Are Ready Meals Bad for Your Health? Unpacking the Truth

Written By: Paul

Are Ready Meals Bad for Your Health

So, are ready meals bad for you? This has been asked countless times, and the current belief is that yes, they are. But why and how? Here, we will delve into what you need to know to make an informed decision because, like pretty much anything related to food, it isn’t as simple as that.

Ready meals are a modern convenience that saves time, something we can all relate to. Yet, they are linked to high blood pressure and weight gain. This is because of the nutritional value of ready meals, some of which are known to be high in unhealthy fats, salts, and refined sugars.

Ready Meals Bad for Your Health

What Are Ready Meals?

Ready meals are everywhere in supermarkets because they offer a convenient way to heat and eat food. Pre-prepared and pre-packaged, they come in all ranges, from classic chicken dinners to gourmet seafood, all designed for easy reheating with almost zero preparation on your part.

Various ready-meal options

It’s hard to find a cuisine on offer that doesn’t have ready meals associated with it. When we shop, we can easily be lured by the fancy packaging and timesaving benefits of ready meals. Some of the options for ready meals include dishes from all over the world without knowledge. 

Indian curries, American or British classics, and even pizzas are examples of popular ready meals. Without being too harsh, there are some brands that try really hard to make their ready meals delicious and nutritious while offering convenience for the consumer at large.

Why people love ready meals

As mentioned, ready meals can save time, and you don’t need to be familiar with the specifics of how to cook something. Most are prepped for use in a microwave and can be eaten straight from the packaging. This kind of speed and convenience makes ready meals perfect for lunch breaks.

While ready meals are suited to lunch breaks, what about home? Some countries, like the UK, consume more ready meals than others. One of the top reasons is cost. A survey by Mintel found that 63% of consumers buy ready meals because they cost less than takeaway foods.

As people want more choices and options when it comes to what they eat, groceries and takeaway costs are skyrocketing. This has contributed to the increase in sales of ready meals that offer flavorsome foods for a fraction of the price both at work and for families at home.

Nutritional Breakdown of Ready Meals

Nutritional Breakdown of Ready Meals

Perhaps a little unfairly, ready meals are often dismissed as unhealthy convenience food with little nutritional value. This is open for debate since not all ready meals are the same. Some gourmet brands offer rather fresh and nutritious products, whereas others will often fall short. 

Typical ready-meal fats

The health effects of ready meals are mainly down to fat, sugar and salt. Fortunately, there are studies that can shed some light on the issue. One study[2] based in the UK found that a reliance on ready meals can cause obesity based on the much higher content of saturated fats. 

The carb content of ready meals

Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diets. Yet too much contributes to weight gain. Unfortunately, ready meals are shown to be high in carbohydrates across the board. From luxury ready meals to value supermarket ranges, samples contained between 41.8 and 46.6 g/100[2].

Ready meals and protein

Of course, protein is vital, and sources of protein vary based on your dietary needs. However, meat-based ready meals are a go-to option for many people. There are “healthy” options available, but according to the same study, value ready meals are particularly low in protein[2].

Micronutrients in ready meals

We need micronutrients such as iron, vitamin D, and potassium, a lack of which can be deadly[3]. Unfortunately, there is limited data about micronutrients in ready meals[4], and while processing of food has been shown to reduce nutritional value, specific methods can retain it[4].

We all need good nutrition, and ready meals have been historically bad for us. However, certain methods can retain the nutritional value of ready meals when prepared correctly. Yet the nutrition you receive from a ready meal also depends on quality, freshness, and cost.

The Processed Food Health Risks

Ongoing studies and new evidence suggest processed foods are perhaps worse for us than we initially thought. Examples of processed foods are off-the-shelf baked goods such as pizza and cakes, instant foods such as noodles and soup, and, of course, fresh or frozen ready meals. 

The health effects of ready meals and processed foods have long been a concern, and there are many studies in relation to them. One study from 2019[5] found that the risk of death increased by 18% from eating processed foods four times per day because of saturated fat, salt, and sugar.

As one class of processed foods, ready meals are indeed also a cause for concern. Given the results of the study mentioned, it is logical to conclude that because of the higher saturated fat, sugar, and salt content of ready meals that we know of, some pose a severe health risk.

Balancing Convenience and Nutrition

Balancing Convenience and Nutrition

There is nothing wrong with eating ready meals, just like there’s nothing bad about eating ice cream. The problems can begin with consistent consumption of poor-quality food containing excess fats, sugar, and salt. A balanced diet is essential, and you can include ready meals.

Choosing healthy ready meals

Data from various studies has shown that ready meals can pose a problem based on multiple factors. High salt, sugar, and fat content, with the lower nutritional value of ready meals, is an example. However, there are healthier and fresher options available but often cost more.

The importance of balance

A balanced diet is best when it comes to your overall nutritional health. Healthier option ready meals can form part of this and may even help top up micronutrients when you don’t have enough. As such, the processed food health risks mean they are best eaten in moderation.

Ready meals in moderation

Depending on the brand and type of ready meal you buy, they can be highly nutritious. Yet, this is often related to cost. Eating ready meals is fine for the most part, but moderation is key. For desserts and snacks, check the packaging for salt, sugar, and fat content before deciding.

Healthy ready meals can form part of a balanced diet and can even help you get enough nutrients. But eating them in moderation will help avoid short and long-term health effects.

Impact of Ready Meals on Long-Term Health

Eating anything more than we should over the long term will have an impact on our health. The quality of ready meals varies a lot and is often denoted by the cost. Studies have found there are links between ready meals and social lifestyle status, such as single men living alone[6].

The same studies have also shown the higher salt, fat, and sugar content of some ready meals, alongside a poor social life, contribute to weight gain, obesity, and chronic issues such as diabetes. Some other contributing factors that have also been suggested include[7]:

  • Low-quality vitamin and mineral additives.
  • Small portion sizes with minimal nutritional value.
  • A range of unhealthy polyunsaturated oils.
  • A host of chemicals, such as glycerin, maltodextrin, and artificial flavors.

The long-term health impact of consuming ultra-processed foods, including ready meals, has yielded some interesting results. A study in Italy[8] of 22,895 adults over 14 years found that test groups eating unhealthy processed foods were 32% more likely to die from heart disease.


Are ready meals bad for you?  Well, they are generally safe to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. As convenient as they are, the higher salt, sugar, and fat content they typically come with makes them unhealthy as a reliable source of nutrition. However, they aren’t all the same.

Research has shown that there are healthier options available, yet lower-cost ready meals are generally more unhealthy. Eating unhealthy ready meals that contain poor ingredients can contribute to a higher chance of developing or even dying of issues such as heart disease. 

Like all processed foods, be aware of what’s in your meal, and check the labels before deciding.


The issue of ready meals is controversial, and you may have some questions about them.

Can ready meals be part of a healthy diet?

Like pretty much anything, ready meals can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. However, it is recommended that you check salt, sugar, and fat content and enjoy them in moderation.

How often is it safe to consume ready meals?

Cooking fresh food from scratch is always the best option. But you can safely enjoy ready meals as part of a balanced diet around two to three times per week when you need convenience.

What should I look for when choosing a healthy ready meal?

Ready meals come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Healthier meals with fresh ingredients tend to cost more. But always look for healthy amounts of sugar, salt, fat, and required nutrients.

Hi, I'm Paul. Welcome to my website! I, along with my cronies, are leveraging our years of working in the food industry to review meal and drink delivery services. We review. You eat happily ever after.



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