here's my list of foods to snag and foods to skip in the freezer case.
1) Frozen Entrée
WORST: Marie Callender's Creamy Parmesan Chicken Pot Pie
Marie Callender's pot pies are "prepared with loved"...as well as a whole lot of salt, fat, and refined starch. They start with a "golden, flaky crust" made from white flour, butter fat, and partially hydrogenated shortening, then fill it with chicken and vegetables coated in a sauce made from half and half and full-fat cheeses. One chicken pot pie (that's two servings according to the nutrition label) doles out 1100 calories, 18 grams saturated fat (nearly a full day's allowance), and 1440 mg sodium. Don't make any room in your cart for these!
BEST: Lightlife Zesty Mexican Entrée
Unlike many frozen dinners, Lightlife meals have ingredient lists that are short and sweet, just how I like it. Their fresh, flavorful Zesty Mexican entrée features pinto and black beans, whole grain brown rice, fire-roasted peppers, and corn in a zesty tomato sauce, and delivers not one, not two, but THREE servings of vegetables, along with 12 grams of fiber. The entire meal has just 330 calories and 300 mg sodium—pretty impressive stats for a convenience food! Lightlife frozen meals are currently available only in the Mid-Atlantic states, but the company plans to eventually expand distribution nationwide. If you live outside this region, I recommend trying one of Kashi's frozen entrees, which are just as clean and healthy.
2) Frozen Chicken Product
WORST: Tyson Any'tizers Buffalo Style Hot Wings
Chicken wings may be white meat, but they have a high ratio of skin to meat, which means they're loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat. These wings go from bad to worse when they're doused in a greasy, salty buffalo sauce. All in all, one measly portion of three chicken wings (who eats just three wings?) delivers 230 calories, 4 grams saturated fat, and 580 mg sodium.
BEST: Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets
These nuggets are made from whole chunks of skinless, antibiotic-free white breast meat—not pressed meat with added fillers, like many brands of frozen nuggets. Plus, they're lower in saturated fat and salt than most of their competitors. Home-cooked meals are always best, but it's smart to keep a few fall-back dinner options like frozen nuggets in the freezer for hectic nights when you're pressed for time.
3) Frozen Vegetable
WORST: Birds Eye Green Beans & Spaetzle in Bavarian Style Sauce
Even something as healthy and wholesome as green beans can take a turn for the worse...just add refined white starchy noodles and drench everything in a rich, buttery sauce loaded with unhealthy fat. One serving of this side dish doles out 3.5 grams of saturated fat and nearly 400 mg sodium. No thanks, Birds Eye—I'll stick with your plain, undoctored frozen green beans!
BEST: Frozen Butternut Squash
Any plain frozen vegetable without added salt, sugar, or sauce is a winner in my book, but my favorite du jour is frozen peeled and diced butternut squash, like the kind from Stahlbush Island Farms. Fresh butternut squash is one of those veggies that gets skipped over in the produce section because it's a bit high-maintenance when it comes to prep. But if you buy it frozen, already peeled and cut, it's incredibly easy to add to soups, chilis, or pasta dishes. And it's brimming with good nutrition—a one-cup serving provides 80% of your daily needs for vitamin A (as beta carotene), as well as 30% of your vitamin C quota.
WORST: Eggo Cinnamon Toast Waffles
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why start off on the wrong foot with a stack of sugary, refined white bread? A serving of Eggo Cinnamon Toast waffles delivers 300 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat, plus almost 500 mg of sodium and more than 4 teaspoons of added sugar—and that's before you factor in the butter and syrup that typically goes on top. Talk about empty calories!
BEST: De Wafelbakkers A+ Cinnamon Sweet Potato Waffles
These waffles are a terrific find! They're made with 100% whole grain flours mixed with real sweet potato and are so moist and delicious on their own that you don't even need to add sugary syrup or toppings. One serving (3 good-sized waffles) is only 190 calories, 0.5 gram saturated fat, and 135 mg sodium, and you get 3 grams of filling fiber to boot!
5) Ice Cream
WORST (It's a tie!): Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup & Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter
It seems these two premium ice cream manufacturers are in a cutthroat competition to out-do one another for the title of richest, most over-the-top ice cream. A 1/2-cup scoop of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream will cost you 340 calories, 12 grams saturated fat (half your allotment for the day!), 24 grams of sugar, and comes packaged with hydrogenated oils. The same portion of Haagen-Dazs' Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream contains 360 calories, 11 grams saturated fat, and 24 grams of sugar. And, if you have a couple of scoops, you'll need to double or triple the calories and fat. That's some scary math!
BEST: Edy's/Dreyer's Slow Churned Light Vanilla
Now here's a cool, creamy treat I can get behind. A ½-cup portion has just 100 calories—less than a third of the calories in one scoop of the flavors mentioned above. It's made with a combination of whole and fat-free milk, which drives down the saturated fat to just 2 grams per serving. If you think you have to sacrifice taste and texture to save on calories, think again. Edy's has fully mastered the churning process to produce a fluffy, rich light ice cream that fools even the savviest of taste buds.