Frugal TV Dinners?
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    Question Frugal TV Dinners?

    Is $5CAD too much to pay for a healthy TV dinner? What is the current cost of TV dinners in your area? These are specially formulated dinners for heart patients.

    Yes, I know I could make my own, but these are food items I normally wouldn't because of the sheer amount of food we're dealing with. I just don't want 10 TV dinners exactly the same in my freezer! I've been told I have to severely cut portion sizes due to metabolic syndrome. Means what normally serves 4-6 will serve me 8-10 meals. Thanks.

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    $5 sounds like a lot to me, but I know things are higher in Canada.

    Be sure you scrutinize the nutritional info on the packages of any processed foods VERY carefully. Don't just look at the front where the misleading advertising is. Most processed foods are too high in sodium, for starters. Lower sodium does not necessarily mean LOW sodium, but people are often led to believe it's the same thing. IT'S NOT. Ditto for lowER vs. LOW fat, sugar, etc.

    I'm not sure why you'd end up with so many meals all the same that you'd have to eat all yourself. I do a lot of cooking using Weight Watchers recipes. My husband, who has no food restrictions, eats the same thing I do. Why not? Good food is good food and anyone who is eating bad food due to portion sizes is doing it wrong. I eat the WW portion listed with the recipe, he eats as much as he wants to and we're both happy. If it's a meal that has less salt than he wants, he adds some.

    You can also halve recipes if you find the entire recipe makes too much.

    Heart-healthy recipes are foods everyone should be eating. Is there something unique about the recipes you're referring to that they can't be used for people who don't have the same health issues? I apologize if I'm missing something.

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    The TV dinners I'm talking about are REACH meals that are developed by nutritionists and marketed to the public, including patients and seniors within our health district (at the recommendation of the health district). There are over 25 such meals and different ones aim at different patient groups (ie. diabetic, heart, etc.). So the heart ones would be super low calorie, low fat, low sodium. More so than an off the shelf grocery store meal. That's why I'm considering them.

    If I make up my own, where would I find containers to put separate portions of starch, veggie and meat? I've never looked for these. All I've noticed in the store are just a standard container with a foil backed cardboard lid. Are the special TV dinner containers found in grocery stores? Or are they "special" and am I just going to have to have any sauce over everything. (Yes, I know sauce isn't heart healthy...) Maybe the option is to just not worry about dividing things?

    My DH will not eat the TV dinner meals except as lunches. He claims they're too small. So your solution with the WW meals is good. However most WW meals are too high calorie for me and not low fat enough. They also have expensive ingredients in them. At least that's been my experience.

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    Okay, I get it now.

    Did your doc give you any real guidelines for food prep? I know you said you don't want to do that, but it seems like the cost of the meals would still be more than if you bought some of the more expensive ingredients to DIY some. What I've experienced with doctors here is they'll say something like 'you need to lose weight' and then they say nothing about how to do that. It's very annoying when they don't provide any real guidance. Especially since, well, duh, I already know before seeing them I need to lose weight. Do they think I haven't noticed?

    I digress.

    I use a lot of glass canning jars to freeze foods, if they're not watery which would break the jars. Since they're widely available and come in so many sizes, they're good for various size portions. Maybe you could stack the various dishes for each meal together. Maybe some things could be canned and wouldn't need to go in the freezer. Tupperware is good for freezing stuff too, and comes in many different sizes and is quite durable. I buy mine cheap secondhand. I don't know about divided trays, but you can also get Gladware and similar stuff in a wide variety of sizes for freezing things.

    Can you mix and match the various dishes? So maybe you could have chicken, potato, and squash for one meal, and the same chicken recipe with a side of wild rice and green beans for another meal. (Just sayin'. I don't know what your restrictions are.) Maybe you could pack your proteins in one box in your freezer, veggies in another, starches in another, etc, and then just pull out what you want for each meal from each box, which might help so you don't get bored with the same meals all the time. Especially if you could mix in some fresh stuff, too, like having a salad instead of a frozen veggie and stuff like that.

