Wait! Before you get too into this article, you might want to check it out as it appears in our June Issue of Food & Drink Digital. It's dynamic and loaded with extras like videos and some of our top frozen food picks. If you like reading our website, you'll love flipping through our interactive e-reader!
When Swanson & Sons’ TV Dinner exploded on the scene in 1952, it represented a whole new era of space-age innovation and convenience. For only 98 cents, a hungry customer could choose from homey classics of the era like Salisbury Steak, meatloaf, fried chicken, or a Thanksgiving turkey feast, all self-contained in an aluminum tray that was the very pinnacle of ingenuity.
Of course, times changes – and so do tastes. Even the Swanson brand itself has gone the way of the aluminum tray, and ready meals have seen a backlash as health advocates and celebrity chefs alike tout the superior benefits of a home-cooked meal. But around the world, some frozen food brands are working hard to show that frozen food can be just as healthy, wholesome, and (most of all) delicious as anything you’ll find in the produce section.
Better Living through (Improved) Flash Freezing
It’s true – a lot of frozen food deserves the bad rap it gets. Detractors of frozen food often cite the mushy, waterlogged, gray meats and vegetables everyone has encountered at one time or another. After a couple experiences like that, it’s tempting to swear off frozen food forever. But here's the thing – most unappealing frozen food was destined to be unappealing long before it entered the deep freeze.
Nearly all frozen food owes its glacial state to a technique known as flash freezing. Also known as blast freezing, is not exactly new technology. The method was first introduced by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920s, inspired by ice-fishing excursions in northern Canada. There he witnessed fish freezing in the frigid air of Labrador’s polar landscape within seconds of being caught, only to taste as fresh as ever after thawing later on.
But while the technology itself isn’t new, it hasn’t remained static either. Like the television and the automobile, flash freezing has been refined over the years. Industrial freezers these days are capable of bringing freshly prepared meals down to freezing temperatures within a matter of minutes, with virtually zero damage done to the integrity of the food itself.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, frozen food may actually have a leg up on the fruits and veggies in your grocer’s produce aisle. Studies have shown that flash frozen vegetables retain most of their vitamins and minerals up to a year after hitting the liquid nitrogen showers, whereas their fresh-picked brethren start draining out vital nutrients left and right within days of purchase. In fact, some nutrients like potassium have been proven to increase after flash freezing. Not bad!
It’s What’s in the Box That Counts
So it’s been proven that freezing doesn’t leach the health out of your food, but not all ready meals are created equal. That said, there are quite a few brands around the world that pride themselves on giving consumers something a little better than what they may have come to expect from frozen food.
Consider Lean Cuisine, for example, one of the major pioneers in the frozen food business for decades. What started as a mere low-calorie offshoot of Stouffers has become a leading brand that whose meals were just voted Product of the Year by the Consumer Survey of Product Innovation. That doesn’t happen by ignoring consumer trends.
Sure, they keep their calories low – it’s naturally part of the equation – but Lean Cuisine has picked up on that just being “low-calorie” isn’t enough anymore. Customers are looking for ready meals that taste as fresh as possible, and Lean Cuisine isn’t shy about advertising wholesomeness right on the label. Their newest slogan, “discover the goodness,” invites readers to check out the ingredients list. Devoid of preservatives (you don’t need them when food is frozen, you see) and full of whole grains and fresh flash frozen goodies, they’re a far cry from even low-cal frozen food of twenty years ago – let alone the bland Salisbury and sides of decades past.
So next time you find yourself scrambling for dinner on a weekday night, think twice. As time goes and science improves, the freezer section is looking less like a last resort and more like a pretty enticing option indeed.