Consumer Reports: How healthy are supermarket prepared foods?

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A Consumer Reports survey of 63,000 subscribers found that half buy meals at the prepared-food counter. But are those foods healthy? (WPVI)

More people than ever are buying prepared foods from the supermarket.

A Consumer Reports survey of 63,000 subscribers found that half buy meals at the prepared-food counter. But are those foods healthy?

Prepared foods may seem relatively healthy, but Consumer Reports analyzed some popular dishes and found some surprises.

People looking to save time making dinner have turned supermarket prepared foods into a $29 billion dollar a year business. But Consumer Reports says to be wary.

"These foods aren't required to have nutrition labels. So you might be eating more fat, calories, and sodium than you think," said Amy Keating, Consumer Reports Registered Dietitian.

Consumer Reports' secret shoppers purchased dozens of popular prepared foods from six major supermarkets and had them analyzed for sodium, calories, fat, and saturated fat.

One thing they found lots of - sodium. The mini turkey meatloaf packed an average of 891 milligrams of sodium in a 6-ounce serving. That's the same as you'd get if you ate a large bag of potato chips!

And one cup of healthy-looking orzo salad averaged 938 milligrams of sodium.

Without a nutrition label, you'd never know that this 6-ounce of tilapia has 19 grams of fat.

Other surprising ingredients? This chicken Parmesan has added sugar.

And mashed potatoes are made with a preservative called sodium benzoate, as well as disodium pyrophosphate to maintain color. Not ingredients you'd add if you made it at home.

It turns out many supermarkets don't actually make all their prepared foods.

"According to the clerks who were quizzed by our secret shoppers, we'd estimate that only about half of what we tested was actually made on-site," said Keating.

And you pay a price for convenience. Some of the foods Consumer Reports checked out cost twice the price of making them at home.

Consumer Reports did find one great deal - rotisserie chicken. It's often far cheaper to buy it at the supermarket than to make yourself.

Consumer Reports' survey of its subscribers found they're happiest with the prepared foods at Wegmans, Publix, Costco, Fresh Market and Whole Foods Market.

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