    If you wanted the meals the same, you could pack each dish in a freezer bag, then put all the freezer bags for each meal into a large bag so you'd have everything separated, but still organized together when you want to grab a complete meal easily.

    Not everything would need to be divided.

    I don't know how much you cook. It can be overwhelming if you suddenly have to change eating and cooking styles, but it's even worse if you're not used to cooking, especially scratch cooking. Try not to feel like it's hopeless.

    IMO, sodium is the most difficult thing to cut way back on. It's in EVERYTHING, even things that don't need it. The best way to avoid it is to try to make as much as you can from scratch, and I do mean from scratch, not using any processed foods, even stuff like tomato sauce. It's really difficult. And you have to be really careful of meats, too, because so many of them have a salt solution injected into them. You have to really look sometimes to find stuff that isn't full of that stuff. I hate that. I wish they'd just leave well enough alone and let us eat food not loaded with all this crap.

    I don't know if any of this helps, but it seems like the more a subject gets discussed, the more the wheels start turning and you'll come up with your own workable ideas.

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    Oh, sauces can be heart-healthy. You just have to find the right recipes.

    When you lose sodium in foods, you'll need to replace it with other flavors. Once you find herbs and spices you like, you won't even miss the salt.

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    Okay, I think I've sorted through this mess psychologically. I just don't want to do the work of making up tv dinners that won't taste good on reheating. My potatoes don't taste like theirs once frozen and reheated. My vegetables are soggy, not crisp. My meat is dry...but then I don't put sauce on it like they do. Might be a reason for the sauces? there's got to be a way to do this. Can I morph this thread into a "Who has made TV dinners successfully?" thread? With tips on how to do it? Or is there such a thread somewhere else on this forum?

    These meals are under 400 calories each. Sodium is under 500mg, the ones I have are around 250 mg. Fat depends...it ranges from .5 g to 4.5 g. Sugars are what I really want to watch too. They range from 4 - 19 g depending on meal for the ones I've tried in the past. Needless to say, I won't be ordering the 19 g meal again! (It was sweet and sour chicken balls for DH actually.)

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    The grocery store meals are $1-$5 here, with the more expensive ones being "healthier" (low salt, lower fat, etc) and better quality. I pay about $4 for a good vegetarian meal with organic ingredients. I don't think $5 is out of line for a specially prpared dietician meal.
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    Sorry SD. Didn't see your second post till after I posted mine. Thanks! Yeah, as I said above, I think I need to morph the thread into what you just answered! How to make a decent TV dinner myself.

    ETA: my diet is really restricted SD. Supposedly no sugar, only substitutes and few of that because they cause other problems. Only good fats and less than 5 g a day. Lots of fibre (whole grain everything), but no more than 6 servings a day (a serving is a slice of bread). Twice as much vegetables as meat and starch. No more than 1/2 c. rice/potato. etc. No more than 2 c. veggies. Root crops are considered starch. Must eat fish 2-3 times a week. Fresh fruit. Preferably no cooked desserts. Low salt...no soy sauce. I'm allergic to soy. Only canola or olive oils, and very little of those.

    Basically, take out the fat, sugar and salt and try to freeze something to taste good when it's reheated! is that possible???

    ETA -second time round! - Contrary Housewife. Thanks. I wondered.

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    We tend to put a little water I instead of sauce when we are warming up frozen already cooked meats in the microwave. We also add a sprinkling of water to frozen oriental noodle dishes. We have also made frozen burritos very successfully. I would love how to make individual frozen dinners blog friends have said they just freeze them on divided microwavable plates

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    "michelina's" dinner and "lean gourment" (also by michelina's) are usually $1 a piece and sometimes they are on sale for 88 cents. Sometimes i will pop one in the microwave and cook a veggie on the stove to go with it.

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    Peanut, I don't know if your library would have the South Beach Diet books including some of their cookbooks. Give them a look if you can find them. I haven't done a lot with mine but have read them extensively. I'm gearing up to try that but I'm not ready mentally to put the effort into learning a new program at the moment with everything else going on. But it sounds like a lot of what you need might be met using the SBD recipes. Some of it relies on high-sodium stuff like deli meats, but you can pick and choose amongst the recipes for what will work for you. Of course, the nutrition info is with each recipe so you'll know what doesn't work when you read the recipe. SBD does rely heavily on fresh ingredients, so that might not work for you if you have to have everything frozen. Still, over time you'll amass a collection of recipes that do work.

