In today's busy world, it's easy to forget to make healthy, balanced meals when time is a factor. Ready meals can provide a convenient and healthful alternative to ordering takeout or eating unhealthy processed foods. Ready meals are an ideal option for busy families and individuals who are looking for quick, nutritious meals that are still delicious.
In this article, we'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of ready meals, as well as what to look for when choosing one.
Definition of Ready Meals
Ready meals are pre-cooked meals that are ready to eat after reheating or chopping. Ready meals can also be referred to as convenience foods, and offer an easy and convenient alternative to preparing food from scratch. These ready meals are becoming increasingly popular as they require minimal effort and provide a great choice of dishes that can be quickly heated up.
Ready meals come in a variety of styles, including frozen, chilled, ambient temperature, and often have a long shelf-life in order to guarantee food safety and prevent any microbial contamination. Most ready meal labels will tell you how long the product can be stored for before it should be consumed or discarded.
Ready meals are often kept at cool temperatures in order to ensure food safety and preserve quality for longer periods of time. When storing any type of ready meal, it’s important to:
- Make sure that the product is placed in the correct area according to its label – for example fresh chilled products should be stored between +2°C – +6°C.
- Check the label for use-by date information regarding whether or not your chosen product is still safe for consumption after that date has passed.
Benefits of Ready Meals
Ready meals are convenient and provide the advantage of not needing to cook or prepare a meal from scratch. They can be stored in the pantry, fridge or freezer, depending on what type they are, so they’re always on hand when you need them. In addition, ready meals are safe and are packaged using rigorous food safety standards.
Ready meals often contain fewer calories, sodium and fat than home cooked meals. Many contain fresh fruits and vegetables which add nutrition to a meal without additional effort. Ready-to-eat meals also typically have a longer shelf life than items that require cooking since all the ingredients have already been cooked and prepared for eating.
Furthermore, ready-to-eat dishes offer the convenience of being able to control portion sizes easily through pre-measured packages, making it easier for those who want to watch their caloric intake or keep track of what is going into their bodies. A variety of meal options means that many different dietary restrictions can be accommodated for individuals who may not have the time or energy to cook with limited ingredients. Ready-made meals also provide a quick and easy option for people who do not know how to cook from scratch.
Types of Ready Meals
Ready meals are a great way to get a delicious, nutritious meal on the table without spending a lot of time in the kitchen. There are plenty of types of ready meals available these days, from single-serve meals to family-sized portions. From frozen to ready-to-eat, from vegetarian to meat-based dishes, there is a ready meal to suit everyone's tastes and preferences.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of ready meals available:
- Single-serve meals
- Family-sized portions
- Frozen meals
- Ready-to-eat meals
- Vegetarian meals
- Meat-based dishes
Frozen Ready Meals
Frozen ready meals are an easy and popular way to put food on the table for busy families. In recent years, frozen foods have become more widely available as well as healthier and tastier. Frozen ready meals offer convenience without sacrificing nutrition or taste. Some convenient meal choices include vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free products.
Many ready meals are flash-frozen, meaning they maintain the nutrient content found in fresh ingredients while providing fast meal choices that require minimal preparation. Most frozen prepared meals contain between one and three servings per package, making them ideal for a single portion or families of any size.
Some popular categories of frozen ready meals include:
- Burritos & tacos
- Spinach pies
- Soups & chili
- Pot pies & tarts
- Traditional entrees like macaroni & cheese or chicken parmesan
- Gourmet entrées such as seafood scampi or gourmet pizza
When shopping for frozen prepared meals, be sure to check the label for nutrition information such as calories, fat content and sodium levels to make sure it fits within your diet plan. It is also important to read the label carefully to make sure you understand how to heat the product safely without compromising nutrition or taste.
Refrigerated Ready Meals
Ready meals are a convenient and popular way to cook meals quickly and easily. Ready meals can come in many forms, including fresh, refrigerated, frozen, dried/dehydrated, canned/jarred, and more. Refrigerated ready meals are the simplest type of ready meal to prepare. They are cooked with fresh ingredients but have been boiled or baked before being placed in sterile packaging and stored in the refrigerator. Generally they only need to be reheated before serving.
Refrigerated ready meals include a wide variety of cuisines from around the globe as well as traditional favorites that never go out of style. Convenience is key with this type of dinner option; most require little or no additional preparation-just heat and serve! Common types of refrigerated ready-made dinners include:
- Chinese dishes like noodles and fried rice
- Indian curries
- Casseroles and stews
- Breakfast dishes like omelets
The variety of flavors helps ensure that everyone should find something they enjoy on the menu! Additionally, most refrigerated dinners are healthy as well – they’re usually made with fresh ingredients such as vegetables, fish, lean meats and whole grain side dishes that provide essential nutrients without adding too many empty calories.
Canned Ready Meals
Canned ready meals usually come pre-cooked and are packed in various tins or cans that can be safely stored for long periods of time. The contents of these meals often include pasta, sauces, vegetables and fish; however, many other ingredients can be added to increase the meal's nutritional value. Canned ready meals are typically prepared with a minimum of cooking, making them convenient and easy-to-use. They are also more economical than pre-made fresh meals due to their low cost and long shelf life.
