Reader To Reader: Weight Loss Meals


This week, one young runner wants to lose weight – and thinks that microwave ready meals may be the answer. Is he right? Or can you offer him a healthier alternative?

"I am trying to lose weight before I join the Army in July. I am still at school. I was thinking I'd lose weight if I eat microwave meals for lunch and dinner, because they only have about 8g of fat and 300 calories. I'm running about four miles every day, I'm male, 5'6", 195lb."
Cliff Rosa

Your best answers...

  • I used to be the Convenience Food Queen but I’ve been converted to Fresh Food Heaven. Yes it takes longer, but I cook massive batches of food then freeze them. Frozen veg is OK; you can even get good microwaveable frozen veg. As I’ve learnt over time, don’t get hung up about your weight. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, and an occasional treat is fine in moderation. Stick to this basic rule and you’ll have no problems dealing with army life. – AsFastAsASnail
  • As someone who used to buy and merchandise ready meals for a retailer (saying no more than that!), I'd say: don't bother. What the packet says in terms of nutrition often bears little resemblance to what's actually in the product. Besides that, they've been through the mill in terms of processing and additives etc. I won't touch them now. Get used to making things yourself, and the quicker and easier it will be, especially if you have your fridge well stocked. – H
  • For a soldier, weight isn't the issue. Body fat is. You need to reduce fat, increase muscle mass and not worry too much about how much you weigh. If the ready meals are low fat, high protein, high carb meals – fine. As long as you're burning more calories than you consume, eventually you'll lose weight. Seeing that your goal is eight months away, a pound a week is all you need to lose. You shouldn't try to lose more than that anyway, as you'll also be losing muscle as well. Personally, I dont eat ready meals. This is what's working for me: breakfast of porridge or muesli, with skimmed milk; lunch of lots of fruit; main meal of protein and carbohydrate with as little "bad fat" as possible; snacks of hummous, wholemeal bread, fruit, unsalted nuts, occasional jaffa cake. Just don't forget to run, and definitely don't forget to rest. – Runner88
  • I think ready meals are OK in an emergency if you really don't have time to cook. But I would add a jacket potato and stick on a pan of frozen mixed veg (just as good as fresh) to add some decent carbs and vitamins. – Night Nurse
  • I used to eat a lot of ready meals, but they really are truly rubbish and are nothing but convenient. There are loads of other meals you can throw together in advance and just reheat. Or why don't you try a big bowl of porridge for lunch? It's filling, low-GI, slow release energy – perfect all rounder. If you have access to a microwave, zap some porridge in the microwave, add a handful of raisins and maybe a few seeds for protein, and you've got a yummy lunch. If you'd told me two years ago that I'd be ditching my chocolate bars and crisps, I'd never have believed it. But I wouldn't go back to eating rubbish for anything. – Patient Pixie
  • Ready meals are conveniently calorie counted, but you will get much larger portions for the same calories making the food yourself. If I were you I'd go for say 1,800 calories a day, and add around 700 calories per hour for running. It is the calories in versus the calories out that will make you lose weight. If you ate less than your daily calorie needs purely as chocolate, you would still lose but you wouldn't be very healthy. To be healthy you should avoid processed, heavily-salted ready meals and go for lean protein, some complex carbs and lots of fruit and veg. Good luck! – Firestar
  • Leave the ready meals alone. Learn to cook proper food – untampered-with stuff. A new skill, a thinner and healthier you – what more do you want? – The Hoose-Goer
  • I don't eat many ready meals, but do like Weight Watchers beef hotpot as a very quick lunch in the week. Another idea for quick lunch is pasta with tuna. – Cinders
  • Is you entry to the army assured? If so, relax. You have eight months. You shouldn't be trying to lose weight as quickly as you can, you should be trying to lose it slowly but surely. A couple of pounds a month is fine. If you still have some surplus when you join up, the square-bashing will soon shift it. Trouble is, Army catering isn't particularly well geared up to those who are into healthy food. Kate Adie, in her autobiography, describes the UK armed forces as "performing remarkly well for an outfit fuelled by beer and chips". – Muttley
