Words: Zoe Wilson                                                                          Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith

Being able to reach for a healthy option without having to think about shopping, cooking or cleaning up can be a lifesaver when you’re juggling work, life and training. However, there are some key things to think about before you dive right into the freezer for a ready-made meal, so you don’t compromise your performance on the bike.
 
There are now some great ready-made meal options out there, and the variety is almost endless which is a big improvement. To help you decide on the best option for you, make sure you do your research.
 
Overall nutrition
First things first: Is this ready-made meal going to give you what you need in terms of nutrition? To make sure you’re getting what you need from your meal to support your training, your choice needs to be balanced from a nutrition point of view. Ideally, choose a meal made from fresh ingredients that has:
•          20-30g protein per serve to help with recovery from training
•          a source of carbohydrates for fuel (e.g. pasta, rice or potatoes) and,
•          less than 400mg sodium per 100g (less than 120mg is better but difficult to find).
 
A quick way to test for overall nutrition is to flip the packet over and check the ingredients list. If the list is long, or you don’t know what some of the ingredients are, then it’s probably highly processed, and not the best choice. Instead, look for an ingredients list that is full of natural produce and minimal additives.
 
Remember that rainbow, too! Stay away from meals that are predominantly white, brown or grey. Make sure the variety you choose has a variety of veggies and lots of colours – the more colours the more nutrients which makes it a much better long-term option.
 
Portion size
A key benefit of eating ready-made meals is portion control, especially if you’re trying to manage your weight or get to race weight. Some riders might need more fuel than you can get in a ready-made meal though. If this is the case for you, there are options out there with bigger serve sizes or meal delivery companies where you can tailor the portions to suit. You can also add a little extra in and around the meal. For example, heating extra microwave rice or frozen veggies or adding in an extra snack after dinner to boost the calories.
 
Special diets
Good news for those with special dietary requirements like vegetarian, gluten-free or low-FODMAP! Brands are being much more sensitive to these requirements and there are often options available for you too. Just be sure to apply the ‘balanced nutrition’ principles to the meals suitable for you.
 
A little side note: if you’re vegetarian, make sure that the meal you choose has plant-based protein included. Keep an eye out for ingredients such as beans, lentils or tofu for example. 
 
Value for money
If you’re on a budget, ready-made meals might not be for you. Most are more expensive than cooking at home from scratch, especially the more tailored options. Spend some time instead and do your research before buying. Keep an eye out for discounts or deals that help to mitigate the cost, too.
 
Sustainability
Unfortunately, eating ready-made meals can add to your waste in a time when reducing and reusing is becoming more and more important. Check the packaging for those that can be recycled or even better - go with a ready-made meal company that uses sustainable packaging.
 
Aside from the packaging, thinking about where the ingredients come from is important. Depending on where you live, there may be companies available to you that use locally sourced ingredients which is great for the local community and reducing impact on the environment.
 
Taste
Last but not least…. Make sure what you buy tastes good!! Make sure you actually like the meals you buy. If you don’t, you’ll be more likely to head past the local take-away on the way home and undermine all the hard work you’ve done. 
 
Make your own?
If you can’t find an option that suits your needs, but you still want the convenience of a ready-made meal, why not try cooking a big batch of food each week and freezing for those nights when you need a quick option? All you need are some freezer-friendly recipes and some Tupperware containers and Bob’s your Uncle! Even better, use the slow cooker if you’re pressed for time. Being able to set and forget while you go about your day is priceless. Then, stock your freezer with some frozen veg to add before you serve and you’re on your way to a well-balanced, nutritious meal in no time.
 
 
Top things to look for in your ready-made meal:
•          Natural ingredients
•          A variety of colours
•          20-30g protein per serve
•          A source of carbohydrate
•          Sustainable packaging
•          Value for money