(PCM) Today is National TV Dinner Day! Despite their bad rap – whether because they’re full of preservatives, high in sodium and fat, or just overall not nearly as good for you as a healthy home-cooked meal – TV dinners can be a good choice when you’re short on time or simply don’t feel like cooking just for one.
Make the most of TV dinner with these healthy tips:
1. Look for lean or “diet” meals. There’s a big difference between a Hungry Man frozen dinner and a Weight Watcher’s or Healthy Choice dinner. Avoid meals containing more than 400 calories – when it comes to frozen dinners, you usually don’t get much for the calories, so save your calories for something worth it! Avoid meals with more than 30% from fat and anything with trans fat, which raises LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL (good cholesterol). Look out for sugar and sodium, too: Keep sugar below 10 grams (it’s dinner, not dessert) and sodium under 600 mg.
2. Read the ingredients list. Watch out for anything with too many ingredients, like Hot Pocket’s Pepperoni Calzone which lists more than 100 ingredients! Look out for MSG, butylated hydroxytoulene (BHT, which is used to slow the rancidity of oil and fats in foods), hydrolyzed soy protein (source of MSG), and partially hydrogenated oils.
3. Stick to organic products. When it comes to TV dinners, organic tends to be better, at least as far as ingredients go. You still have to keep an eye on calories, fat, and sodium levels, but organic TV dinners have less overall ingredients, and most importantly, less of the artificial preservatives and fillers.
4. Add more vegetables. Who says you have to eat TV dinners as-is? Calorie-restricted meals aren’t exactly overflowing with food. If you want to stay full – and up the nutrients – add a bag of steamed veggies to your meal. It will make your meal way more substantial for very few additional calories. Try adding steamed broccoli cole slaw, bean sprouts, or Shirataki tofu noodles to pasta-based dinners, add eggplant slices to lasagnas, or simply eat a bowl of veggies on the side.
Photograph: William Gottlieb/Corbis