by Katie Cardner
Since the 1950s, America has relied on the convenient invention of the TV dinner to prepare quick meals for the entire family. As households were getting busier and busier, there was a need for a quick and easy dinner solution. Fast forward about 70 years later, and Americans still heavily rely on frozen meals to get them through the workweek. In more recent years, there have been a lot of mixed reviews on frozen meals and whether or not they are bad for your health. Keep your cool! Here is your guide to frozen foods: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Some Chilling Facts
There’s no denying that many frozen meals are extremely unhealthy to consume. They are known to be packed with excess sugar and sodium to help preserve and maintain taste, and many frozen meals do not have the proper portioning of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and vegetables to make up a complete meal. Studies show that pre-made frozen burgers have twice the daily recommendation of saturated fat and cholesterol than if you were to purchase ground beef and freeze burger patties yourself. As a general rule of thumb, you should try to stay away from frozen pizzas, mac and cheese, and chicken fingers. To help you avoid making bad frozen food choices, follow these guidelines:
- Pick options with lots of fiber and protein (10 grams), as they are more likely to be whole foods.
- Keep an eye on how many calories are in each serving – and how many servings are in the meal! Try to keep meals around 500 calories.
- The sodium should not exceed 800 mg per serving.
- If there are ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, don’t even bother.
- Options that have a shorter list of ingredients are more likely to contain real, whole foods, which makes them a healthier option.
- Look at how much sugar is in each serving. Avoid any added sugars.
Fresh Versus Frozen Fruits and Veggies
In part of the fresh vs. frozen debate, there have been questions on whether or not fresh produce and frozen produce are on the same playing field. The shelf life of various fruits and vegetables ranges from 1-7 days. With the daily hustle and bustle, it is easy to forget about those vibrant, vitamin-packed snacks that are oh-so-good for us. When it comes to fresh vs. frozen fruits and vegetables, they are pretty equal! The produce is frozen when it is at its peak freshness, so when you decide to thaw them to snack on, they are still packed with all the same nutrients as they were when they were fresh. Even so, if they continue to remain frozen for extended periods of time, they start to lose their nutrients. You should try to eat frozen produce shortly after freezing (never go longer than a month).
Cool Down! Healthy Frozen Meals Exist
Not all frozen dinners are created equal. There are many companies emerging that are making healthy options for those in a time crunch. The best brands to look for are:
- Healthy Choice
- Evol Foods
Home Sweet Home
The best way to avoid making poor frozen dinner decisions is to make your frozen dinners yourself! You’ll know exactly what’s in every meal and you have control over what you are eating. Whether you choose to freeze things like your very own marinated chicken breast or homemade burgers, or you choose to make a complete casserole, soup, or dish, you will always have those healthy, easy dinners at your fingertips. Here are a few pointers for freezing your own creations:
- Make sure your freezer temperature is at 0° F.
- Do not keep frozen meals in the door of the fridge, they will be exposed to a warmer temperature as the door swings open and may go bad faster.
- Use quality containers that are both moisture and vapor-proof.
- Label your containers with the name of the dish, the date you made it, and cooking instructions (so you don’t forget!)
Here is a guide to how long certain dishes can stay frozen before going bad:
- Soups, stews, and casseroles: 2-3 months
- Cooked meats: 2-3 months
- Uncooked meats: 4-12 months
- Cooked chicken: 4 months
- Uncooked chicken: 9-12 months