If the recall of Lean Cuisine frozen meals because some contained bits of plastic has derailed your lunch plans for the week, take heart. "You don't have to go to frozen dinners to have quick and easy meals," says Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian in Dallas and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Here are four options for healthful, delicious meals on the fly:
1. Grab leftovers. When putting food away after dinner, portion out leftovers into lunch-size containers. They're ready to grab in the morning without messing up the kitchen.
2. Don't forget the good old American sandwich. Slap lean turkey breast or ham on whole-grain bread, throw on some lettuce and tomato, and you've got a meal with fewer calories and fat than most Lean Cuisines.
3. Sup on soup. It's warm and comforting, and the fact that it includes a lot of water means you'll feel fuller on fewer calories. (For recent news on how "Volumetrics" makes it possible to eat a lot and still keep healthy, check out this story by U.S. News's Katherine Hobson.) You can make your own soup and freeze portions, or check out the single-serving containers in the soup aisle.
4. Think veg. The recalled meals all contained chicken. Vegetarian choices are becoming more bountiful in the frozen-food aisle and often have a better nutritional profile than those with meat. One example: Lean Cuisine's butternut squash ravioli in a creamy sauce with walnuts, snap peas, and carrots. At 350 calories, it contains 9 grams of fat and 6 grams of fiber, and provides 90 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, thanks to the squash. An Amy's Kitchen vegan bean and rice burrito has 280 calories, with 6 grams of fat and 5 grams of fiber.
Overall, frozen meals like Lean Cuisine, Eating Right, or Healthy Choice aren't too bad, nutritionists say. They're usually fairly low in fat, and some make a point of including veggies that up the nutrients and fiber. The biggest downside: "The sodium tends to be high," Sandon says. An entrée shouldn't contain more than 400 to 550 mg of salt, she says. And packaged foods are still often skimpy on vegetables. Adding a bag of baby carrots or an apple can make a convenient meal a healthful one, too.