Confession time: We often have a box of frozen breaded fish on hand. It ends up on the dinner table a couple of times a month.
Of course I KNOW it isn’t as healthy as unbreaded fish.
I KNOW you can do it yourself.
I know you can make it with crushed nuts or seeds, which gives you a beautiful crunchy texture with more nutrition. I even wrote one of those recipes for my 30-Minute Heart Healthy Cookbook*.
But sometimes that is not. going. to. happen!
With two parents working full-time, these products sometimes strike the right balance for us between healthy(ish), convenient, and tasty in our house.
If you like to have them occasionally also, when time and/or energy is in short supply, no need to feel guilty! Feeling guilty about food is never necessary (it’s just food) or helpful (feeling bad just gets in the way of self-care).
Anyhow, you could do a lot worse, between fast food, takeout, and other more processed foods. And bonus! These products are made with low mercury fish, so no worries there.
If you’re keen to go as heart-healthy as you can, while preserving convenience and taste as much as possible, as many of my clients want to do, read on.
How to fit breaded frozen fish into heart healthy eating
Nutrition-wise, you can think of these products as fish with a slice or two of white bread (plus 2-3 teaspoons of vegetable oil and some salt).
So in general, I suggest pairing them more with vegetables, less with additional carbohydrate-rich foods. You could take advantage of the oven being on and roast some asparagus or toss a quick green salad for a nice balance. If you serve it with a big pile of french fries, ala fish and chips, you’ll end up with a pretty carb-heavy meal.
Other ideas? Dietitian Leah McGrath chimed in on twitter to suggest breaded frozen fish in tacos/tortillas: “So easy, family friendly and fast and you can load up with cilantro, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce…” Yes, there are more carbohydrates in the tortillas, but go for the whole grain flour or corn ones, load up the veggies, and don’t sweat it!
Or do like one member of the Sweet Spot Heart-Healthy Cooking Club who said “Love them done in my air fryer toaster oven with sweet potato fries (ready in 10 min) and a salad. Yummmm!” Again, yes there are more carbs in the sweet potato fries, but they’re relatively slowly digested and absorbed, so easier on the blood sugar than regular potatoes.
Which products are best? There are so many options, I thought we’d first start with…
5 tips for choosing breaded frozen fish
When you’re comparing products, keep in mind that the serving sizes are all different! In the table below, I adjusted each to a 100 gram serving size (about the size of a deck of cards), but in the store you can’t easily do that. But keep it in mind, and then…
- Check the carbohydrates. There’s a lot of information on Nutrition Facts panels, but I think with these products, carbohydrates are one of the more important ones, because that gives us an indication of how much breading versus actual fish there is.
- Take a peek at protein. On the other hand, this gives an indication of how much fish you’re getting. The products I looked at ranged from 7 to 17 grams of protein per 100g serving. Those products at the low end don’t impress — they’re probably mostly breading and oil.
- Scan the sodium. My rule of thumb, if sodium is important to you, is to aim for about 500mg or less at a meal, so you can see from my chart below that for some of the products, you’re past that with just that 100g serving, not whatever else you have with it. But there are lots of lower sodium options!
- Don’t pay attention to the omega-3 fat numbers on the label. In most of these products, it’s largely coming from canola oil versus the fish. Nothing wrong with that, but I wouldn’t make it a deciding factor.
- Look for sustainably sourced fish. It’s hard to know with these supermarket products, but I’m most confident when it has the MSC checkmark. The ASC is okay too, or pretty much anything wild-caught, which most of these products actually are.
Comparing nutrition labels while standing in front of an open freezer door at the store isn’t easy, so I wanted to give you some guidance.
I asked in my free Sweet Spot Heart-Healthy Cooking Club about people’s favourites. I geeked out and made a spreadsheet. (I do love a good spreadsheet.) I examined over 30 breaded and battered fish products, sorting the spreadsheet this way and that, ranking on various criteria.
