Butter chicken, green chicken curry, risotto, or for the traditionalists – mac cheese or shepherd’s pie. Whatever your culinary preference, just pick up a ready-to-eat meal from the supermarket and dinner’s good to go. But you might not want to make a habit of it.
We assessed 86 meals from supermarket chillers and aisle shelves. Some meals provided more than an adult’s maximum recommended sodium intake for the day. And 2 provided two-thirds of an adult’s recommended energy intake – that’s the equivalent of eating 2 meals in one hit.
Tulsi Butter Chicken & Rice with small naan bread (450g) is the worst offender in our survey. It clocks in at 6420 kilojoules, more than two-thirds the kilojoules an average adult should eat in an entire day. It also has the highest sodium content (nearly 1.5 times the adult recommended daily upper limit of 2300mg), 12 teaspoons of sugar and more than 50g of saturated fat.
Wishbone’s Butter Chicken is a better option. A serve is the same size, but has less kilojoules, sugar and sodium, though contains 13.5g of saturated fat.
For about half the price, you can get a SunRice Butter Chicken Curry or Select Butter Chicken Meal for One. Although these have lower levels of saturated fat per 100g, their smaller serving size means some people will find them more a snack than a meal.
Nutritionally, Thai curries in our survey are similar. All had moderate levels of saturated fat and sodium, and low sugar per 100g. However, it pays to check serving size information. Sodium content ranged from 668 to 1190mg per serve and energy from 823 to 2370 kilojoules.
Mexican meals can be a healthier choice. Naked Kitchen Mexican Black Bean Chilli, Pitango Mexican Bean & Pulled Pork Chilli Meal for 1, Tasty Pot Mexican Pulled Pork and SunRice Street Snack Chilli Con Carne & Rice are all low in saturated fat and sugar, and contain moderate amounts of sodium – plus they have a substantial proportion of vegetables and beans.
If a taste of Italy is on the menu, your best option is vegetarian. Café Style Vegetable Lasagne is one of the lowest sodium meals in our survey. Wishbone’s Seven Vege Lasagne is low in saturated fat and sugar per 100g. However, its large 570g size means if you eat the whole meal you’ll be chowing down about half your daily sodium quota.
Creamy pastas with bacon and cheese are high in kilojoules, saturated fat and sodium. For example, Rosa Real Good Food Bacon & Parmesan Pennette has nearly 3000 kilojoules and 1630mg of sodium.
If you’re watching your waistline steer clear of Soho Brown Shepherd’s Pie. Per 100g it has double the kilojoules of Rosie’s Kitchen and Rosa Real Good Food cottage pies. If you eat the entire 440g serving, you’ll be getting more than half an adult’s energy intake for the day.
We also found a huge variation in the size of meals, ranging from 200g to 570g. Although bigger might be better when it comes to taming your appetite, some super-sized meals mean an unhealthy serving of saturated fat, sodium, sugar and kilojoules. Our table shows nutrition information per serve and per 100g. The 100g figures give a gram-for-gram comparison, while the per serve data show what you’ll be eating.
Most of the meals we looked at were light on veges. To boost your vege intake, you’ll want to add a salad to go with the pasta or risottos, or some steamed veges with the curries.
We’ve used green and red symbols to show the products highest and lowest in saturated fat, sugar and sodium.
Our criteria are:
Saturated fat (g/100g):