Although ready meals have come a long way since the advent of the pot noodle and pukka pies, the majority of them are still unhealthy. Several studies have linked ready meals to an increased rick of obesity, heart disease and cancer. Despite the fact that the UK now consumes 79 million ready meals every week, a 2018 study by the Sorbonne in Paris and The University of Sao Palo showed that a 10 per cent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with increases of 12 per cent in the risk of overall cancer, with an 11 per cent in the risk of breast cancer.
Preservation remains the problem, as well as taste. As ready meals need to stay edible for longer than fresh produce they usually contain increased amounts of salt and additives. They also appeal to our neanderthal taste buds with high amounts of added sugar.
In an ideal world we should all be preparing meals from scratch, eating high quantities of vegetables, fruit, lean proteins nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and legumes. But the first rule of health and weight loss should also be sustainability and achievability. Time, work and family pressures dictate that organic whole food meals just aren’t always achievable. The good news is that if you choose carefully, ready meals can be reasonably healthy, filling and part of a successful weight loss programme.
We have chosen 2 of the best ready meals UK from each of the the mainstream supermarkets. A quick search on google will reveal additional good choices. Look out for low levels of sugar (less then 3g per 100g), low levels of saturated fat (less than 3g per 100), few additives, reasonable protein content (over 15g per 100) and reasonable fibre content (over 8g per 100). The British Nutrition Foundation has some good guidelines on their site if you’d like more information.
Best ready meals UK
Pulled ham in mustard sauce – good protein and low in sugar. £3.00.
Salmon in watercress sauce – high in protein, low in sugar and with fish oils and fats. £3.00
Prepared chicken breasts with salad and/or vegetables is also a great ready meal. There are lots of different varieties. Moroccan chicken breasts with mixed vegetables. Almost a “from scratch” meal.
One of the best selections of ready meals. Although on their website they class 13g of sugar per 100 as low which is amusing.
Again prepared chicken and fish with vegetables or salad are a great choice and close to home made. Easy to cook cajun chicken breasts work great with mixed vegetables.
Sainsbury’s Fish Pie, Be Good To Yourself £2.50
We couldn’t find any other options with less than 11g of sugar per 100g. The “Be good to yourself Spinach and Ricotta Canneloni” contains 14g of sugar per 100g. It’s 400g, so 56g in total, or 14 teaspoons of sugar.
M & S
M & S probably have the best selection of healthier options.
Chicken Katsu Curry, King Prawn Spelt Risotto, sesame king prawns and rice salad, Asian chicken and noodle salad are all good options. You will need to go into a store to check them out though.