Moderately healthy but can definitely have too much. Once a week should be OK. Watch out for portion sizes!
Healthy Choice Frozen Turkey Meal®
Per meal: calories 270, fat 4g, carbs 38g, protein 19g, (salt 22%)
I’ve never known anyone to actually enjoy eating a frozen dinner. They usually fall somewhere between, “Eh”, and “I think that was meatloaf. Or pudding.” Nonetheless, if you’re forced to reheat a cafeteria tray, opt for the Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine versions.
Honest Sweet Tea®
Per bottle: calories 100, fat 0g, carbs 25g, protein 0g
It’s sweet tea. Sweet tea is a sugar loaded soft drink. However, the folks at Honest Tea give you the best option if you’re hankering for this southern classic. It uses only 5 ingredients with nothing requiring a chemistry degree to decifer. Plus, for you hippies out there, they use organic sugar and free trade tea.
Per Bowl: calories 280, fat 1g, carbs 44g, protein 4g
Yeah, yeah, the breakfast of champions. We get it. In case you weren’t aware, eating cereal will not make you an Olympic athlete. Or even a marginal pickup basketball player. Still, if it’s this or no breakfast at all, eat your Wheaties. (Tip: Cereals are notorious under serving size culprits. Double all nutritional values.)
Black Jewell Black Popcorn®
Per popped bag: calories 420, fat 17.5g, carbs 56, protein 7g
The box tells me black popcorn is superior because it contains more antioxidants. If you down a whole popper bag yourself I promise it isn’t. Share among 2 or 3 others and it’s a decent movie time snack.
Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers Ziti & Meat Sauce®
Per container: calories 340, fat 6g, carbs 56g, protein 15g (salt 25%)
This pasta and sauce microwaveable offering packs in a little too much added sugar and salt. A common theme of packaged foods. Still, if you’re in a real pinch for lunch, you can do worse. But it shouldn’t reside in your pantry.
Per pouch: calories 60, fat og, carbs 15g, protein 0g
Like this fruit in a squeezable form we recently reviewed, Buddy Fruits are not nearly as bad as fruit in a pouch seems. Again, actual fruit is far superior, but as portable packaged snacks go this 5 ingredient pureed fruit mix isn’t a horrible choice.
Kraft Fresh Take Savory Four Cheese®
Per 1/6 packet: calories 100, fat 5g, carbs 8g, protein 6g
It appears Kraft is out to improve upon good old fashioned Shake n Bake. I assumed we’d gone as far as we could with coating chicken breast with quasi bread crumbs and fillers. No matter. Grilled chicken with herbs is always preferred, but if this new concoction gets you or your family to eat more chicken, so be it.
Fruit Squeezies ®
Per pouch: calories 70, fat 0g, carbs 19g, protein 0g
I’m skeptical. Fruit in squeezie? What the hell is a squeezie? Apparently the kids love it. Anyway, based on the ingredient list this is actually not a bad option. It’s not as good as giving your kid an actual apple, but there’s minimal to no added sugar and only 4 ingredients. Feel free to replace a bag of chips with the squeezie. Or, more preferably, opt for the real thing.
Per teaspoon (pea sized amount): calories 15, fat 1.5g, carbs 1g, protein 0g
This spicy condiment adds punch to a roast beef sandwich, and used sparingly is a much healthier addition than mayo. Sparingly is the key word. The above 9 ounce bottle has 53 servings, so don’t be fooled by the low calories and carbs. Just a dab’ll do ya..
Per 2 ounces: calories 100, fat 7g, carbs <1g, protein 9g (salt 26% DV)
David Letterman’s favorite audience participation gift is actually not the worst thing you could eat. But, as you’d suspect with meat out of a can, it’s no diet staple. Added salt is the biggest concern. Eat canned ham on occasion if you desire. But with the non-canned version available, why would you?
Per 3 pieces: calories 90, fat 0g, carbs 15g, protein 6g
The package is pretty honest. “Imitation crab” says it all. A long ingredient list of fillers is not what you want in your seafood choices. Still, its nutrition profile isn’t too bad. Don’t make it a staple, but you could do worse.
Campbell’s Chicken & Stars Soup®
Per can: calories 175, fat 5g, carbs 28g, protein 7.5g, (Salt 50% DV)
Soups biggest downfall is salt content. And this one has it in spades. But any drive through fare is easily trumped by soup so don’t shy away. Just limit it to a can a week. Maybe twice a week during the winter months.
