News - April 16, 2009


Almost all European ready meals contain much too much salt and too little fibre. Well over half of them are too fatty as well. This conclusion was drawn by Dr. Karl-Heinz Wagner from the EU Double Fresh project, which Wageningen UR is involved in.

‘Some consumers had prejudices against ready meals, but hard scientific analyses of their quality were hard to find’, says Wagner. The Viennese food scientist presented his results during a workshop on Ultra-fresh and chilled meals held in Wageningen on 2 April. He researched the nutritional composition of freshly chilled ready meals from all over Europe. The meals that were investigated were made up of meat or fish, a source of carbohydrates such as rice or potatoes, some vegetables and sauce.

The results are clear. ‘The meals had the right number of calories for one adult, but just under sixty percent of them were too fatty and contained too little carbohydrate’, says Wagner. ‘All the meals investigated contained much too much salt, and in the vast majority there was too little fibre.’

More and more ready meals are being eaten in Europe because people want to spend less and less time on cooking. About sixteen percent of European households eat these sorts of meals frequently, while forty percent eat them occasionally. ‘There is a trend in Europe to eat more and more fat and not to bother with vegetables and carbohydrates’, explains Wagner. ‘This tendency is reflected in the composition of ready meals.’

Wagner proposed a number of concrete steps that can be taken to improve quality. It would be a big step forward just to cut down the amount of meat or fish and include more of the slow-burning carbohydrates found in whole grain products. ‘The sauce, which is a big source of fat, can be made less fattening by changing certain ingredients. For example, you could use skimmed milk powder instead of cream.’

More fruit and vegetables, in the form of a salad or a fruit desert for example, are also essential for making meals healthier and higher in fibre. ‘The amount of salt in the meals is really worrying and should be halved’, adds Wagner. ‘It would be better to improve the taste with spices instead.’
The Double Fresh project is sharing its findings with the industry. But it remains to be seen whether ready meal producers will put Wagener’s recommendations into action.