As you know I recommend using a freezer as it is an economic and time-saver tool in the family diet.
But obvious the question: does it provide healthy options too? Do we give up nutrition for convenience?
A freezer is a great tool in families life: helps us to spare money and time. Of course, I used my freezer when I was single too, but things scale up with family and freezer become an indispensable equipment in my kitchen.
What are the benefits of using a freezer?
#1 Saves us money
Frozen products are more affordable – especially if you buy in bulk. But also you can take advantage on a sale: buy more and store them in the freezer.
#2 Helps us at meal planning
Meal planning is easier if you have the most important ingredients available. Start meal planning with an inventory in your freezer and in your cupboards.
#3 It is convenient
Food is always available in our house until we decide to eat them.
#4 Helps us to waste less food
We do not always need a whole package when we prepare a meal – the rest can go into the freezer and used in the future. Leftover food can be saved in the freezer and used up or transformed into a new dish later.
#5 Helps us to save time
One way they save us time is that frozen products do not need washing, peeling or chopping. The other way that we can cook two-three batches and freeze.
#7 Help us to be prepared for the unexpected
There is something available in the freezer – even if you have no time to do shopping or cooking; when your house snowed down, you have unexpected guests or you are just not feeling well.
But am I right to use the freezer so often? Isn’t fresh food better?
Is frozen food less nutritious than fresh?
We learned that fresh is the best – but is it really? We are prone to think that frozen food is highly processed and unhealthy and better to buy products with the label “made from fresh ingredients”.
The true is that technology has developed a lot and the modern freezing method is so advanced that frozen may actually contain more nutrients and antioxidants than fresh. Extreme cold holds back the growth of microorganisms and destroys enzymes that would degrade nutrients.
Raw veg and fruit
Fresh vs. Frozen
Fresh vegetables provide the most nutrients when they are prepared and eaten immediately after picked. so if can pop over to your organic allotment and pick some carrots in the morning, your carrot and coriander soup for lunch will provide the maximum nutrient content for you. If you can do this, you are very lucky. But the reality is that most of us buy vegetables from the local supermarket where vegetables are transported 2 days or 2 weeks before hitting the supermarket shelves. They are often unripe when they were harvested. So they very rarely show their best nutritional value by the time they arrive into your kitchen. During transportation and storage vegetables and fruits are exposed to heat, light and oxygen – and vitamins and antioxidants escape from food.
Just two really simple example what this means:
- Peas lose over half of their vitamin C within 48 hours of being harvested.
- Spinach loses all of its vitamin C when stored at room temperature for just 4 days!
On the way to supermarkets fruits and vegetables also change their texture, flavour, colour and appearance. I have to mention here that for this reason local farmers’ market is a better choice to buy fresh fruit and vegetable than supermarkets: their produce is usually freshly picked, do not transported and stored for days or weeks.
So if you buy your peas and spinach frozen you are right. They have been frozen immediately after picked at the perfect time, when they ripe, ready to eat but before they lose their nutritional goodness. They are usually blanched before freezing, which means they were plunged into boiling water, removed after a couple of minutes and finally plunged into iced water to stop the cooking process. They may lose some of their water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C in this process, but the rest of their nutritional content is preserved by freezing the food and keeping it under -18C. so this way vegetables actually contain more nutrients and antioxidants than fresh.
Not every fruit and vegetables are better frozen, though. Blueberries, for example, lose most of their nutrients by freezing.
Which vegetables/fruits are the best to buy frozen?
- Spinach (obviously if you want to eat spinach leaves in your salad, buy fresh spinach)
- Brussel sprouts
- Green beans
- Red bell peppers
If you are not sure what can be stored in your freezer, you can find a list of foods not suitable for freezing here: 7 top tips how to avoid “freezer”-tasting meals
Meat/fish and seafood
Frozen meat is just as good as fresh. It is a bit more difficult to inspect the appearance of the product, but the main rule applies here too: investigate the source and quality of the food, organic, outdoor/free range meat are the best. Try to choose the right size/weight when you buy frozen meat as it is once thaw you cannot freeze it again (only when it was perfectly cooked).
Fish and seafood
Fish and seafood can lose their freshness very quickly, so they need a special environment to keep them in their top condition by the time they reach the supermarket counters. If you ever smell freshly caught fish you know that it has no smell at all. It is not true for the fish bought in a supermarket. If you live at the coastline, you can buy fresh fish – but if you are not so lucky…do not worry. Actually the best quality seafood is often frozen: with high technology freezing seafood is frozen on the boat just within minutes it leaves the water. The secret is flash freezing. The flash freezing process lowers the temperature of the fish to minus 40 degrees quickly. This way the fish retains its nutritional value because the freezing slows down the decaying process, and it does not change its texture either as the quick freezing process does not let ice crystals develop within the fish.
Cooked meals – prepared meals
Supermarket ready meals
Cooked frozen meals are rarely mentioned as healthy options. This is because there is lots of junk food in the supermarket freezer counters. You cannot be sure about the quality of ingredients used neither as the ingredients list does not give you enough information. Probably the only positive that they probably contain fewer preservatives than the fresh ready meals.
The other reason that frozen ready meals are usually convenience food (like pie and pizza), high in carbohydrates, fat, salt and sugar – and low in fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.
Home-made ready meals
It can be different with home-made food – as you decide what are the ingredients. Of course, your home freezer cannot do flash freezing, but it is not necessary with cooked meals anyway. Just make sure use ingredients in their prime, fresh meat/seafood, choose healthy, balanced recipes and you do not need to worry about the nutrients.
The point is that in a healthy, balanced diet frozen and fresh food complement each other. It is only on you how you plan and fit frozen meals into the family meal plan to save time and money. Here is a good example how can you use one basic recipe to create numerous lovely dishes in seconds using your freezer: Easy and healthy pasta sauce – makes 3 meals (at least).
Related link: How to master meal planning?
It is not just leftovers that can go into the freezer. Actually you can produce “leftovers”. You can prepare meals ahead for busy weekdays like pies (without pastry topping), or you can cook big batches to freeze. Stews, soups, ragus, chillies are all good to store them in the freezer and you can defrost, heat and lighten up them with fresh ingredients whenever you want.
Another way to make your life easier: prepare all the ingredients of the meal and freeze it in one bag (obviously only if they go into the pan at the same time, like in the case of slow cooker meals).
But my favourite method is to do the time-consuming cooking part on the weekend, make smaller portions and freeze. So I just need to add the final quick-cooking ingredients on busy weekdays.
Related link: 7 top tips how to avoid “freezer”-tasting meals
Useful freezer tips:
- Never place food into your freezer without labelling them using self-adhesive labels or a permanent marker.
- Once a food was defrosted do not freeze it again – except if it was raw and you cooked it as an ingredient of a meal. In this case, the ready meal can be frozen again.
- Never freeze food if you do not know where is it from or it was it frozen before.
- Do not freeze take away food.
- Always check the label on food from the supermarket: the label says if it is suitable for home freezing.
- When you’re buying frozen food, always check that the packaging is undamaged.
- Once you got home put frozen items in the freezer as soon as possible.
- When buying in bulk, repackage frozen meats and seafood into meal-size portions.
- Freeze everything as fresh as possible, do not keep food on room temperature or in your fridge for days before freezing as they lose some of their nutrients and their freshness.