Frozen dinners your grandmother will love

Posted Monday, May. 19, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Honorable mentions

• Healthy Choice Country Fried Chicken

• Healthy Choice Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

• Lean Cuisine Wood Fire-Style Margherita Pizza

Amy’s Light & Lean Pasta & Veggies

Calories: 210

Fat: 5 grams

Cholesterol: 5 milligrams

Sodium: 470 milligrams

Carb count: 33 grams

Protein: 10 grams

Prep time: About 5 minutes

Found it: Albertsons, $4.99

The dish: This meal is low in fat and cholesterol and still “has a good taste,” taste-tester and grandmother Jerry Wright said. The combination of shallots, crunchy asparagus and broccoli pairs perfectly with a sweet basil pasta sauce. Typically, Wright avoids organic foods simply because “they are too expensive.” With this one though, she said she’ll make an exception.

Going in Grandma’s freezer? Yes.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Lean Cuisine Glazed Chicken

Calories: 240

Fat: 5 grams

Cholesterol: 45 milligrams

Sodium: 450 milligrams

Carb count: 26 grams

Protein: 22 grams

Prep time: 6 minutes

Found it: Albertsons, $3.29

The dish: After we tested each piece of chicken with a meat thermometer (I learned that meat should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees), my grandmother peered over my shoulder to instruct me to stir the chicken, sauce and rice together — that’s how she likes it. The cashews provided a welcome crunch to the rice, chicken and green beans. The lemon tarragon sauce satiated both the salty and sweet taste buds.

Going in Grandma’s freezer? Yes (and mine, too!)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Garden Lites Zucchini Souffle

Calories: 140

Fat: 1.5 grams

Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

Sodium: 490 milligrams

Carb count: 25 grams

Protein: 9 grams

Prep time: 5 minutes (For best results, cook from frozen.)

Found it: Target, $2.79

The dish: “Isn’t that cute?” Wright exclaimed when the soufflé emerged from the microwave in a container that resembled a miniature cast-iron round cocotte. She couldn’t wait to try this one. No cholesterol? Bring it on. Plus, she had never sampled a vegetable souffle. “I just have a feeling this is gonna be good,” she noted. It was. The egg whites were fluffy and zucchini squash was plentiful.

Going in Grandma’s freezer? Absolutely

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Jerry Wright is not interested in cooking for one. As a mother of five children and grandmother to 10 (including this writer), she’s a no-nonsense woman, especially when it comes to food.

At this phase in her life, most meals do not involve a crush of kids expressing preferences or vying for seconds. Instead, single servings are usually the way of things, and she frequently relies on frozen meals to satisfy her nutritional needs.

Turning 76 in June, Wright has, in her words, lived through almost everything. Though she is capable of preparing a meal, she prefers the ease of heating a premade meal for dinner. “I know exactly what I’m getting with frozen foods,” Wright says, adding that she selects meals that are low in cholesterol and fat.

Brielle Soltic, a nutritionist and physician assistant at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, frequently works with people my grandmother’s age, offering nutritional guidance and helping them make healthier choices. Frequently, she says, geriatric patients “get lost in the shuffle” and many are plagued by dehydration and malnutrition — for a variety of reasons.

“So many changes happen in the body of an aging person,” explains Soltic.

A loss of taste inhibits the ability to distinguish between sweet and salty, which can lead to over-seasoning or cravings for packaged sweets. Arthritis can make opening jars or cans difficult. Tremors could cause injury while chopping vegetables.

As a result, Soltic says frozen, premade meals can be a big help. Although they’re convenient across the aging spectrum, they’re particularly helpful for seniors who live independently but aren’t as adept at preparing their own meals anymore — as long as whoever’s buying them shops wisely and actively reviews the nutrition labels.

Soltic advises seniors to steer clear of brands like Banquet, Hot Pocket and Hungry-Man and choose from other offerings like Smart Ones, Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine. If the box doesn’t say “low fat” or “healthy,” skip it, suggests Soltic.

Think high-protein, low-carb and focus on nutrient-dense, rather than calorie-dense, frozen meals. Always check the sodium content, she adds.

Some frozen meals exceed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily sodium intake for seniors — 1,500 milligrams. Soltic says it is very important to check the sodium content of frozen foods and the serving size. For instance, if an entree has a sodium content of 850 milligrams, but the package contains two servings, it’s a whopping 1,700 milligrams for the entire entree.

I asked Grandma Jerry to taste a few frozen meals found on local grocery shelves that seemed to meet Soltic’s basic nutritional recommendations for savvy seniors, including being low in sodium, fat and carbohydrates. The results were pleasantly palatable.

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