    See if you can look at some Weight Watchers cookbooks, too. Those recipes will fall within your calorie guidelines. You can sub ingredients to lower the sodium, like making your own salt-free broth instead of using canned broth from the store, making up salt-free beans instead of using canned that's called for in recipes, etc. A lot of WW recipes freeze well. The older recipes (before about the year 2000) were pretty icky, but the newer cookbooks offer some really great-tasting stuff. I have a fairly large collection of WW books and use them a lot.

    See if your library has a book called Frozen Assets Lite and Easy by Deborah Taylor-Hough. The recipes themselves probably won't help you much but it's a batch cooking book, so has lots of tips on making freezer meals. There is probably info online, too. Books on canning and freezing foods will have info, too. I think it takes some practice to get foods cooked just right so they're not quite done when they hit the freezer, so when they're reheated and cook a bit more in the process, they come out the way they should.

    I refuse to eat fake food so I minimize the use of food substitutes and also try not to use too much artificial sweeteners like Splenda, although I do like limeade made with that.

    A nearly calorie-free drink I like is just to add a slice of lemon to a quart of water with ice in my water bottle, and sip that throughout the day, refilling as needed. The lemon adds a nice flavor to the water while adding nothing bad to it. I slice one slice off the lemon, then stand it cut side up in a cup so it can't fall over and let the juice run out. I cover it with a little square of plastic wrap. Using one slice per day, one lemon lasts me about a week so it's a fairly inexpensive but still refreshing drink. Water does all kinds of good things for you including helping to curb your appetite.

    Have you talked to a registered dietician yet? He or she may have some information that would be helpful.

    I've started making salad dressings from scratch to avoid the stale taste and the overly salty bottled variety.

    I think a lot of food preferences come down to what you're used to. If you're changing to new foods, it will take some time to acquire a taste for them. You will need to have an open mind while you make the adjustment, and be patient when it comes to changes in taste. Try to make small batches of things till you find out what you like and what you can't stand. You'll waste less food that way.

    Don't forget when you're looking at recipes that you can manipulate the serving size to get things to meet your needs. Like if you're looking at a recipe that makes six servings but it's beyond your limitations, try cutting it down. Multiply the calories, fat grams, sodium, etc. by the number of servings. That will give you the totals for the entire recipe. Then, if you're switching the servings to eight servings, divide by eight. Then it might fit your guidelines, although of course you'll get less food. But sometimes it might allow you to have something you otherwise couldn't.

    IMO, 5 g of fat is next to impossible and not even a good idea. I'm no expert, but I do know fat is necessary for the body to work well. Are you sure they told you only 5 grams are allowed? Did they mean saturated fats, or all fats?

    Wow, big changes. Hang in there. It'll start to all make sense eventually.

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    Thanks SD. Sorry, I misled you. It was 15 g saturated fats. I spent years of my life with a nutritionist (2004-2007) going over my diet.

    The fact is the medication I'm on causes weight gain, and that causes all kinds of additional problems. I'm trying to avoid problems over my cholesterol at the moment.

    Dietary command from doctor: "eat smaller portions".
    From nutritionist:
    ~ more fibre (hemp hearts, psyllium, flax seed, oats, legumes, onions and garlic)
    ~ grate chocolate chips and use less,
    ~ decaf. green tea (I find this too acidic on my stomach)
    ~ 12 almonds/walnuts daily
    ~ seeds
    ~ if I eat bread I'm to have dark rye bread because it has higher fibre
    ~ less starchy vegetables
    ~ <30% calories from total fat (40-60 g/day). Of that, saturated fats are to be <7% (15 g/day).
    ~ whole wheat everything. No white flour. I find this impossible and settle for half and half white/whole wheat in a lot of things.
    ~ olive oil and balsamic vinegar for salad dressing. Low fat storebought dressings are lower fat than homemade, according to her. I dip my fork in storebought dressings before forking up the salad. That really cuts down on usage, but still gives the flavour of salad dressing.
    ~ eggbeaters (what's the difference between this and real eggs?)
    ~ Goal: 6 servings grains (1/2 c), 3 servings vegies (1/2-1 c), 2 servings fruit (1/2 c. - 1 pce. fruit), 2 servings lean meat (2-3 oz.), and 3 servings dairy (1 1/2 oz. cheese - 1 c. milk). Right now this is what I eat, except I can't fit in the dairy (lactose intolerant) so I take calcium supplements.
    ~ switch to artificial sweeteners. I didn't like them and don't trust them, plus they cause weight gain...my nemesis.
    ~ Could go vegetarian but must keep fish and eggs in my diet.

