Can a ready meal really help you beat the menopause? That’s one of the surprising claims made by new ‘healthy’ microwave dinners. We put them to the test…
- New ready meal ranges boast top-quality ingredients and fit in a healthy lifestyle
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For years, they’ve been held up as a cause of our obesity crisis, the lazy last resort of time-poor professionals and over-stretched parents.
But ready meals are enjoying a renaissance — and this time, they’re healthy (or so the makers claim).
While traditional versions tend to be packed with fat, salt and sugar, these new ranges boast top-quality ingredients and are designed to fit with a healthy lifestyle.
There are meals that claim to help you recover from a workout, support you through menopause or boost your brain — and all can be cooked by just bunging them in a microwave.
So, is it time to rethink the ready meal? I put them to the test with nutritionist Saba Stone…
There are ready meals that claim to help you recover from a workout, support you through menopause or boost your brain (stock image)
STEW FOR GREAT SKIN
Apres Food Fish Stew (415g, 488 calories); Organic Lamb & Beef Kofta (300g, 537 calories). From £8.95, apresfood.com
WHAT IS IT? Founded by a nutritionist, Apres Food say its meals are designed to support anything from heart health to glowing skin. All food is certified organic, gluten-free and free from refined sugars. The traceable, high-welfare ingredients come from quality British suppliers.
TASTE TEST: Fish stew made with wild hake and salmon — which the website says is ‘designed to support healthy, glowing skin’ — is full of fresh herbs and spices. The skin-on potatoes with rosemary and garlic are delicious, too. The lamb and beef kofta are a little dry, but the tomato sauce is flavoursome.
EXPERT VERDICT: I applaud the sheer number of different plants here, which is very good for a varied diet. There’s a sophisticated ‘health by stealth’ approach, with functional ingredients that work well when combined — for example, green vegetables (a good source of plant iron) are served with lemon juice (containing vitamin C, which our bodies need in order to absorb plant iron properly). 5/5
The Gym Kitchen Thai Green Chicken Curry (400g, 355 calories); Chicken Tikka (400g, 384 calories), £3.75, asda.com
WHAT IS IT? The Gym Kitchen claims its meals give you all the nutrients you need to support a workout. Foods have a good balance of ‘macronutrients’ — which is the latest buzzword for the three main food groups we require for our bodies to function: carbs (to fuel energy), fats (to keep you satiated), and protein (to build and repair muscle).
TASTE TEST: Both the Thai green curry and the chicken tikka have a good number of vegetables and taste fresh. They are let down a bit by the chicken, which is stringy and overcooked. But they’re surprisingly filling despite the low calorie count.
EXPERT VERDICT: Higher quality chicken would make a huge difference to the nutritional benefits of these dishes, as would using fresh garlic, chilli and ginger rather than purees, which have additives for long shelf-life.
Overall, they are well balanced: high in protein, low in salt and sugar. I’d suggest a small bowl of vegetables on the side. Grated carrot with extra virgin olive oil and lemon to aid the body in absorbing the vitamins and beta carotene in these dishes would be especially good. 3.5/5
FOLLOW YOUR GUT
Mindful Chef King Prawn Paella (400g, 569 calories); Cashew & Chickpea Korma (400g, 484 calories), £5, waitrose.com or subscribe at mindfulchef.com
WHAT IS IT? Mindful Chef offers a round-the-world-on-a-plate repertoire from paella to kormas. It claims to offer ‘gluten-free, no refined carbs nor refined sugar, dairy-free and locally sourced fresh produce’. What a mouthful — and they say each recipe is ‘scrutinised’ by nutritionists.
TASTE TEST: The chickpea korma is delicious, with well-balanced spicing. But I’m no fan of the paella, which is aggressively flavoured with smoked paprika, and something called ‘smoked water’. The rice was overcooked and gloopy, too.
EXPERT VERDICT: Overall, these dishes don’t have enough vegetables — the paella dish, for example, has only five per cent. Worse, they have been cooked for too long in preparation, which saps them of micronutrients. The korma has an impressive fibre content but the paella has only 5.4 per cent per serving. 5/5
Ready meals are enjoying a renaissance — and this time, they’re healthy (or so the makers claim). (Stock image)
Field Doctor Mediterranean Hake Stew (400g, 450 calories); Vegetable Moussaka (418g, 272 calories), £6.95, fielddoctor.co.uk
WHAT IS IT? Field Doctor says it offers science-led, chef- created ready-meals — with impressive categories like ‘food for thought’ (good for psychological function) and a menopause support bundle on offer, too.
The meals are flash frozen to lock in nutrients, and you can buy them separately or splurge on a two-week meal plan.
TASTE TEST: The hake stew — part of Field Doctor’s menopause bundle — is a stand-out dish with delectable red pepper and almond pesto, and an outstanding texture. However, the moussaka is lacklustre with scarcely any aubergine and far too much stalky kale. It tastes rather too worthy.
EXPERT VERDICT: These are good meals, nutritionally speaking. I’m impressed by the variety of plants, pulses and nuts that support gut microbiome diversity. They’re very low in calories, so depending on your goals they may not fill you up for long. 4.5/5
Tastily Greek Prawn Saganaki (398g, 449cals); Chilli Beef Noodles (442g, 661 calories), £7.49 each when buying a box of six to nine meals, tastily.co.uk
WHAT IS IT? Tastily is an Instagram-friendly, fairly pricy meal subscription service that promises ‘to help everyone build good food habits’ — without making too many high-falutin’ dietary promises.
There’s an appealing range of dishes, with each one high in protein and fibre, low in sugar, and with ‘nothing artificial’ added.
TASTE TEST: The herby saganaki is the stand-out dish, with large, tasty prawns. The taste of fennel comes through in the vegetable-rich tomato stew. The oregano potatoes cooked in their skins (in a separated container so they don’t get soggy) are superb.
The beef noodles has good tender beef and looks appetising with plenty of vegetables — but it’s so spicy, it’s almost inedible for this non-spice lover. I had to add yoghurt to even contemplate properly tasting it.
EXPERT VERDICT: These dishes are well-balanced in terms of macronutrients and have generous amounts of vegetables. They’re a good choice.
The spicy chilli noodles’ fibre content would be improved by using wholewheat noodles, however, and there’s a little too much sugar — 13.5g, where I like to aim for a maximum of 10g of ‘free sugars’ per portion. 4/5
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