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Love frozen entrées? Here’s how to choose a healthy one

If you're short on time – or like the idea of instant portion control – the convenience of a frozen entrée can be appealing. With so many options crowding the frozen-food aisle – organic, vegetarian, reduced fat, low calorie, made with whole grains – it's easy to find a meal that's good for you. Right?

Not really. It can be challenging to find a meal you actually like, satisfies your appetite, is easy on sodium and contains more than a smattering of vegetables. To determine if a frozen entrée is as healthy as its name – or picture on the box – implies, you need to scan the nutrition facts.

To make a healthier selection, choose a frozen meal with no more than three grams of saturated fat and 500 milligrams of sodium (a tough task since most companies don't skimp in the salt department). Check for fibre (at least four grams) and protein, too; both can help you feel satisfied.

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My advice: Round out a frozen meal by adding extra vegetables, and fruit with yogurt for dessert. A low-calorie meal won't satisfy the appetite of an active person. Even people trying to losing weight need 400 to 500 calories per meal.

SKIP THIS

Weight Watchers Smart Ones Spicy Szechuan Style Vegetables & Chicken (255 g)

At first glance, Weight Watchers Smart Ones Spicy Szechuan Style Vegetables & Chicken looks pretty decent. It's made with whole-grain linguine and has four grams of fibre. It even serves up vegetables, although likely not many, since vitamins A and C are listed as 0% Daily Value. But who would think this small-sized meal could squeeze 710 mg of sodium – half a day's worth – into a measly 240 calories? Not so smart after all. And with only 11 grams of protein (about an ounce of chicken) per 255-gram meal, you're bound to move on to after-dinner snacks.

– 240 calories

– 5 grams fat

– 1 gram saturated fat

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– 10 mg cholesterol

– 710 mg sodium

– 38 g carbohydrate

– 4 g fibre

– 11 g protein

EAT THIS

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Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamers Sweet Sesame Chicken (292 g)

A better pick is Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamers Sweet Sesame Chicken. The serving size is slightly bigger (292 grams), which means you're likely to get a little more food in your low-calorie meal. And you do: more protein (17 grams), more fibre (five grams) and, as the package boasts, one-half cup of vegetables and a good source of vitamin A (25% of the daily value). Even better, this frozen meal has only 330 mg of sodium, considerably less than most others. And the two cooking trays allow you to add only as much sauce as you like. Another plus: no artificial additives.

– 330 calories

– 5 grams fat

– 1 gram saturated fat

– 30 mg cholesterol

– 330 mg sodium

– 53 g carbohydrate

– 5 g fibre

– 17 g protein

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct (www.lesliebeck.com).

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