    That's the basics. I just have to do it! And it's hard! DH is not on a diet and likes sweets, which I bake for him. And then they're here, you know.

    He came home from his trip and was disappointed I hadn't baked anything. He wanted something, so there I was a 9:30 PM baking a rhubarb crisp that he snacked on at 10:30 PM. I avoided it then, but found it later. Thankfully it was so sweet I couldn't stomach it. I'm off everything but fruit for dessert.

    Unfortunately that will be a challenge this coming weekend. I have a birthday party and a BBQ two days in a row to negotiate.

    Church doesn't help. they are always having snacks and meals after church. Sometimes there's fruit, but often the choices aren't good. I try to just have a little bit and go with smaller portions.

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    Think about taking your own snacks and desserts to the church events. That's the only way you'll know for sure there'll be something there for you.

    My husband has a sweet tooth, too, and it's a problem when I'm not in the right frame of mind. For me, stuff is relatively safe in the freezer. Out of sight is out of mouth. So if I bake something, I try to make it something that can be cut into single servings, stored in Tupperware, and then frozen as soon as it cools. As a bonus, stuff stays fresher in the freezer. I make half batches of stuff. I use a half-sheet cookie pan for cakes that are supposed to be made in a 9x13 pan. A lot of portion control is fooling the eye and the brain. A brain that sees a thinner portion of cake with the same surface area doesn't realize it's getting a smaller portion of cake and frosting than the same surface area of a cake that's taller. I freeze cookie dough and then bake a small batch in the toaster oven so there are fewer cookies around to tempt me. In fact, my husband bakes them more often than I do so I don't even have to be involved.

    I've developed single-servings recipes for stuff like apple crisp and other desserts, so my husband can have them and then they're gone. I bake them in single-serve Corningware or a 5" cast iron Dutch oven. Stuff like that doesn't freeze well, so it works best just to make one or two servings. Then nothing is around to trip me up later.

    I can't understand how your RD can say homemade dressings have more fat and calories than store bought low fat dressings. She must mean oil and vinegar, but that can be changed too. I make creamy dressings using non-fat yogurt and other non-fat ingredients and many of them have about 13 calories per tablespoon. If you can't have dairy I guess that won't help. The dressings I make are mostly low in sodium, too, and I have yet to see any store-bought dressing that is. Many of them have too much sugar, too, to make up for the lack of fat.

    To help with portion control, I use small dishes and I know their capacities. So if I pour a beverage, I know if it's a cup or whatever without measuring it. I use a pie plate as a dinner plate. If I'm splurging, I'll use a salad plate. The only time either of us uses a dinner plate is for a holiday meal, and half the time I don't do that anyway. I use quarter-cup condiment cups for really bad stuff like ice cream, half-cup custard dishes for sorta bad snacks. I know how much a handful of cereal weighs and how it fits in certain bowls and how high the milk comes on the side of the bowl for the correct serving. I use a food scale sometimes.

    Not trying to act like a know it all because I certainly don't, but just throwing out some of my methods in case there's something that might help you.

    I think the difference between egg substitutes and regular eggs is the egg subs are made only with egg whites and some other ingredients. I thought it was interesting they don't want you to eat eggs. The last time I talked to an RD, she told me the new school of thought was that one egg per day was okay. They've decided the cholesterol in eggs isn't all bad after all. Personally, I don't think any of them really know anything, the way the "experts" keep contradicting themselves every other week. It's very frustrating.

