Finding the time and energy to prepare nutritious meals daily can be a Herculean task, especially for those with pulmonary hypertension. Enter the humble ready meal! Certified nutritionist Shaun Clayton of the PHA UK explains how to make the best choices…

The notion of ready meals typically conjures images of preservative-laden, sodium-saturated boxes. However, nestled within the freezer aisles or the refrigerated sections of Tesco’s or Asda, there exists a variety of options that defy this stereotype. The key? Look for meals that boast a balance of nutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and, crucially, proteins.

Why protein?

Protein is the unsung hero of satiety, keeping you feeling fuller for longer and providing the sustained energy needed to navigate the day. For individuals managing PH, this nutrient is particularly invaluable. Fatigue can be a frequent visitor, making the task of cooking seem daunting. High-protein ready meals can offer a convenient and satisfying solution.

For more information on the importance of protein, click here.

Balanced nutrition: Beyond the protein

While protein takes centre stage, it’s the balance with fats and carbohydrates that completes the performance. Go for meals that offer a good mix of all three, ensuring they come from quality sources. Look for things like whole grains, lean proteins such as turkey, low fat mince or chicken (plant-based options include tofu and tempeh),  and healthy fats from things like avocados, nuts, or hummus. These are your allies here. This balanced approach not only supports general health but can also help in maintaining your energy levels throughout the day.

Debunking the stigma

Ready meals have long been stigmatised as the opposite of healthy eating.  Does “I thought you were trying to eat well, put that box down!” sound familiar? But as our understanding of nutrition evolves, so too does the landscape of prepared foods. Today, many options are designed with health in mind, catering to a variety of dietary needs and preferences. They can be a practical tool for those times when fatigue sets in, and the thought of standing over a stove or chopping by the worktop is overwhelming.

The reality is, unfortunately, nutritionally complete ready meals do tend to cost more than cheap, highly-processed versions. But it’s always worth keeping an eye out for special offers, or if you find one you like, checking the pricing across different supermarkets.

Good can be just right

It’s true, homemade meals where you control the ingredients and portions are often ideal. However, ‘ideal’ doesn’t always align with the realities of living with PH. There are days when ‘good’ is not just good enough; it’s just right. On these days, a well-chosen ready meal can provide the nutritional balance needed to fuel your body without depleting your energy reserves.

Choosing wisely

When selecting a ready meal, glance at the nutritional label. Look for options high in protein but be mindful of sodium levels, which can be particularly high in prepared foods. Seek out meals with a colourful variety of vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Remember, variety is not just the spice of life; it’s the foundation of a balanced diet.

Embrace convenience with confidence

For those living with pulmonary hypertension, managing energy levels is crucial. Ready meals can offer a convenient, nutritious solution for those days when cooking is a mountain too high to climb. By choosing wisely, you can enjoy the convenience without compromising on nutrition.

In the end, ready meals are not a one-size-fits-all solution, but they can be a valuable part of a balanced diet, especially for those managing chronic conditions like PH. So next time you find yourself reaching for a ready meal, do so with confidence, knowing that with the right choices, you’re not just opting for convenience – you’re embracing a practical, nutritious option tailored to your needs.

Your ready meal selection checklist

Tips for using this checklist

– Keep this checklist handy, perhaps on your smartphone or as a small card in your wallet, when shopping.

– Remember, it’s about finding the best option available that fits within these guidelines, not seeking perfection.

– Consider your personal nutritional needs and preferences, adjusting the checklist as necessary.

Nutritional balance

   – [] High protein: Aim for meals with at least 10-20 grams of protein per serving to help you stay fuller longer.

   – [] Balanced carbohydrates: Look for whole grain or complex carbohydrates rather than refined ones for sustained energy.

   – [] Moderate fats: Look for meals with a healthy balance of fats, preferably with more unsaturated fats. Avoid trans fats entirely if you can.

Sodium content

   – [] Lower sodium: Choose meals with less than 600mg of sodium per serving to help manage blood pressure.

Portion size

   – [] Appropriate serving size: Check the serving size to ensure it meets your dietary needs without encouraging overeating. Sometimes ready meals are designed for two people, so be careful of this.

Ingredients list

   – [] Whole, real ingredients: Prioritise meals with ingredients you recognise and can pronounce.

   – [] Limited additives: Be on the lookout for meals with the fewest preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Fibre content

   – [] Fibre-rich: Look for meals with at least 5 grams of fibre per serving to promote digestive health and satiety.

Preparation method

   – [] Microwave-safe packaging: Ensure the packaging is safe for microwave use to make preparation easy and safe.

   – [] Quick and easy preparation: Choose meals that can be prepared quickly, catering to times of fatigue.

Variety and interest

   – [] Diverse cuisine: Select a variety of cuisines to keep meals interesting and appealing.

   – [] Vegetable inclusion: Ensure there’s a good portion of vegetables for balanced nutrition.

Special dietary needs

   – [] Dietary restrictions: If applicable, check for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, or other dietary specifications.

Expiry dates

   – [] Long shelf life: Find meals with a longer shelf life to have a convenient option available without frequent shopping trips.

Packaging transparency

   – [] Clear nutritional information: Ensure the meal has clear and comprehensive nutritional labelling.

   – [] Serving suggestions: Look for any serving suggestions to enhance the meal, such as adding fresh vegetables or a protein source.