Frozen food just got a makeover. New “healthy convenience” foods are emerging to meet the demands of our busy lifestyles from frozen cooked quinoa, brown rice and steel cut oatmeal to chopped and cooked kale! All it takes now is a couple minutes in the microwave plus a few dashes of your favourite seasonings to make a complete and flavourful whole food meal. Now it is even easier to plan healthy meals without having to carve out extra time in your busy day!
There is often a question of the nutritional value of frozen foods versus fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Which is better? The explanation lies in the freezing process: fruits and vegetables selected for freezing are processed at their peak ripeness, when they are the most nutrient-packed. In the case of vegetables, the first step in the process is blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and stop the action of food-degrading enzymes. In this step, water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins break down or leach out, however the flash-freezing that happens afterwards locks the vegetables in an otherwise nutrient-rich state.
Fruits and vegetables that are meant to be sold in the fresh produce aisle are typically picked before they ripen, giving them less time to develop the array of vitamins and minerals they are known for. Outward signs of ripening might still happen but these foods will not reach the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to ripen completely on the vine. What’s more is that during transport from farm to grocery store fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to a lot of heat and light, which degrades some nutrients, especially vitamin C and thiamin. The bottom line here is that any kind of processing can cause nutrient degradation. Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season and consider buying frozen in the “off-season” because they are frozen when these items are at their best.
Frozen whole grains are another option to enjoy nutritious foods conveniently. If stored in airtight bags and containers, they can be stored from 8 months to a year and quickly defrosted. Keep frozen grains like barley, buckwheat, rice and quinoa on hand and throw together with some frozen vegetables, beans or leftover meats, and your favourite spices to enjoy a quick and nutritious meal.
These recipes showcase just how versatile frozen foods can be:
Gorman, Rachael. “Q. Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables: Are we giving up nutrition for convenience?”. Eating Well. http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/fresh_vs_frozen_vegetables_are_we_giving_up_nutrition_fo
Gordon, Megan. “Plan Ahead! Freeze Whole Grains for Future Meals”. Kitchn. http://www.thekitchn.com/plan-ahead-freeze-whole-grains-for-future-meals-177623
Oldways. “Storing Whole Grains”. Oldways Whole Grain Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/cooking-whole-grains/storing-whole-grains