Here are a few highlights:
Breaded frozen fish products to look at
High Liner’s Pan Sear Selects
Two people chimed in on social media with praise for these products. Nutritionally they’re great, with little breading and moderate sodium. They came up on top every way I sorted the products.
My family sampled some last week. Two thumbs up from my husband and I. The kids, not so much.
This product isn’t really like regular breaded or battered fish, because there’s so little breading. As one reader said, they’re “Fast and not greasy.” That will appeal to people who generally like fish, but not folks looking for a “fish and chips” style product.
There’s lots of seasoning and flavour though, so consider it if you’re a fish person and keen for a healthier choice.
The next best, nutrition-wise, is the Scottish Haddock from PC Blue Menu, on pretty much every criteria I looked at. It’s one of the higher in protein, lowest in sodium products, and it’s MSC-certified sustainable. The carbs and fat are moderate, so the calories per serving aren’t too much higher than plain fish.
Plus it’s tastes pretty good! We have this one off and on. If it’s not available, the President’s Choice Breaded Cod is pretty good too. (Just a little higher in carbohydrates and fat.)
I’ll mention this brand specifically because they’re widely available and all MSC certified. The Tavern Battered Haddock, which they sell at Costco, is often in our freezer too. This one does taste more like the fish and chips you might get at a pub. If you’re missing that in your heart-healthier lifestyle, this might do the trick.
It’s also not bad in terms of protein, sodium, and carbohydrate, but it’s a little higher in fat (thus the more fried mouthfeel). You’d think that might be bad, and it does amount to more calories per serving, but studies don’t really show a connection between total fat and health outcomes.
You might be wondering about Jane’s Multigrain Breaded Haddock Fillets, but sorry to say, it’s not a standout nutritionally like you might expect.
How can you tell? The ingredients (in order by weight) start with “Haddock Fillets, Toasted Wheat Crumbs, Water, Corn Starch, Wheat Flour, Rye Flakes…”
When it says “wheat” but not “whole,” that’s just white flour. It’s the sixth ingredient down the list before we see a whole grain (the rye flakes). There are more following that, but the amount of fibre is only one gram per serving, so they likely don’t amount to much.
Multigrain literally just means “more than one grain,” but that’s not always so special. It’s eating more whole grains like oats, barley, and yep, even whole grain wheat that boost heart health.
Nothing wrong with this product though, relative to the others. I just like to set the record straight.
If you want to geek out too, click on the table below to get a better look at it. A few things to note:
- The first item is plain old cod, baked without seasoning, just for comparison.
- The fish are sorted from highest to lowest protein. Secondary sort is lowest to highest carbohydrate.
- This isn’t a complete list! I ran out of steam after crunching the numbers for 33 different products. This should give you a sense of what’s out there and how your favourite might compare.
- I looked at Canadian versions of these products. The US versions may be slightly different.
- Green is sodium under 400mg, protein over 10g, and carbohydrate under 20g. This was a bit arbitrary. Except at the extremes, I wouldn’t get too excited about these differences.
- If it doesn’t mention a retailer, it’s found at numerous retailers. Just wanted to help you in case you don’t know where to find them.
One final note. If you’re watching sodium, remember that things like ketchup and tartar sauce contribute to that. (And thank you to the reader to pointed us to her favourite homemade tartar sauce recipe.) And salad dressing, and cheese, and pretty much ALL the good stuff.
Just kidding. We can do this!
The bottom line
This isn’t the heart-healthiest fish you can get on your plate, but if you balance it with veggies and choose something closer to the top than the bottom of this list, we can work this into the mix!
If you’re aiming for fish twice a week, try to include some minimally processed fish too, especially fattier ones like salmon, trout, and sardines.
Just a note, as always, this post is unsponsored. I have NO financial relationship with the food industry. Here for you. 🙂
Do you have a favourite breaded frozen fish or way to serve it? Jump into the Facebook post and share. Love your suggestions!
(*Note that’s an affiliate link to my book. If you buy through that, you pay the same price but Amazon gives a tiny share of the proceeds to me to support this little blog.)