Thumbs up – and down
Ready meals have a poor health image, but the bulk of the 22 products we analysed are reasonably nutritious – in fact, half the products are low in fat. Only Tasty Bite Chicken Korma & Basmati Rice and Stagg Chilli Beef Chilli with Beans teeter on the edge. They fall within the amber traffic light range for fat and saturated fat per 100g, but they’d get a red light for both according to the UK Food Standards Agency’s nutritional criteria for ready meals, which also take into account portion sizes.
With 510mg of sodium per 100g, SunRice Tuscan Tomato Fusilli is the saltiest meal tested, but its small serving size means it contributes less than half of an adult’s maximum recommended daily intake of sodium. While a number of the products get a thumbs up for nutrition (see table), taste is what matters – if it doesn’t taste good, you won’t eat it.
Good appearance, aroma, flavour and texture is primarily due to the ingredients and recipe used, but the shelf-stable processing can be a thumbs down. After filling and sealing, containers are sterilised at high temperatures to prevent the growth of microorganisms. Manufacturers say the products can be stored safely without refrigeration for up to 18 months, but the process can result in stringy meat, mushy noodles, mealy potatoes and limp vegetables.
Not recommended for taste
Despite getting a thumbs up for nutrition, Hormel Compleats Roast Beef & Gravy with Mashed Potato and SunRice Napolitana Penne were the only products to score zero votes when we asked our tasters, “Would you buy this product?” We suggest trying the meals first before stockpiling.