week of healthy dinners: ready meals

By Live Dr - Wed Sep 03, 9:34 am

Written by Nigel Denby, dietician

In part one dietician Nigel Denby created a seven-day plan for healthy dinners. But what if you can’t always find the time to cook? Here’s his guide to buying ready meals.

If you rely heavily on ready meals, there are a number of things you can look out for to make sure you opt for the healthiest choice possible.

Use nutritional signposting

© Digital Vision/Getty - nutritional 			 signposting

That’s GDAs or traffic lights to you and me. The coloured logo or the percentages on the packet are there for your benefit and can really help.

    Guideline daily amounts

    The guideline daily amounts (GDAs) tell you how one portion of a ready meal contributes to your requirements for energy, fat, saturated fat and salt.

    Assuming you aren’t adding anything else to a meal, a single serving should provide no more than 33 per cent of your GDA for each nutrient.

    You can see this percentage limit as grams and calories in the table below.

    . Calories Fat Saturated fat Salt Sodium
    Man 833 32g 10g 2g 0.8g
    Woman 660 23g 6.5g 2g 0.8g
    • red (high)

    • amber (medium)

    • green (low).

  • Traffic light system

    Instead of a percentage, each product is given a colour rating for fat, sugars and salt:

    For ready meals with traffic lights, try to choose a meal with no reds or only one red.

Don’t read sodium levels as salt

When you see sodium levels, don’t mistake it for salt.

One gram of sodium actually means 2.5g of salt – far higher.

Don’t be misled by ‘per portion’ information, either.

Salt levels can look okay when presented in levels per portion, but portion sizes can often be rather meagre.

Check the vegetable content

© NatMag - check the vegetable 			 content
  • Look out for the ‘5 A Day’ logo on ready meals, which indicates how it contributes to your daily quota of fruit and veg. Aim to have two to three portions of vegetables with your main meal.

  • Add some cooked vegetables or a mixed salad of your own if the meal is a bit low in vegetable content.

Look for omega-3

Ready meals containing oily fish like tuna and salmon are a good choice if you want to boost your intake of heart friendly omega-3 fats.

Look out for the logo on the packet.

Don’t assume diet is best

© PhotoDisc/Getty - compare ready 			 meals

Compare, compare, compare – don’t assume the diet range is the best option.

A number of investigations have shown that a supposed diet meal may actually contain more fat or calories than the standard meal or an equivalent meal from a different supermarket.

Make sure you check labels and that the portion size is equivalent to a standard ready meal.

Choose a naturally balanced meal

Every supermarket has a naturally balanced range.

These aren’t diet meals, but they are carefully thought out meals packed with healthy ingredients and less additives.

  • Asda – ‘Nutritionally Balanced’.

  • Marks and Spencer – ‘Eat well’.

  • Morrisons – ‘Natural Choice’.

  • Sainsbury’s – ‘Super Naturals’.

  • Tesco – ‘Healthy Living’.

  • Waitrose – ‘Deliciously Different’.

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