The most common types of canned ready meals include:
- Soups – these are popular because they offer a variety of tasty flavours that can be enjoyed all year round.
- Pastas – these generally come with different sauces such as tomato, pesto or spicy chilli sauces.
- Rice dishes – these are often packaged together with vegetables, meats or fish and seasoned with herbs or spices for extra flavour.
- Casseroles – which typically consist of meats and vegetables cooked in a savoury sauce; perfect for cold winter nights!
- Stews – these offer a hearty meal packed full of root vegetables cooked with meat or fish in an aromatic tomato base sauce.
If you’re short on time then canned ready meals provide a convenient option when looking for something healthy yet delicious to eat quickly. Nutritionally, depending on the ingredients used some canned ready meals may not contain enough dietary fibre when compared to freshly prepared and cooked food which could cause digestion issues later; however, if you choose the correct product then it is possible to find nutritious options from canned ready meals that will offer all the essential vitamins and minerals required by your body while providing you with an easy food solution!
Safety should be a top priority when considering adding ready meals to your menu. Ready meals come pre-made, so there's a greater risk of contamination or food-borne illness if proper measures are not taken. To ensure the safety of your meals, it is important to understand the key safety considerations, including food sources, storage, and preparation. Let's take a look at these key safety considerations:
Food Safety Regulations
Cooking meals at home can be a rewarding experience, yet there is the potential for contamination and food poisoning if proper safety measures are not taken. Food safety refers to handling, preparing and storing food in a way to prevent food-borne illnesses. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established guidelines related to food safety as part of the Food Code.
It’s important to follow these regulations when grocery shopping, preparing meals, storing leftovers and reheating foods.
- When shopping for groceries, buy cold items such as dairy products and fresh produce last so that they do not get raised above 40 degrees Fahrenheit during transit home. Place them into insulated bags or coolers to keep temperatures under 40 F; certain items like meat must remain below 40 F or else spoilage can occur quickly.
- In terms of meal preparation, ensure that all hands, surfaces and utensils are washed with hot soapy water before coming in contact with any ingredients. For example: wash hands before handling raw meats to avoid cross-contamination from bacteria found in raw animal products such as salmonella or E-coli; handwashing should also be done after changing tasks – like going from cutting raw veggies to handling ready-to-eat foods without washing your hands first introduces greater risk of cross-contamination. Additionally, when using multi-functional appliances such as microwaves or ovens, note that it is essential that after use each surface must be thoroughly cleaned between uses due to bacteria being able store during cooking time if not properly sanitized.
- Finally when considering leftovers/ storage: it is important to enjoy your meals while they’re still fresh and within three days of being cooked (with no more than 3 days spent in fridge), refrigerate leftover cooked meals quickly — within two hours of cooking — before it reaches temperatures above 40 F; make sure left overs are stored tightly sealed containers rather than plastic wrap – which does not provide an airtight seal – cooked foods – under 41 F; discard/throw away leftovers after 3 days as bacteria growth continues even at refrigerated temperatures; label containers with dates already from day 0 so you remember how fresh it is easily!
Proper Storage and Handling
When it comes to safety, proper storage and handling of prepared meals is of utmost importance. Freshly prepared meals must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours of cooking or being taken out of the refrigerator. If food is left at room temperature for more than two hours, it can become unsafe to eat. Additionally, properly wrapping and storing food helps retain flavor, texture and nutritional value.
To ensure that foods stay fresh and safe to eat, proper storage containers should be used. All foods should be wrapped in airtight packages such as plastic wrap or aluminum foil or stored in containers with tight-fitting lids when possible. It's also important to label all packages with a “Best By” date so you know when is best to discard any unused items.
Refrigerator temperatures should be set at 40°F (4°C) or below. This means that even prepared meals only need to stay in the refrigerator for a few days before consuming them, as long as it has been kept at the right temperature up until that point. Meanwhile, frozen ready-made meals can remain frozen indefinitely if they are kept properly sealed, but they should still be consumed by their “Best By” date if possible.
When reheating cooked ready-meals either from the refrigerator or freezer always ensure that foods are cooked thoroughly before consuming them – use a food thermometer if needed – so there are no additional safety concerns related to bacteria growth from improper reheating temperatures.
Food Labeling Requirements
For packaged food products, it is important to pay close attention to the labeling requirements specified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to provide consumers with proper information about their products, or nutritional facts, certain information must be included on each label. This includes but is not limited to the product's name, ingredients list, allergens that may be present in the product, production date or expiration date and origin of ingredients. Allergen labeling requirements are especially important for those at risk of an allergic reaction.
It is also important for packaging of ready-to-eat meals to include proper storage instructions and temperature guidelines in order to maintain safety and freshness. Additionally, labels may also contain health and nutrition disclaimers that describe how a food product contributes to a healthy diet. For example, some foods may contain nutrition claims such as “low in saturated fat” or “high in fiber” which can help consumers make more informed dietary choices.
Furtherm Safe and Ready Meals