Ready-to-eat meals are better than before, but they aren’t all made equal. If you want to have a nutritious meal, here are the factors to consider. By Foo Jie Ying
You can now have cream of pumpkin soup piping hot in three minutes and fresh from the microwave. Gone are the days when convenience food meant dehydrated ingredients or MSG-laden noodles.
These days, chilled – not frozen – ready-to-eat meals come with meat and vegetables, and they are increasingly popular with those strapped for time.
They can be found in convenience stores, like Cheers and FairPrice Xpress outlets in five Esso service stations. What sets these meals apart from your typical dehydrated or processed fare is the way they are made.
The ready-meals are made fresh then sealed in a vacuum skin packaging that is expected to preserve the flavour and aesthetics of the food, said Mr Onat Bayraktar, vice-president of food care Asia at Sealed Air.
He told The New Paper: “Packaging plays an important role in preserving the freshness of ready meals, and those with vacuum-sealed technology will help ensure that the flavours and ingredients are captured at their freshest.
“The vacuum seal preserves quality and safety and prevents the build-up of ice crystals, therefore preserving the flavours and colour of the food.”
The shelf life of vacuum-sealed food is also extended because oxygen is removed from the package, Mr Onat added.
“The pack can be frozen in its original packaging and reheated later with no freezer burn,” he said.
For those sceptical about the nutritional value of ready-to-eat meals, experts suggest checking the labels.
Nutritionist Pooja Vig of The Nutrition Clinic told TNP: “There are a lot of processed foods that contain ingredients that would be more at home in a science lab than in a kitchen…
“Labels can be misleading as the nutritional information is often for a smaller serving size than what you would eat.”
Singapore Polytechnic’s senior lecturer for Nutrition Health and Wellness, Toh Hui Kheng, suggested looking out for products that are lower in energy, fat, saturated fat and sodium content, and are trans-fat free.
“These products may also have good sources of minerals (such as calcium), vitamins (such as vitamins A and C) and dietary fibre,” she said.
Another rule of thumb is to look out for the number of ingredients.
Ms Pooja said: “Usually, the (products with) fewer ingredients are better. Products with more than five ingredients are usually a red flag for additives and preservatives.
“The ingredients listed on a nutritional label are in order of quantity. If sugar is listed first or second, you probably want to avoid that product.”
A version of this story first appeared in The New Paper on April 10, 2017, with the headline, ‘Seal’s the deal for convenience food’.