The Healthy ready meal index. Chemist4U

A header image introducing the article with text reading the healthy ready meal index.

Many people turn to ready meals as an easy alternative to home cooking, especially for those with busy lifestyles – in fact, two in five Brits rely on ready meals each week. However, with many ready meals claiming to be healthy and slimming, it’s important to do your research into what the best kind of ready meal is.

Nutrition coach Lisa Marley states that “Ready meals can be a great way to get a nutritional meal when you don’t have the time to cook. However, it depends on the ready meal.”

With that in mind, we wanted to investigate what ready meals are the healthiest option for those looking to eat well, but who need to turn to ready meals due to lack of time. Looking at a range of supermarket-ready meals, we have uncovered the nutritional value of these – including the saturated fat, salt and protein levels within each meal – to help you make informed nutritional decisions.

What are the healthiest ready meals?

A bar-style graphic scoring ready meals on their nutritional values.

With an overall score of 85, Tesco’s calorie-controlled chicken roast dinner (380g) ranks as the healthiest ready meal. This is not Tesco’s only appearance in the top 10 healthiest options, with three Tesco ready meals in the top rankings. This also includes a tomato and basil chicken meal and a chicken in mushroom sauce meal.

In second place with a score of 83.8 is Slimming World’s sweet and sour chicken (500g). Like Tesco, Slimming World’s variety of ready meals takes over the leaderboard with 6/10 of the healthiest ready meal options from the diet brand.

Aldi’s slim well smokey BBQ chicken (500g) also makes the top 10 healthy ready meal list with a score of 72.1, however, the saturated fat content in the meal scored slightly higher than some other healthier options.

When it comes to diet, everyone’s nutritional needs are different. Some people might be looking for slimming low-calorie meals however others may value a high protein content more. We have looked deeper into the different metrics included in our ready meals to provide additional information based on your specific needs.

The ready meals with the lowest calorie content

If you are looking for a low-calorie ready meal then Slimming World’s king prawn bhuna could be your next meal with only 44 calories per 100g. Aldi’s Slimwell sweet potato curry also ranks as a low-calorie meal with only 47 calories per 100g.

If calories are important to your diet, Weight Watchers Heinz beef hotpot might be one to avoid, with the highest calorie content in our list (121 calories per 100g). That’s 74 calories more per 100g than Slimming World’s king prawn bhuna!

The ready meals with the highest protein content

For those looking for high protein content within ready meals Aldi’s Slimwell Chicken Tikka Masala is your best bet with 12.0 protein per 100g – the highest from our list! Slimming World meals take the next 3 spots with the ranges chicken tikka masala (10.7), chicken tikka rogan josh (10.5) and chicken carbonara (10.2) all scoring highly for protein levels.

The ready meals with the highest saturated fat

If you want to eat healthier or are looking to lose weight, saturated fats should be avoided where possible. Some of the worst offending ready meals for high saturated fat content include Weight Watchers Heinz beef hotpot with 1.5 of saturated fat in 100g. Sainsbury’s Be Good to Yourself fish pie (1.3 per 100g) and Waitrose LoveLife Keralan Chicken Biryani (1.2 per 100g) are also high scoring when looking at saturated fats. It could be worth picking alternative ready meals if you are hoping to eat a lower saturated-fat meal.

What does the information on food labels really mean?

Knowing exactly what’s in your ready meals will help you gain control of your nutrition, however, it can be challenging to do so if you don’t fully understand the meaning of this.

Lisa Marley explains the importance of food labels and what they really mean for you and your health.

“Pre-packed food and ready meals require a food label that displays certain information. All food is subject to food labelling requirements and any labelling given must be accurate.”

“Nutrition labels display the number of calories and kilojoules and the amount of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, proteins and salt present in 100g (or 100 ml) of the food. This gives us a good understanding of how nutritious the meal is.”

“In the UK we also have the traffic light labelling system. This will tell you whether food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. It will also tell you the number of calories and kilojoules in that particular product.”

“Things to look out for are the amount of saturated fat. This number is important for a number of reasons, including heart health. Foods with one gram or less per serving are considered low in saturated fat.”

