What’s Really in Your Frozen Dinner?


So. You’re hungry with a capital H, just came home from work, and want to eat in a hurry. Instead of making something from scratch, you opt for the diet frozen entrée in your freezer. At least, you reason, you can eat something lower in calories. With fancy labels and bright marketing claims, they sure seem tempting to those with a busy life. Hey, you can just pop something in the microwave and be done with the whole dinner thing in a few minutes. Plus no clean up! But are these frozen dishes really a good substitution?

A while back, Nestle recalled one of Lean Cuisine’s frozen entrees because some people found fragments of glass in them. Hmmm, yum!

And what about other frozen “diet” entrees? What’s in them, and are they healthy?

Examining Ingredients

If you have a frozen meal in your freezer right now, take a moment and look at the ingredients list. How many words are there on it you aren’t even sure how to pronounce? How many ingredients are things your great-grandparents probably wouldn’t have recognized as foods?

Here’s just a short rundown of some of the ingredients you may find in the typical frozen dinner.

High-fructose Corn Syruphigh_fructose_corn_syrup

I write a lot about this toxic ingredient and studies show that HFCS isn’t as harmless as corn refiners would have you believe. Aside from being refined like a petroleum product, HFCS has been indicated in a whole host of health problems including insulin resistance (metabolic syndrome), weight gain, and fatty liver disease.

Polysorbate 80

This ingredient emulsifies oils in frozen foods so they don’t separate into a gloppy mess when you nuke them. It’s also found in cosmetics.

Polysorbate 80 has been implicated in a number of health complications including tumor growth, headaches, heart problems, and gastrointestinal issues.

Table Salt (and lots of it!)

Frozen meals are notoriously high in salt. While salt contains sodium, which your body needs in small amounts, it isn’t a healthy way to get it. In fact, salt is made by superheating either natural salt or crude oil flake leftovers to extract sodium chloride. It often contains other chemicals such as preservatives or anti-caking ingredients.

Small amounts of naturally occurring and unprocessed salts, such as Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt are much better sources for your health, but they are seldom used in frozen meals.

Propylene Glycolsalt

This is interesting, because this is also a common ingredient in lots of skincare products. It is an ingredient that is closely related to antifreeze, and it pops up frequently in our processed food supply. That’s because it’s used as an emulsifier in a manner similar to polysorbate 80. It is a form of mineral oil, refined oil made from petroleum products. If you look at the Material Safety Data Sheet, you’ll see exposure is dangerous if ingested, inhaled, or in contact with skin. Food manufacturers will tell you it’s safe because it’s used in such tiny amounts, but that’s not a risk I’m willing to take- or definitely want exposure to on a regular basis.

Yeast Extract

By any other name, this is known as MSG, which is a highly neurotoxic substance. MSG has been cited in some research as an excitotoxin. Ingesting it can stimulate brain cells to the point of cell death. Dinner…or brain cells? Interesting choice!

How to Eat Healthy

Because there are so many varieties of frozen entrees and they all have extensive ingredients lists, I’ve only chosen a few ingredients just to demonstrate how toxic they can bee. There are thousands of other ingredients in frozen dinners and other processed foods that are synthetic/foreign to the body. Of course, the entrees also often contain wheat (gluten) and soy in numerous varied forms, and dairy, which are notoriously difficult for your body to process and digest.

We don’t want to eat foods that our bodies can’t easily process. Doing so creates toxic buildup in our systems that robs us of good health. The more gunked up our systems get, the worst our health becomes, and the process can occur silently. You may not experience symptoms for months; however, over years of poor eating habits, we slowly build up toxicity until something finally breaks.

The best way to combat this is to make sure what we put in our bodies is clean, pure, and as chemical free as possible. Humans have evolved over millennia eating natural foods from the earth that are free of chemicals. It has only been in the past century we’ve begun to ingest manufactured foods that contain chemicals, flavorings, preservatives, and items that our ancestors wouldn’t even recognize.

The best way to eat, then, is to return to our roots by eating foods that aren’t manufactured. Instead, humans thrive on a diet of unaltered plant foods that come from the earth – natural whole foods such as organic fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and ancient unprocessed grains.

Convenience Foods from Nature

Fortunately, nature supplies a number of quick and easy convenience foods that require little preparation. When you’re hungry in a hurry, consider some of the following foods:

  • Avocado and sprouts thrown in a collard green, or even a gluten-free wrap
  • Quinoa and salad (quinoa only takes about 12 minutes to cook, you can have it cooking while you change out of your work clothes)
  • Steamed veggies and salad/quinoa- throw some nutritional yeast and on the veggies
  • Hummus, sliced tomatoes and sprouts in a wrap
  • Throw a bunch of stuff in the blender– make Glowing green smoothies or an Acai Rainforest Smoothie
  • Kale salad in a few nori wraps  
    Raw No-Bean Refried Beans

    My Raw No-Bean Refried Beans are an easy weeknight meal… you can find the recipe in Beauty Detox Foods!

  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Chia seeds dissolved in almond milk
  • Raw fruits or vegetables
  • An avocado
  • A large salad of leafy greens

It doesn’t have to be hard to eat healthy. When you’re in a hurry, consider foods requiring minimal preparation. You can also make a big pot of vegetable soup and freeze it. Simply reheat it for a few minutes in a saucepan when you’re in a hurry.

Make enough quinoa on Sunday to last a few days into your work week. Go shopping on Sunday for easy snacks (gluten free crackers, hummus – if you don’t want to make your own, spices, nutritional yeast, etc.)

No frozen meals required!




Last updated: Friday, June 19, 2015
  • Alpana Prajapati

    What do you have to say about frozen foods like “Morning Star” or some of the other vegan/vegetarian food found in Trader Joes and Whole Foods?

    • Lisa

      I never eat frozen foods..

  • barbara

    I make my own frozen meals at home. On a Day off I prep for the week ahead and put in the freezer, in the evening when I come home I only have to make fresh salad .I pull the meal I want to eat the night before and heat up on the stove( I do not use a mircowave).
    That’s the easiest way to do and you eat healthy ,all the time

  • Michelle

    Tonight I SO did not want to cook! But I wound up making an awesome quick dinner anyway– eggplant pizzas! I cut an eggplant longways 4 times like french bread and topped it with organic tomato sauce. Baked it for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, took it out and topped it with mushrooms and more sauce, and nut-cheese I had already made. In another 10 minutes it was all baked. I cleaned the kitchen while it cooked. In 25 minutes I was chowing down on something that tastes so sinful but was totally beautifying!

    • Maureen

      What is “nut cheese” and how do I make it?

  • Anita Parbhoo

    Hi Kimberley- thank you for such an inspirational article- it helps one keep sight of how easy it actually is to keep a healthy diet

  • Marisa

    The picture of that frozen dinner looks disgusting!!! I guess at least the peas look green. Can’t wait for your new book to come out!

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  • Mireille Nurit

    This is very sensible and corresponds to our habits here in our rural areas. Vegetable soups are varied and so convenient.

  • Jenn

    Kimberly, I wanted to recommend listening to Diane sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe balanced bites podcast. I think you would be surprised at how much crossover there is between both of your philosophies. Commit to listening to a few of their episodes…obviously some information you will not agree with but it is worth the countering education.

  • Jenn


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  • Elizabeth

    How do you feel about the Amy’s Kitchen vegan microwave meals. Many are soy-free and gluten-free. When there is soy it’s non-GMO/organic. What are your thoughts Kimberly?

  • Bernadette

    Hi Kimberly,

    Are frozen packaged vegetables okay to buy? I’ve read frozen veggies are still at their peak and have the same nutrients as fresh veggies.