Salt Reduction

Freeze out the sodium for healthier frozen ready meals

Frozen food is growing in popularity across the world. Driven by our increasingly busy lives, demand for easy and reliable frozen ready meals is booming. The global frozen food market size and share is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.1% between 2022 and 2030, and its revenue is expected to grow up to USD 389.90 Billion by 2030.

While cook-at-home meal box services have caught on recently and enjoyed a lot of hype on social media, that old standby the frozen dinner still dominates the world of home convenience food. And with fuel prices increasing, there’s even more interest in meals that can be prepared quickly and cheaply in the microwave.

The modern frozen ready meal has evolved far beyond its humble origins. The classic  1960s “TV dinner” was meat and two sides, placed into divided compartments on a tin foil tray. While these traditional meat-and-potato meals are still popular, ranges have expanded to include dishes like prawn gyoza, asparagus risotto and chicken korma. 

Like other foods, frozen meals have been segmented into categories. Lower-calorie, vegetarian, organic, premium, and kids meal ranges can all be found in the freezer case at the supermarket. 

There are frozen meals for every taste and lifestyle, providing a fast and tasty option for just about everyone. While some ready meals are formulated with balanced nutrition, many more are not. Even among those products marketed as a healthier option, you can find high levels of sugar, fat and salt. 

We explored the sodium content of frozen meals in US, UK and European supermarkets and compared them to guidance set by both the FDA and the WHO.  

The WHO sets a benchmark of 250mg sodium per 100g for frozen dinners, entrees, sides and ready meals, while the FDA guidance for frozen meals and sides is 380mg sodium per 100g.

Homestyle favourites

Those classic comfort food meals are as popular as ever. While there’s plenty of choice in this category, finding a frozen meal that meets either FDA or WHO sodium guidance is a challenge. Most of the products we looked at were two or three times the 250mg WHO sodium value. Others exceeded it by 4x or more. 

In some individual frozen meals, the sodium content was half of the FDA’s Daily Value. We found a meal that has a single serving sodium value of 1,630mg. That’s over 4x the FDA guidance, and 70% of the FDA’s recommended sodium DV. This also exceeds the American Heart Association’s “ideal” daily sodium intake of 1,500mg.

Here are a few more examples of classic frozen ready meal sodium values and how they stack up against WHO and FDA targets: 

Fish pie: 824mg sodium per 100g

  • 329% of WHO benchmark / 217% of FDA guidance

Spaghetti bolognese: 832mg sodium per 100g

  • 233% of WHO benchmark / 119% of FDA guidance 

Lamb dinner: 1280mg sodium per 100g

  • 512% of WHO benchmark / 337% of FDA guidance


New flavours in the freezer

Food manufacturers do a great job of staying on top of food trends and ensuring they can offer consumers the most popular tastes of the moment. This applies to frozen ready meals too. But just like traditional frozen meals, these newer options have a high sodium problem. 

The sodium value per 100g of many of these products was moderately high – however, larger portion sizes sold as “single serving” packs means you can easily consume most of your sodium DV in a single meal. An example of this is a pasta meal with a serving size of 340g. This single serving meal contains 79% of the FDA’s Daily Value for sodium.

Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese: 538mg sodium per 100g

  • 215% of WHO benchmark / 141% of FDA guidance

Chicken Chow Mien: 916mg sodium per 100g

  • 366% of WHO benchmark / 241% of FDA guidance

Chicken & Chorizo Paella: 1004mg sodium/100g

  • 401% of WHO benchmark / 264% of FDA guidance

Healthier choice ranges

The “better-for-you” trend is driving consumer choice across all food categories, including frozen meals. Consumers don’t want to sacrifice nutrition for convenience.  According to research from the Food Institute, 74% of shoppers sought healthy frozen food choices.

Frozen ready meals are available to cater for a variety of special dietary requirements, including lower-calorie, gluten-free, vegan, and premium “all-natural” options.

Although these are typically labelled as healthier, many still have high sodium levels.

Low-calorie cottage pie: 640mg sodium per 100g

  • 256% of WHO benchmark / 168% of FDA guidance

Organic vegan pie: 680mg sodium per 100g

  • 272% of WHO benchmark / 179% of FDA guidance

Premium vegetarian lasagna: 864mg sodium per 100g

  • 345% of WHO benchmark / 227% of FDA guidance

Kids meals

Families are busier than ever, and parents are reaching for ready meals to make the hectic dinnertime routine a little easier to manage. While most of the kids’ meals we looked at adhere to healthy nutritional standards, there were a few exceptions.

The own-brand range of frozen kids’ meals at a US big box store had products that were right at the recommended sodium levels, or just above. One of these, a mac ’n’ cheese bites meal has 470mg of sodium per 100g – significantly over both FDA and WHO recommended levels.

The most notable of these high-sodium examples is a frozen ready meal sold by US mega-retailer Walmart. This kids’ meal of chicken nuggets and pasta serves up a whopping 55% of FDA’s sodium DV in a single serving. 1,270mg of sodium is excessive in an adult meal, but it’s especially concerning in one marketed for children. 

According to research from the CDC, sodium intake as a child can lead to high blood pressure as an adult.

Healthier frozen meals with 35% less sodium

As the frozen food market momentum surges forward, don’t let high sodium freeze your products out. There are great opportunities for food manufacturers who can deliver tasty frozen ready meals with an attractive nutritional profile.

Saltwell® is a key component in formulation for today’s frozen food market. It allows food manufacturers to dial down sodium content with an easy 1:1 replacement, while maintaining the same delicious natural salty flavour. 

And because it’s a 100% clean label ingredient, you’ll win the approval of even the most discerning health-conscious shoppers. 

If you’re in food manufacturing, we encourage you to have a look around our site and learn more about what makes Saltwell® the perfect sodium reduction partner for your business. You can get in touch here to discuss your product requirements, or request a free sample.  

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