Q: I often buy frozen dinners to eat for lunch. How can I figure out if it’s a healthy option?
A: When selecting a frozen meal, you’ll need to read the nutrition facts panel on the package to make sure your choice is a healthy one. So allow yourself a little extra time on the frozen-foods aisle. Make sure you check the portion size, listed on the very top of the nutrition label. Some crafty manufacturers measure a portion as something less than the entire contents of the box.
As a general rule, look for entrées that include plenty of vegetables. These tend to be lower in calories and higher in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber (which helps fill you up). Opt for brown rice or whole grains whenever possible, and choose lean meat, fish or chicken.
If you’re watching sodium, be especially careful about frozen meals. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, divide the total number of sodium milligrams recommended per day by three. Then use that number as a guide when selecting frozen entrees.
Generally, here’s what to look for when choosing healthy frozen dinners:
• Calories: less than 400
• Total fat: less than 3 grams per 100 calories
• Saturated fat: less than 1 gram per 100 calories
• Sodium: less than 600 milligrams
• Fiber: at least 3 grams
• Vitamins and minerals: at least 20 percent of the RDA for one (preferably two) or more of the following: vitamins A and C, calcium, iron.
To balance out the nutrition of your convenience dinner meal, add vegetables or a piece of fruit, and a glass of nonfat or low-fat milk.
Q: Should I wash meat and poultry?
A: No. Washing or rinsing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking is not recommended because it increases the risk for cross-contamination. Washing these foods can allow bacteria that are present on the surface of the meat or poultry to spread to ready-to-eat foods, kitchen utensils and counter surfaces. Any bacteria present on the uncooked surface is destroyed by cooking it to the recommended internal temperature. Some consumers rinse or soak ham, bacon or pork to reduce the salt content. In reality, very little salt is removed from meats by this practice.
Q: Should I wash eggs?
A: No. Washing is a routine part of commercial egg processing, so eggs do not need to be washed again at home. After eggs are washed during the manufacturing process, a thin coating of edible mineral oil is layered on to protect the egg from bacteria. Extra handling and washing of the eggs could increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell becomes cracked.
Q: Should I wash fresh fruits and vegetables?
A: Yes. Remove and discard outer leaves, if present. Just before eating or preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, rinse under cool running tap water to remove any lingering dirt. This reduces bacteria that may be present. Do not wash fruits or vegetables with detergent or soap because residues from soap or detergent could be absorbed into the food. If there is a firm surface, such as on potatoes or melons, you may wish to scrub it with a clean brush. If storing, dry the fruit or vegetable using clean disposable or cloth towels. When preparing fruits and vegetables, cut away any damaged or bruised areas because bacteria that may cause illness can thrive in those places. Immediately refrigerate all cut fruits and vegetables, such as salad or fruit, for best quality and food safety.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.