Per pea sized serving: calories 15g, fat 0g, carbs 5g, protein 0g
This stuff isn’t meant to be spread on toast. No, fruit paste is to be enjoyed with a cheese plate and wine. I know this because my wife and I are poser sophisticates. The small serving size keeps this sugar laden product in my good graces. Still, I prefer the cheese. And the wine.
Per ¼ cup dry (about silver dollar pancake): calories 130, fat 0.5g, carbs 29g, protein 3g
I’ve become a fan of this cornmeal creation since moving to Atlanta 9 years ago. They’re a little high in carbs, but definitely beat hash browns as a breakfast side. Trouble is, grits are best with cheese. (not good) Or, as my wife likes them, sweetened with table sugar. (worse)
Per ¼ cup (about 10 peanuts): calories 110, fat 7g, carbs 7g, protein 5g
Ever enjoyed “country caviar” from a roadside vendor while driving through the South? My wife has turned me on to this All-American taste that can now be snagged at the grocer. Peanuts don’t pack quite the nutritional punch as other nuts, but are a still a solid snack choice.
Campbell’s Chunky Soup®: Beef w/ Country Vegetables
Per can: calories 220, fat 2g, carbs 36g, protein 14g, (sodium 34% DV)
As the weather turns cold, soup will ease its way into my dietary rotation. And that’s a good thing. The high sodium count is a concern, as is the carbs. But the broth isn’t cream based and its loaded with veggies. You can do a lot worse than a can of Beef with Country Vegetables for lunch or dinner.
Per bagel: calories 270, fat 4g, carbs 50g, protein 10g
A bagel every morning is definitely not the best way to start the day, but topped with a protein (peanut butter or an egg, for example) and you’ve got a solid breakfast. The first ingredient is enriched flour. Ugh. You can eat regularly, but it’d be wise to find one in whole grain. The everything style doesn’t affect a bagel’s three star status.
Per ½ cup with shells (one handful): calories 160, fat 14g, carbs 8g, protein 6g
The nut with the undisputable best marketing team, pistachios are a solid snack choice. They’re calorically dense, a couple of handfuls sets you back 320 calories, but keep you full and are fun as hell to crack. Keep a bag in your desk drawer for an afternoon snack. One handful only! And for god’s sake, clean up your shells.
Per 2 slices: calories 80, fat 6g, carbs 0g, protein 5g, (290mg salt-12%DV)
Yup, bacon is a solid food choice. Especially if you nuke it on a paper towel to absorb the fat. Bacon adds tons of flavor and is relatively low in calories. Plus, it’s minimally processed. The salt content is a definite drawback. Organic status doesn’t change this delightful food’s rank.
Per popped bag: calories 100, fat 3g, carbs 20g (sugars 17g), protein 3g.
Are there better snacks? Yes. Do I typically like 100 calorie packs? No. And it contains artificial sweetners. But compared to most salty and sweet snacks, this popcorn is a super star.
Per 1/4 cup: calories 160, fat 14g, carbs 2g, protein 6g
You’ll go NUTS for raw almonds! (good lord, I’m terrifically not funny) Raw almonds are fantastic snack to keep around the house. High in protein, a handful can stave off hunger until mealtime. They’re high in fat, but it’s heart healthy kind. Be wary, though, of eating too many. They do pack a caloric punch and sucking up several servings a day could set you back. Of all the almond varieties available, straight up raw almonds are the best.
Per ½ cup: calories 140, fat 1g, carbs 29g, protein 6g
Compared to other sides (chips, various “salads”, mac n’ cheese) baked beans comes out slightly ahead. Its high sugar content is troublesome, but the protein punch from the beans lifts this guy over most barbecue competition. Beware though, this one of those foods with “hidden” salt (1/4 daily salt intake).
Per 1 cup (w/ 1/2 skim milk): calories 140, fat 2g, carbs 20g, protein 3g
A staple of many breakfasts (not to mention toddler diets) Cheerios are an All-American food. While I’m not a fan of highly processed cereals, you can do worse than Cheerios. Add some protein from bananas or peanut butter on toast and you’ve got a solid breakfast. Cheerios aren’t what I would call a “health” food, but a bowl a couple of times a week won’t blow up your diet.
Per wedge: calories 50, fat 4g, carbs 1g, protein 2g
Only 50 calories and conveniently packaged, Laughing Cow cheese wedges are a solid choice for a quick snack. They’re easily spreadable so your choice of vehicle (cracker, bread, veggies) makes all the difference. Obviously, scooping up some swiss with carrots or celery is best, but if you choose to have it with crackers try my favorite, Triscuits.