“For overall health, it’s best to avoid trans fat. Look for foods with 0 grams of trans fat. Try to avoid items with hydrogenated oils as they can contribute to obesity and disease. Hydrogenated fat in processed foods is the main source of trans fats in foods.”

Where in the UK is searching most for healthy ready meals?

A bubble chart showing what areas in the UK search the most for healthy meals.

Looking at the places searching for healthy meals in the UK, Durham is the city searching the most with 215.5 searches per 10,000 people each month. The location with the second-highest number of searches is Cambridge, with 101.6 searches per 10,000 people.

The UK city searching for healthy meals the least was found to be Ripon with a search volume of only 5 per 10,000 residents.

When looking at the split of searches across the UK, the North is looking for healthy meal suggestions most frequently. With those up north having 29.2 searches per 10,000 people. In comparison, the South has slightly fewer with 26.6 searches per 10,000 people.

Healthy eating tips

We have partnered with plant-based chef and nutrition coach Lisa Marley who has shared her tips for healthy eating.

Easy healthy meal tips

1 – Meal preparation

“Preparation is key when it comes to healthy eating. Planning meals, shopping online and batch cooking are great ways to ensure you keep your health in check.”

“Ensuring you are eating enough of the right food. Ideally, we should be looking at eating a variety of 30 fruits and vegetables a week. Fresh herbs and salads also contribute to this amount and variety is the key.”

“If you spend an hour each week prepping snacks, you will be setting yourself up for success. Tubs of homemade slaw, roasted vegetables, chopped apples with toasted walnuts, banana bread, and muffins that you can keep in the freezer and take out.”

2 – Eat more beans

“Beans are fantastic, they are packed with amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. They help build muscle as well as keep you full for longer. They are high in fibre (most children and adults don’t get enough fibre) and contain B vitamins. Recipe ideas could be kidney bean curry, soups with cannellini beans, beans on toast, or even roasted garlic and beetroot dips from butter beans.”

3 – Batch cook your meals

“A lot of people use time as an excuse to eat takeaways or have fast food. However, if you batch cook and use one-pot recipes, you are saving time and money.”

4 – Blend meat with alternative foods

“If you do eat meat, try blending 50% of it with lentils or mushrooms. This means it’s 50% cheaper and will go further and be better for you.”

5 – Eat the rainbow

“Eat the rainbow – losing weight isn’t about eating less, it’s about eating more of the foods that nourish you. When your body has all the nutrients it needs, it will stop sending you signals that you are hungry. That’s why if you eat cake or fast food you may find an hour or so later you are hungry again.”

Can ready meals ever be the healthiest option?

“It really depends on the person. If someone isn’t able to cook for themselves, then yes, a healthy ready meal is better than a takeaway. For instance, an elderly person who isn’t able to shop locally or cook regularly would benefit from a nutritious ready meal.”

Weight loss meal tips

“Ensuring you are eating enough of the right food. Ideally, we should be looking at eating a variety of 30 fruits and vegetables a week. Fresh herbs and salads also contribute to this amount and variety is the key.”

What would you advise those that find themselves turning to ready meals on a regular basis?

“I would say try to cut down but if that isn’t possible, start adding fresh vegetables to the meal. You can eat raw vegetables to add texture and flavour to the meal. I would say increase your fruit intake as this will ensure you are getting enough fibre.”

“Whilst there are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to nutrition – if turning to a ready meal every now and then works for you that’s fine! Juggling a busy life with healthy eating can be a challenge, but we hope you now have the tools to make informed choices about what the most nutritious options are and how to implement these into your lifestyle.”


Ready meal data: Taking the low-calorie/slimming ready meals from supermarkets and diet-branded slimming ready meals, we have used an index scoring system to rank the healthiest based on the lowest calories, saturated fat, protein, and salt per 100g. Meals with low calories, saturated fat, and salt were scored lower the better and then protein was scored the higher the better. Ready meals have then been ranked based on their highest overall score.

Search volume data; We compiled a list of keywords around healthy eating and low-calorie meals to reveal where in the UK was searching the most. We collected a seed list of UK cities and used Google Keyword Planner to reveal the search volume for each term in these key cities To account for population size, we found the population for each city and calculated the search volume against this to reveal searches per 10,000 people.


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