Ready meal nutrition is pot luck, says new study

By Anne Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

The study found large variations in nutritional content, often as a result of inaccurate filling processes
The study found large variations in nutritional content, often as a result of inaccurate filling processes

Related tags Ready meals Food Nutrition

A new study into European ready meals found that pack contents and therefore nutritional value varies widely between batches of the same meal.

The study, The nutrient composition of European ready meals: Protein, fat, total, carbohydrates and energy​ was conducted by scientists at Vienna University, funded by the European Commission’s Double Fresh project (contract no. FOOD-CT-2006-2318).

The scientists, led by Sonja Kanzler, said that to the best of their knowledge no studies using laboratory methods to assess the nutritional composition of continental European convenience foods and ready meals had been conducted before.

They analysed 32 chilled, frozen and heat-treated main-dish ready meals from Central and Northern Europe and the Benelux countries for their energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate content. The meals were regional favourites such as goulash with sausages and potatoes and roast pork with dumplings.

The research, published in Food Chemistry​, found energy content of most of the analysed ready meals was within recommendations.

Half of the tested ready meals were too high in fat and too low in carbohydrates when compared to recommendations. Sauces on the meals contributed significantly to the fat and energy content of the meals.

Scientists analysed either two or five sub-samples from the same batch for each of meal and large variations in the nutrient compositions between packages of the same batch were found.

Filling inaccuracy

This might be due to the filling process, which led to different amounts of meal components being present, the study suggested.

For example, the first package of chicken curry with rice contained 200 g of chicken meat and curry sauce and 187 g of rice. The second package contained 15% less meat and sauce, and 17% more rice.

This inaccuracy led to differences in macronutrients and energy resulting in a high inter-package variation.

Between the five different packages of salmon with potatoes that were analysed, the sauce ranged from 67 g to 100 g. This led to a high variation of the nutrients, particularly the fat content.

On the other hand, there were also examples for a more precise filling process found in other meals tested.


Seven meals were then reformulated by food manufacturers involved in the European Double Fresh Project and re-analysed to assess improvements in nutritional value.

But major limitations of the seven reformulations were observed. No nutritional experts were directly involved in the process of modifying the recipes and the focus of some producers was not only to optimise the nutritional value, but rather to ‘‘show’’ some improvements (e.g. by adding vegetables). They were also focused on extending shelf life and optimising sensory quality.

EU regulation No. 1169/2011 – FIC regulation

EU regulation No. 1169/2011 will require mandatory nutrient labels for all pre-packed foods, which could raise questions about quality control, in particular filling processes, to ensure trustworthy labels on packages, the study says.

The Provision of Food Information for Consumers (FIC) regulation will be useful for consumers only if additional food quality measurements are implemented by food manufacturers and checked by food safety authorities, the authors conclude.

In the UK, a processed food databank including on-pack levels of sodium, fat, sugar, and other nutrients from various processed foods, including some ready meals, has been established through the Food Standards Agency.


Source:Food Chemistry

Vol. 172, 1 April 2015, pp. 190–196; DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.09.075

“The nutrient composition of European ready meals: Protein, fat, total carbohydrates and energy”

Authors: Sonja Kanzler, Martin Manschein, Guido Lammer, Karl-Heinz Wagner, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Vienna, Austria

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