Aisle by Aisle: Sorting Through Frozen Food Options
It seems like the freezer section gets bigger and bigger every day as the offerings expand to include every possible meal option. Some frozen food can be a part of a healthy diet, others not so much. Here’s our take on a few of the more popular products filling the freezer cases.
Many of my clients assume that all frozen foods are bad because they’re processed and sodium heavy. Though there's a lot to watch out for, there are some healthy options. Prepared meals and frozen dinners are famously high in sodium and other preservatives and you should skip them most of the time. We did some investigating previously and found a few of the healthier frozen dinner options.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are one of your best bets in the freezer aisle. Now, I don't mean the strawberries in sugary syrup, French fries or hash browns; I mean plain, bagged fruits and vegetables -- they're convenient and almost as good as the fresh versions. The bonus is you can store frozen produce longer than fresh, and they're more affordable at certain times of the year. Just check labels for no added sugar or salt.
I always keep bags of frozen peas, broccoli and corn on hand to toss with pasta, salads soups and rice dishes. Frozen pineapple and berries are perfect for quick sauces and smoothies. Trader Joe’s and Cascadian Farms are two of my favorite brands.
Stay away from most frozen lasagnas and ready-to-bake pizzas because they’re chock full of preservatives, fat and calories. Amy’s brand makes some of the better pizza options out there. Be sure to choose ones lowest in sodium and only rely on them occasionally. (Look for a frozen pizza taste test post in August!)
Frozen, plain pasta like cheese tortellini and ravioli are good, quick weeknight dinner options if you add in some veggies and serve with a salad. Just mind your portions and only cook what you need, and put the rest back in the freezer. A whole bag of cheese tortellini is easier to eat than you might think -- a mistake that can cost you more than 1,100 calories.
Frozen whole grain waffles, such as Kashi’s Go Lean or Heart to Heart would be as far as I'd go with frozen breakfast foods. Frozen sausages, breakfast sandwiches and other microwavable entrées might be marketed as wholesome, but they actually contain a staggering amount of calories, sodium and artery-clogging saturated fat. When reviewing frozen packaged meals, many of the brands we looked at had more than 500 calories and half a day’s worth of fat and sodium in a single serving -- not the way to start your day!
There are actually some good buys in your freezer section for meat and fish. Steer clear of pre-made meatballs and fried fish sticks, and go for plain turkey burgers, shrimp and fish fillets. Many stores have a variety of frozen seafood options, including raw or cooked shrimp, wild salmon and other sustainably caught fish that you can turn to for a lean protein. You can quickly defrost frozen shrimp under cool, running water; place frozen fish in your fridge overnight to thaw for tomorrow’s dinner.
When it comes to popsicles, juice pops and other frozen desserts, read the labels carefully for added sugars and preservatives. Fresh fruit sorbets and low-fat frozen yogurts are the way to go if you’re looking for a little bit of sweetness; they're lower in fat compared to ice cream but still contain lots of sugar and calories, so keep the portions modest -- about 1/2 cup. Choose brands like Sharon’s that are made with real fruit and minimal ingredients.
Check out our recommendations for choosing the best ice cream.
Heading to the supermarket with a shopping list is one thing, but leaving with what you need is another entirely. Yes, they stock charcoal; but should you buy briquettes or hardwood? Your buddy loves shrimp; do you get large or jumbo? For every summer essential, there seems to be a confusing variation — cilantro or parsley, whipping cream or heavy cream. Here, a cheat sheet to a half dozen shopping conundrums. Remember it the next time you hit the store and you'll come out a winner.