Ready to Eat Meals – So Convenient! But Make Sure You Read the Labels!
With these uncertain times it becomes challenging to prepare meals every single day for lunch and dinner for the entire family! Therefore it makes sense to rely on the ready to eat meals. But when it comes to deciding on what to buy, one needs to take some time to read and understand the nutritional labels. There are so many options available in this ready to eat category – shelf-stable, frozen, just-add-water meals, no-heating required meals, and many more. Cuisines from all over the world is also available. The most popular ones being Thai, Chinese, and Indian. Indian food ready to eat meals also are available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian varieties. Indian food is specially gaining popularity because of the spices that are added too. The spices have a lot of health benefits along with adding a zest of taste and flavor to the food.
Now the most important factor when it comes to deciding which ready to eat meals to choose is the nutritional label. Choosing to have ready eat meals does not mean that you compromise on the quality or the nutritional content of the food. There are so many good options available in the market, but of course it would need some amount of research before you go to the grocery store. A great way to research a product is going on to any online platform or the product website and reading their nutritional labels. The most important things you need to look is the calories, sodium, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates.
Criteria for Selecting a Good Ready to Eat Food Product
Any food that has more than 400 calories per serving is considered as a high calorie food. Moderate sodium foods are foods with sodium levels less than 400 milligrams per serving. Foods are considered high protein when they contain more than 10 grams of protein per serving. Foods that contain more than 5 grams of fiber per serving are considered as high fiber foods. It is important to have at the least 2 to 4 grams of fiber in each serving if not more. The source of carbohydrates is also very important. The source is more important than the amount of carbohydrates per serving. There are simple and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are the ones you get from whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Sprouting of grains also increases the fiber content of the food, along with increasing the bio-availability of the nutrients to the body. Simple carbohydrates are the ones that come from simple sugars, fruit juices, sodas, and refined flour.
Frozen vs Shelf-Stable Ready to Eat Meals
Mainly there are two categories of ready to eat meals. One is the ready prepared meals available in the frozen aisle and the other are the shelf-stable meals available in the dry grocery aisle. Most of the times, the frozen meals just need to be either defrosted and heated in the microwave and very little preparation is required. The best advantage that they have is that they are very convenient and useful specially when you have very little time to prepare a meal. However, most of the frozen meals available are very high in fat and sodium content and therefore not one of the healthiest meals. Another set-back to the frozen meals option is its nutritional loss because of the time temperature sensitivity. Any time that there is a temperature fluctuation in storing the frozen foods, there is a slight nutritional loss. From the time the product is cooked to the time it is consumed, it must go through a lot of time and temperature fluctuations. Therefore frozen foods are not the considered as the healthiest of meals.
On the other hand, with the shelf-stable foods, it is important to take a note of how it is preserved. One needs to check for the method of preservation, whether there are any preservatives used, and the shelf-life of the food. There are mainly two ways the shelf-stable meals are preserved; one is in the retort packing and the other is the dry form.
In retort packaging, the food is filled into a multi-layer laminated pouch, which is sealed and then heated to an extremely high temperature to make the product commercially sterile.
Foods can be preserved in the dry form, by the method of dehydration, which requires food to be heated at high temperatures till all the water in the food is evaporated. This process removes 80% of moisture from the food and therefore the food can be stored under room temperatures for a long period of time. The biggest disadvantage to this is that there is about a 50% nutritional loss in this process.
The most ideal way to preserve the food is freeze drying. Food is brought to very low temperatures during this process, which removes 98% of the moisture from the food. It is one of the most delicate method of preserving food. The biggest advantage of freeze drying is that it retains over 90% of the nutritional value of the food, along with maintaining the taste, texture, color, and flavor. The biggest disadvantage is that it is a very expensive method of preserving foods. Earlier, freeze drying was only used by the pharmaceutical companies because of the high cost. But nowadays, food companies who are very focused on the quality of food having started adopting this method to preserve food.
Try one of the fastest growing vegan and vegetarian Indian ready-to-eat meals which is freeze dried, and ready-in-minutes by just adding water, and containing 15 grams of protein in each cup, Aahana’s Masala Rice and Lentil Bowl.
Read also : understand when to go gluten free