Without Labels, Prepared Food Remains a Mystery

Consumer Reports takes a dive into the world of prepared supermarket food, now a 29 billion dollar per year business.  It's easy, quick and so often very visually appealing.  Not to mention, we can get Sesame Chicken on the same plate as shrimp salad (or any number of other "buffet-like" combinations you might never think to eat as part of the same meal).

But these foods are exempt from nutrition labeling and as a result, we really have no clue what we're eating.  So Consumer Reports sent secret shoppers out to purchase prepared supermarket food from six major supermarkets to see how the nutritional quality of dozens of popular foods stack up.

In short, lots of sugar, salt and fat, and oftentimes, in dishes we wouldn't expect.  As ABC News reports, take one cup of orzo salad and you've already gotten nearly half your day's worth of sodium.  One six-ounce portion of crusted tilapia had 19 grams of fat and the chicken parm had added sugar.  There are many examples like these, where making the "healthy choice" might not be as obvious as we'd hope.

Not only that, the price is significantly more than if we were to make these dishes at home.  Sometimes double the cost. 

These foods no doubt help us out when time is tight and convenience trumps all.  Yet keep in mind that a piece of fish alone - when cooked in oil and topped with sauce - is no longer just a piece of fish.  It's been prepared in a way that makes it less nutritious, like so many other foods available at the supermarket. 

Consumer Reports, thanks for the reminder to be mindful of our choices, especially when opting for these quick alternatives.