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The TV chef vs the ready meal:

Posted on December 30, 2012 in Blog, Nutrition Blogs | by

n61212043_38921336_3532The research behind the headlines

by Iona Taylor (RD)

Did you see the headlines recently, that “ready meals have been found to be healthier than TV chef recipes”? Many of the new reports didn’t scratch the surface of the research, which was published by the British Medical Journal[i] ( So what did the study actually investigate?

The structure of the study compared 100 main-meal recipes randomly chosen from best selling recipe books from TV chefs, and 100 own-brand main-meal ready meals randomly chosen from Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys. Computer software analysis calculated the nutritional composition of the recipe meals. Nutritional information for the ready meals was already available.

The study deliberately excluded recipes and dishes which would be consumed as side dishes, and ready meals which took longer than 15 minutes to prepare.

The meals were scored against the Food Standard Agency traffic light system, which gives foods red (high), amber (medium) and green (low) for sugar, fat, saturated fat, salt, and calorie content. The World Health Organization also has nutrient goals for preventing diet-related illness, which were compared with the meals.

They found that recipes were more likely to categorised red (high) for fat, and slightly more likely to be categorised red (high) for saturated fat than ready meals. The majority of both ready meals and recipes were given a green (low) sugar content. Ready meals were more likely to contain higher levels of salt than the recipes, although were also likely to have a higher fibre density.

It is worth bearing in mind that several of the recipes had salt as an optional extra flavouring, which wouldn’t have been reflected in the overall meal analysis. Also, the recipes and ready meals were selected randomly, but there may be individual recipes or meals which do not follow the same trends. The study authors also pointed out that of course we may not eat ready meals, or cook TV chef meals, on a frequent basis, and that the rest of our diet has the potential to balance out our nutrient needs.

Iona comments the results of this study don’t actually surprise me. If you’ve ever seen a TV chef throw the oil bottle around, chuck in some butter cubes or add a liberal stream of thick cream, you should be under no illusions that their meals may not be so healthy! When health professionals encourage people to make their meals ‘from scratch’ it’s so that you know what is going into your meal. If your recipe contains a high level of salty, fatty or sugary ingredients it likely won’t meet foods standards agency levels for green, even if you do make it from scratch! If you want Healthy Nutritious and great tasting recipes try Paul Mason’s The ONE plan cookbook available for download at                                     the-one-plan

On the other hand, a ready meal can be a good freezer stand-by, for us living our busy lives. Not only are retailers becoming wise to people demanding low-fat, good quality, convenience food, but it is also portion-controlled, crucial for any health-conscious eater.   Of course the even better (and often cheaper!) option would be to make your own healthy meals and keep a few portions at the ready in the freezer! But if you do have an occasional ready meal, choose wisely – and maybe add vegetables or a salad to help fill you up.

Dietitians can help individuals and families plan their food intake to meet their health needs, including finding and adapting recipes, weekly meal planners, and learning how to choose healthier convenience foods. Iona holds clinics at the White Rooms and the Cottons.

For more information about the services Iona is able to provide, or to book an appointment, please contact Paul Mason on 07960 231178 or paulmason’

[i] Howard, Adams and White.BMJ 2012;345:e7607 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7607