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    Another idea would be to freeze main entree items and quickly heat up some frozen vegetables in the microwave. I keep bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer and heat up a single portion in the microwave.

    I have many single and double size portion containers that I use to freeze food in. Many times it will be a meat. If I have leftover chicken I will make sure to add any broth to the chicken I am freezing. That way I know it will be moist.

    I try to stay away from cooking with salt. Garlic powder and lemon are great alternatives to salt. Try roasting some tomatoes in the oven. They tend to be more flavorful that way. Once you omit salt from your diet you will get used to how food really does taste. Plain tomatoes also have a tang to them. Start experimenting with different herbs and spices.

    Rice freezes nicely. My freezer has many small containers of different types of food. I can defrost some cooked chicken, container of rice, and reheat a frozen vegetable and have a meal ready in a couple of minutes. May not be in a self contained container but everything is already made. Just needs to be heated up. Since your husband does not think there is enough food for dinner in a regular tv dinner this may help you since the containers can be large enough to accomodate your husbands appetite.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peanut View Post
    Thanks SD. Sorry, I misled you. It was 15 g saturated fats. I spent years of my life with a nutritionist (2004-2007) going over my diet.

    The fact is the medication I'm on causes weight gain, and that causes all kinds of additional problems. I'm trying to avoid problems over my cholesterol at the moment.

    Dietary command from doctor: "eat smaller portions".
    From nutritionist:
    ~ more fibre (hemp hearts, psyllium, flax seed, oats, legumes, onions and garlic)
    ~ grate chocolate chips and use less,
    ~ decaf. green tea (I find this too acidic on my stomach)
    ~ 12 almonds/walnuts daily
    ~ seeds
    ~ if I eat bread I'm to have dark rye bread because it has higher fibre
    ~ less starchy vegetables
    ~ <30% calories from total fat (40-60 g/day). Of that, saturated fats are to be <7% (15 g/day).
    ~ whole wheat everything. No white flour. I find this impossible and settle for half and half white/whole wheat in a lot of things.
    ~ olive oil and balsamic vinegar for salad dressing. Low fat storebought dressings are lower fat than homemade, according to her. I dip my fork in storebought dressings before forking up the salad. That really cuts down on usage, but still gives the flavour of salad dressing.
    ~ eggbeaters (what's the difference between this and real eggs?)
    ~ Goal: 6 servings grains (1/2 c), 3 servings vegies (1/2-1 c), 2 servings fruit (1/2 c. - 1 pce. fruit), 2 servings lean meat (2-3 oz.), and 3 servings dairy (1 1/2 oz. cheese - 1 c. milk). Right now this is what I eat, except I can't fit in the dairy (lactose intolerant) so I take calcium supplements.
    ~ switch to artificial sweeteners. I didn't like them and don't trust them, plus they cause weight gain...my nemesis.
    ~ Could go vegetarian but must keep fish and eggs in my diet.

    That's the basics. I just have to do it! And it's hard! DH is not on a diet and likes sweets, which I bake for him. And then they're here, you know.

    He came home from his trip and was disappointed I hadn't baked anything. He wanted something, so there I was a 9:30 PM baking a rhubarb crisp that he snacked on at 10:30 PM. I avoided it then, but found it later. Thankfully it was so sweet I couldn't stomach it. I'm off everything but fruit for dessert.

    Unfortunately that will be a challenge this coming weekend. I have a birthday party and a BBQ two days in a row to negotiate.

    Church doesn't help. they are always having snacks and meals after church. Sometimes there's fruit, but often the choices aren't good. I try to just have a little bit and go with smaller portions.
    I noticed that you have almonds on your daily list. I love to grab these as a snack. I get the roasted unsalted ones ( they are my favorite) if I'm craving sweet I might eat a bit of a dried fruit with them like a few raisins or a prune cut into bits. Very satisfying. Sometimes a bit of chocolate especially the dark kind, You could use your grated chocolate chips for this the chocolate with the almonds is so good. I just take an almond pop it in my mouth add a bit of chocolate and then chew and enjoy.

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