Grocery Shopping for Your Health: The freezer section
In our last two “Grocery Shopping for Your Health” posts, we covered the produce department, looking at fresh fruits and vegetables. In this post, we will head over to the frozen foods aisle, and talk about frozen dinners, frozen fruits and vegetables, and we’ll even squeeze in frozen desserts, as well.
The freezer aisle is stocked with all kinds of convenience foods: bagels and waffles and other breakfast foods; pizzas and burritos and other frozen dinners; prepackaged meats and fish; and much more. The frozen case offers the consumer not only a wide variety of convenience foods, but also can provide little to no food waste, consistent prices, year-round availability, longer storage life, and even cut down on time spent in the kitchen.
Food companies use quick-freezing methods that preserve freshness, flavor, color and nutritive value. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are picked and then flash-frozen at their peak ripeness, resulting in a product that closely mirrors its fresh equivalent.
Many frozen items and meals come pre-portioned. Some will be partially cooked; others, fully cooked. That all saves time. But, you still need to pay attention to the reheating instructions to make sure food items reach the proper internal temperature that will stave off foodborne illnesses.
So, what should you keep in mind when rolling through the frozen section?
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
I like to keep plenty of frozen fruits and vegetables on hand. That way, if I’ve run out of salad greens or a fresh vegetable for dinner, I just need to open up my freezer to find a great alternative. Remember, for the best nutritional value, choose vegetables and fruits that are minimally processed. If you are calorie- and/or fat-conscience, then select plain vegetables over those with sauces, some of which can be high in calories and/or saturated fats.
Consider frozen fruits when fresh varieties are out of season or simply too expensive. Look for unsweetened items, to help you cut out the added sugars.
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables in bags rather than boxes, when possible. This way you can use what you want, seal the bag, and store the rest for later.
And by the way, shop colorful just like we did in the fresh produce section. Stores carry a good variety of vegetables you can purchase frozen. Think beyond the french fries and try sweet potato fries but there is also legumes, artichoke hearts, mixed vegetables with endless combinations and varieties. You can also purchase your vegetables sliced, diced, shredded and whole.
With frozen meals, you can purchase just about anything you can imagine, in sizes that will feed an individual, a family, a group and more That’s great for getting what you want and with portions that don’t lead to food waste. But, there are caveats.
First, be aware of how much fat and salt are in some of these frozen meals. Some companies have come out with choices targeting the more health-conscience, but how do you compare these items nutritionally? You’ll need to spend some time reading the nutrition label, keeping in mind the serving size. One company might deem a serving as eight ounces while a competitor sets it at 12 for (roughly) the same meal. Once you’ve this figured out the best choices for you and your family, then your next visit in this aisle will go much faster.
The great thing about the frozen food aisle is that it gives you the opportunity to try something new and different without breaking the bank. And, you can take a taste of a new ethnic dish or culinary style without having to break out the pots, pans and spice rack in your kitchen.
One last thought, pay attention to product dating. Enjoy your frozen meal before it expires, and save some cold cash.
Frozen yogurt. Ice cream. Sherbet. Sorbet. You’ll find them all, and a whole lot more, in the frozen desserts area. If you haven’t checked out this section lately, you’re likely missing out on some new flavors and varieties.
This area also can now appeal to those who follow specific diets, with offerings now as sugar-free, lactose-free, vegan, and more. You can even have your frozen dessert with added calcium or other nutrients. Just be sure to read the label. Remember that items such as cookies, chocolate pieces, and peanut butter mixed into the frozen treat to add flavor also can add to calorie count and fat content.
On a side note, I’m sometimes asked what is the difference between a sherbet and sorbet? Here you go. A sherbet is made with sweetened fruit juice, water, 1- to 2-percent milk fat, and some milk solids, as well as stabilizers like egg whites or gelatin. Sherbet has less fat but more sugar than ice cream. Sorbet is whipped and frozen fruit juice, though, and can actually be counted in the fruit group. Sorbet is dairy-free and can be sweetened. Both are refreshing and delicious, but both contain sugar.
Whether you are adding frozen dinners or some frozen desserts into your shopping cart, try to visit the frozen-food aisle near the end of your grocery trip. Items you find there are temperature-sensitive, meaning they need to stay frozen until ready to consume.
It’s also a good idea to place all of your frozen foods together in an insulated, reusable shopping bag when checking out, to help keep them cool. And, just as important, never run errands after you leave the store, especially with our warmer temperatures. You should drive directly home to unpack your groceries, and be sure to place all food items into your refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.
NEXT: The refrigerated aisle, for milk and yogurt.