Almost a quarter of people eat more than one ready meal per week. The growing market of “healthy ready meals” may explain why, but is there really such thing as a healthy ready meal?

Saying “ready meal” to a nutritionist is like saying “Voldemort” to a Harry Potter fan. It’s often followed by a sharp intake of breath and a look of: you did not just say that. These days people are seemingly so afraid of ready meals that it’s thought just discussing them could lead to weight gain.

But on supermarket shelves everywhere there are delicious tasting ready meals under 500 calories.

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The Sainsbury’s My Goodness! range features some yummy pre-prepared meals along the lines of beetroot and feta salad and butternut squash risotto. Many of the meals promise to be one of your five a day, contain plenty of vitamins and have low fat and sugar levels. With only five minutes needed to microwave them, they sound pretty perfect to me.

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However, while having your dinner in a container prevents the temptation to decide on a larger portion, sometimes the portion sizes aren’t large enough, driving you to snack later on.

More worryingly, sometimes the healthy food that is being advertised, isn’t all that healthy.

Ready meals come under the bracket of processed food, yet another feared title. But processed foods range from bread to junk food and it’s inevitable they will filter into our diet.

Dietitian Sian Porter says: “Not all processed food is a bad choice. Some foods need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria.

“Freezing fruit and veg preserves most vitamins, while tinned produce (without added sugar and salt) can mean convenient storage, cooking and choice to eat all year round, with less waste and cost than fresh.”

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Yet, processed ready meals – even the healthy ones – often have added chemicals that you wouldn’t find in the home-made equivalent. Plus, it’s been known that even ready meals marketed as “fresh” may contain ingredients that have been stored at sub-zero temperatures for up to a year.

So healthy ready meals may not be the day-to-day solution to a healthy lifestyle. But one every once in a while isn’t going to kill you and it’s certainly healthier than ordering a double cheese pizza from Domino’s.

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