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March is National Frozen Food Month which means many grocery stores may offer promotional pricing on their frozen food selection. While not all frozen food is the healthiest meal option, there are many benefits to buying frozen food, not just in March but all year long. Aging adults may appreciate the convenience of frozen food. Frozen precooked meals and other frozen food items have a longer shelf life than fresh food, and are often easier to prepare than making a meal from scratch. Proper nutrition is directly linked to our health. Buying healthy frozen foods can be a great way to give aging adults access to a balanced and manageable diet.
There is a common misconception that fresh food is healthier than frozen food. This is not always true. Fresh produce like vegetables, berries and fruits are usually picked before they ripen to give them a longer shelf life. They will then spend days being transported to the store where they may sit a few more days awaiting purchase. By the time we purchase a piece of fruit or a pound of vegetables, it has been away from its source for several days and is either very close to ripening, fully ripe, or overly ripe. At this point, both frozen and fresh produce have about the same amount of nutrients. But if we don’t consume them soon after purchase, they will begin to deteriorate and lose nutrients. Frozen produce on the other hand is picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen within hours preserving the vitamins and nutrients. The frozen produce won’t lose those nutrients if you wait a few (or lot of) weeks to eat it, but the fresh produce will.
Other options are frozen meals and frozen entrees. These are easy to prepare, usually just needing to be heated in a microwave, oven or stovetop, and can add variety to your diet without the expense of buying all the individual ingredients that go into making it. Frozen entrees and meals can also be healthier and more affordable than ordering take out. Some frozen foods are high in sodium, fats and preservatives, but there are many good options. The best frozen foods are those that are low in fat and have lean protein, vegetables, whole grains and fiber.
Tips for buying frozen foods:
● Buy broccoli florets, not “broccoli cuts”. You will get the actual fluffy pieces of broccoli; not just the stalks.
● Choose products that don’t have a lot of additives and ingredients that are hard to pronounce
● Buy out-of-season produce frozen. It will be cheaper and more available than fresh options
● Don’t be fooled by packaging or buzzwords; always read the ingredients list and nutrition facts
● Check the sodium content: The recommended sodium intake for adults is around 2400 milligrams, so aim for frozen entrees that have 800 of less milligrams of sodium (about ⅓ of you daily allotment)
● Look for frozen meals and entrees with 3-5 grams of fiber per serving
Frozen foods shouldn’t be your only food source, but they can make eating full healthy meals easier by adding variety with minimal effort. Ask your doctor for dietary suggestions, or talk to a nutritionist to create meal plans and shopping lists that work best for your specific health needs. Meals should be both nourishing and enjoyable.