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Expert Q&A

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Are microwave meals really healthier than fast food?

Asked by Johnnie Weathersby III, Kansas City, Missouri

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Like many Americans, I began the New Year wanting to kick a bad health habit or two. This year's mission is to not eat any fast food. I don't cook all that often, so I can't cook all that well. I was just going to resort to microwave dinner-type meals. But then I thought, "Are these really any healthier than fast food?" Got any advice on this one? I'm not trying to go on a diet, just trying to eat healthier, and I want to make sure that I'm actually making beneficial decisions. Thanks in advance.

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Johnnie. I commend your resolution to improve your health by cutting out fast food. Fast food is generally very high in saturated fat and salt, very low in nutrients and served in portions far greater than the average person requires. Microwave dinners, in general, are somewhat healthier, as they usually contain a small amount of vegetables, less fat and are served in more reasonable portions. They do tend to be very high in salt, however, often containing more than half the recommended daily allowance of 2,300 mg of sodium. And most of them contain no more than ½ cup (one serving) of vegetables, which is not optimal if your goal is to eat the healthiest diet you can. I'm not much of a cook either, so here are a few suggestions that I often use that require minimal cooking skills.

1. Buy pre-cooked whole chickens at the grocery store. You can use them as a main dish or tear off strips to toss in a salad, wrap or stir fry. Be sure to remove the skin first to cut back on saturated fat.

2. To supplement frozen dinners or as an easy side dish, heat a cup or two of frozen vegetables in the microwave (better than boiling in water, which can deplete the water soluble nutrients) and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

3. Buy frozen seafood like shrimp (not fried) for a healthy, lower fat entrée option. Serve over instant brown rice (takes only a few minutes to cook) and top with pre-made tomato based sauces. And be sure to make extra for leftovers the next day.

4. Stock your fridge with pre-cut vegetables like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower and low-fat dips like hummus or light salad dressing for easy and healthy no-cook appetizers.

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