  • How overweight are you? If you have passed the medical you will be fine, just stay active and eat healthy stuff. Roast veg sounds boring but tastes great. Chuck the crappy junk food and try some of the meals recommended by RW members. Good luck with your army career, hope it goes well. – Dale the Snail
  • You'll love this suggestion, but it works: join Weight Watchers. The thought of standing in the queue to be weighed with all the others (mostly women) is a really good incentive, and it works. I lost two stone in 10 weeks first time round. But be careful, its so easy to put it back on. A change of lifestyle is the key. – Harry Hedgehog
  • Just because Weight Watchers meals are low in fat and calories does not mean they are good for you, in my opinion. They are better for you than eating a take-out pizza, a chinese and a burger once a week, but they can be very high in salts and preservatives. Think for a moment about how this food is produced, in big vats in a factory somewhere... how long ago? How many people have transported this to me? Where did it come from? Personally, I find the answers to these questions make me get the pasta water on the go pretty quick. Our weight should not be our prime concern when planning our food intake, our health should be. – Boomching
  • Whatever your ideal weight, 300 calories for a meal is just silly if you're active. Once you're in basic training your fitness will go through the roof – but you need to be strong to withstand it. Starving yourself on calorie-controlled ready meals is not the way to make yourself strong! – Jj
  • Ready meals are full of salt and unrecognisable ingredients, and highly processed. If you were to make, say, a shepherds pie at home you would need about six ingredients, depending on how many vegetables you like to add. Compare that to a shop-bought ready meal, and that will give you an idea of how many unnecessary ingredients go into processed foods. – Mrs Icarus
  • Make sure you make your own porridge. Those porridge sachets are often packed with sugar etc. Read the packaging first, or just buy a box of Scott's or Quaker oats to be on the safe side. – Scott S
  • Eat sensibly with a balanced approach to carbs/proteins and plenty of veg and fruit. If you are running just for fitness, then mix it up a bit. Go mountain biking, find a squash partner, start doing weights – all these will add different aspects to fitness, which you will need for the army. Enjoy getting fit and eating nice things. – lardass
  • Ready meals won't fill you up and are full of rubbish. If you must, have one add a large salad. I lost two stone with the support of a personal trainer. I worked hard in the gym and ate a sensible healthy diet. It's not rocket science: five fruit/veg a day, low fat, unrefined carbs and protein. Plenty of water to drink, and avoid the beer! I found that keeping a diet diary was useful, too. – Angie Jackson
  • Providing you are fit and healthy I wouldn't worry about too many extra pounds, as they'll soon drop off during basic training. Just make sure you can pass basic fitness tests and put 110% in. Unless you really under-peform, effort counts for more than abiity. (and read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser if you want to be put off fast food for life.) – Craig Llewellyn
  • Here are some tips: 1. Get down to Holland & Barrett and buy some soya-bran. It's 60% fibre (yes, over twice as high as All-Bran). Add about 10-20g of this to your porridge to thicken it and reduce the GI even further. 2. High fibre keeps you fuller longer, and even reduces the absorption of fat. 3. Scramble some egg whites in the morning. Have one yolk for the taste and the nutrients, then add 3 whites. Eggs are cheap, so don't worry about waste. Lance Armstrong used to start every day of his winter training this way. – Andreas Stradis
  • I am 23 and am also a runner trying to lose weight. There has been a lot of negative press around convenience meals, but I use microwave meals when I need quick meals to fit in around my day as I work full time and go to uni in the evenings. But I've found that microwave meals on their own didn't fill me up, and I can't run hungry. There are many ways of making low calorie, nutritious lunches that require little cookery skills but will deliver better nutrition than the packaged meals. Buy some bagged salad from the supermarket, add tuna, some pumpkin seeds, black pepper and a small wholemeal roll. Voila: a low-fat lunch containing protein and carbohydrate with few calories. – SamToon


Any questions?
Got a new poser or problem that you want RW members to answer? Spotted a great question on the forum? Email us!

Click here to find out more about Reader to Reader.