Per 6 crackers: calories 120, fat 4g, carbs 20g, protein 3g
Most crackers are made with refined flour, a diet’s worst enemy. Not these guys. Only three ingredients and made with whole wheat flour, Triscuits are the best choice for crackers. For a snack, scoop up some Laughing Cow or eat with slices of cheese. Keep in mind though, these are still crackers, you can definitely have too much of a good thing.
Per cup: calories 80, fat 0g, carbs 17, protein 0g
Although carrying an organic peach with you as snack is ideal, you an certainly do worse than this handy cup of peach slices. Here, the peach slices are floating in juice. Not bad. The juice adds a little sugar, but not much. It’s certainly better than the canned version…
Per 8oz: calories 50, fat 0g, carbs 10g, protein 2g
The tagline “Get your diet straight with V8” is a little too much hype (but awfully catchy!). But this drink can be part of a solid diet. Just remember to not use it as a substitute for, like, ya know, actual vegetables. And, it’s got waaay to much sodium. But, as my grandparents used to do, drinking a small glass of V8 a few times a week certainly won’t hurt.
Per ¼ cup (a handful): calories 110, fat 0g, carbs 26g, protein 1g
A healthy snack to be sure. Heck, an incredible choice compared to other packaged “snacks” out there. But these little guys are loaded with sugar. As an occasional snack they’re stellar. But be mindful of overindulgence.
Per 2 tbsp: calories 80, fat 7g, carbs 2g, protein 1g
Make sure you get the kind kept cold in the produce section. It’s not cream based. Admittedly, this type is far from perfect. A little too much added sugar and salt. But it’s tasty and versatile. Use it on an Asian-inspired salad or to flavor a stir fry.
Per 1 medium (3” diameter): calories 170, fat<1g, carbs 38g, protein 5g
Quite obviously a potato can be ranked all over the place depending on the preparation. Baked and filled with sour cream, butter, bacon, and cheese? Um, not so good. Fried? Forget about it. High in carbs, potatoes aren’t a staple. But they don’t need to be shunned. This three-star ranking reflects a baked potato with salt and pepper. And is the highest a spud can climb in these rankings.
Per 2 tablespoons (2 slathers): calories 200, fat 16g, carbs 6g, protein 7g
Whoa, lots of fat for a 3 star! Maybe, but it’s mostly “good” fats
similar to those in olive oil. Plus, the ingredients are peanuts and nothing else. Compared to typical peanut butter formulations, the natural kind is a gazillion star. Compared to other foods it comes in at a solid 3 star. (For the uninitiated, the oil in natural peanut butter rises to the top with storage. Stir before each use.)
Per 1 oz (ping pong ball size): calories 70, fat 5g, carbs 0g, protein 5g
Only three ingredients (milk, enzymes, salt) makes me happy. So does the taste and texture of these favorites. Eat straight up, dipped in olive oil and herbs, or with tomatoes and bread. They have a little too much fat to eat daily, but are far superior in taste to processed cheese.
Per roll: calories 100, fat 1g, carbs 22g, protein 5g
This is a hard choice. On one hand the ingredient list is long and it’s mostly carbs. On the other hand it doesn’t use enriched (read: processed) flour and there are worse bread choices out there (wonder bread anyone?). Ultimately, I’m going to settle on three stars. It can be eaten regularly and is a good choice to cradle your at-home-burger, but putting it in 4 star category is a bit of a reach.
Per bowl: calories 210, fat 11g, carbs 20g, protein 10g, (sodium 23% DV)
This is a prime example of healthy imposter. A salad is great right? And one with cranberries and walnuts! And only 210 calories! Well, yes a salad is good but somehow, aside from the greens, this salad manages to be processed. The vinaigrette ingredients? Water & sugar. Even worse, the cranberry ingredients are listed as cranberries and sugar. Why not just cranberries? Ok, look, if you need to grab something quick you can do worse. But if you’re gonna have a salad, why not make it yourself. That’s healthier and, I suspect, better tasting.
Disclaimer: I take all these pics myself at local markets. In no way am I attempting to single out a specific brand or company. One company’s product is not different or better than another’s similar product. I get all my nutritional info from the package. For items without packages I consult fitday.com and the USDA Nutrient Data Labratory website.