Aisle by Aisle: Sorting Through Frozen Food Options

by in Grocery Shopping, July 24, 2009

freezeraisle_lead
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.

Frozen Doesn’t Always Mean Highly Processed
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.

Fruits & Veggies
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.

Pizza & Pasta
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.

Breakfast Foods
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!

Meats & Fish
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.

Juice Concentrates
Just like bottled fruit juices, always pick 100% frozen fruit juice and avoid blends with lots of added sugars or high fructose corn syrup. Cascadian Farms makes some healthy options.

Sweet Treats
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.

TELL US: What frozen foods have you always wondered about?

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Comments (13)

  1. Robin says:

    My husband wants me to buy Stouffers frozen breakfast and lunches for him to take to work. These really rack up the grocery bill and are not healthy. Can you help with some others ideas?

    Robin

  2. Lois says:

    can you freeze cole slaw

  3. Kristina Hudson says:

    I make things for the freezer myself- it's a lot more cost effective and you know exactly what went into them. I make huge batches of pancakes from scratch, sausage patties from bulk breakfast suasage, eggs, bacon, & cheese baked in muffin tins, and a lot of other things at different times and all of it comes out of the freezer & reheats wonderfully. As for lunches, you can do SO many things and freeze them. I do batches of BBQ beef, sloppy joe meat, meatloaf (little individual ones or a big one and slice it), taco meat, the list oges on & on. It all can be individually portioned and frozen then reheated as easily as any frozen sandwich or meal from any of those less healthy companies. One of my favorite places to find freezer food ideas is <a href="http://www.recipezaar.com” target=”_blank”&gt <a href="http://;www.recipezaar.com” target=”_blank”>;www.recipezaar.com in their OAMC cooking section. They have hundreds of thousands of recipes so it's easiest to go to the "browse recipes by" section about a 3rd of the way down the page. It's in purple with a purple arrow. Mouse over "preparation" and OAMC will be one of the choices that comes up. (That's Once A Month Cooking, BTW.) You can narrow it down from there. They are my most favorite cooking site for EVERYTHING!

  4. Kristina Hudson says:

    I make things for the freezer myself- it's a lot more cost effective and you know exactly what went into them. I make huge batches of pancakes from scratch, sausage patties from bulk breakfast suasage, eggs, bacon, & cheese baked in muffin tins, and a lot of other things at different times and all of it comes out of the freezer & reheats wonderfully. As for lunches, you can do SO many things and freeze them. I do batches of BBQ beef, sloppy joe meat, meatloaf (little individual ones or a big one and slice it), taco meat, the list oges on & on. It all can be individually portioned and frozen then reheated as easily as any frozen sandwich or meal from any of those less healthy companies. One of my favorite places to find freezer food ideas is <a href="http://www.recipezaar.com” target=”_blank”&gt <a href="http://;www.recipezaar.com” target=”_blank”>;www.recipezaar.com in their OAMC cooking section. They have hundreds of thousands of recipes so it's easiest to go to the "browse recipes by" section about a 3rd of the way down the page. It's in purple with a purple arrow. Mouse over "preparation" and OAMC will be one of the choices that comes up. (That's Once A Month Cooking, BTW.) You can narrow it down from there. They are my most favorite cooking site for EVERYTHING!

  5. andreaw68 says:

    Kristina…Thanks for the ideas! I can not wait to check out the two web sites you mentioned. Have you ever been on foodtube.com?

    Robin……. I saw a woman making individual egg omelets that she put in the freezer and zapped them in the micro in the am for a quick healthy breakfast.

  6. Kristina Hudson says:

    Thank you for the suggestion andreaw68! I had never heard of foodtube. Very cool- lots of videos to check out! I could spend a lot of time there :.)

  7. Lydia says:

    What about frozen vegetarian "meat" products? I know that they tend to contain lots of iffy stuff, I just don't know what to look for or steer clear of.

  8. Kristina Hudson says:

    I don't normally use "meat" products, but I do try to use a simple rule of thumb with most of the things I buy: can I very easily, perfectly pronounce every ingredient? If so it's not too bad; it may still be high in calories (things like the milk chocolate I buy has easily pronouced ingredients but is not exactly health food ;.>) but at least it doesn't have all of the chemical nastiness in it. There are also a lot of vegetarian items that you can make yourself at home- often much cheaper than you can buy at the store. You can look up recipes online and come up with a lot of tasty versions of what you could buy at the store.

  9. Susie says:

    Hi Robin,
    What popped into my mind immediately is if your husband must take his breakfast and lunch to work with him, the only really healthy and economic thing you can do is to rise in the AM before he leaves and fix and pack for him a healthy breakfast and lunch to take with him. It's not going to be very convenient for you, but it saves money and is healthier for him. Susie

  10. Kristina Hudson says:

    I make things for the freezer myself- it's a lot more cost effective and you know exactly what went into them. I make huge batches of pancakes from scratch, sausage patties from bulk breakfast suasage, eggs, bacon, & cheese baked in muffin tins, and a lot of other things at different times and all of it comes out of the freezer & reheats wonderfully. As for lunches, you can do SO many things and freeze them. I do batches of BBQ beef, sloppy joe meat, meatloaf (little individual ones or a big one and slice it), taco meat, the list oges on & on. It all can be individually portioned and frozen then reheated as easily as any frozen sandwich or meal from any of those less healthy companies. One of my favorite places to find freezer food ideas is <a href="http://www.recipezaar.com” target=”_blank”>www.recipezaar.com in their OAMC cooking section. They have hundreds of thousands of recipes so it's easiest to go to the "browse recipes by" section about a 3rd of the way down the page. It's in purple with a purple arrow. Mouse over "preparation" and OAMC will be one of the choices that comes up. (That's Once A Month Cooking, BTW.) You can narrow it down from there. They are my most favorite cooking site for EVERYTHING!

  11. Kristina Hudson says:

    You could also try http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com -and don't let the name fool you. There are tons of very helpful MAJORLY frugal tips & recipes on that site. She has a whole section on taking "brownbag" lunches- and they are all healthy & balanced too. DEFINITELY worth the time spent on that site! I hope that helps at least a little!

  12. @marymo362 says:

    wow! thank you so much! You gave tons of great ideas. I already do quite a bit of cooking and freezing but the breakfast idea is super!

  13. Mariel says:

    Why can't he make his own damn lunch? Are you his slave?

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