First, the doom. Food and drink companies and suppliers are rushing to freeze and store food in warehouses up and down the UK in preparation for a possible ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome and potential resultant delays in imports. Given that so much of our fresh food comes directly from the EU via Calais and other ports, particularly in March when, according to the British Retail Consortium “the situation becomes more acute as UK produce is out of season”, supermarkets are stockpiling frozen food, with most of Britain’s frozen food storage space currently booked up. Dire political situation aside, eating more frozen food isn’t necessarily a bad thing and we’ve moved a long way from the days when an Arctic roll and frozen vol-au-vent medley were your only options, as we’ll explore. Here’s why frozen food deserves a far better rep than it gets, and why stocking your freezer could benefit everything from your health to your finances to the environment.
Frozen food can contain more nutrients than fresh
In a survey of 2000 Brits commissioned by Birds Eye (so some slightly icy conflict of interest but bear with), one in five consumers believed that frozen food contained fewer vitamins and minerals than fresh produce. This assumption may well have been borne out of a bygone era, when, as registered nutritionist Daniel O'Shaughnessy points out, “frozen food was overwhelmingly highly processed and full of additives and preservatives.” Clearly the nutrient profile of frozen food depends on what you’re buying (you probably know what you’re getting into with a Vienetta anyway), but Daniel highlights that, for many daily staples, the freezer could trump the fridge:
“Frozen vegetables are often frozen at source so may have higher levels of nutrients than the fresh counterparts.”
Sports nutritionist Scott Baptie seconds the notion that fresh isn’t always best:
“Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually just as good, if not better than the fresh varieties. When fruits and vegetables are to be frozen they’re often picked when they’re actually ripe and then very quickly frozen, locking in the nutrients. On the other hand, some fresh varieties, especially if they’re travelling from overseas, are picked long before they ripen and the ripening happens in transit, meaning that they’re not as fresh as you’d think.”
In this way, as dietitian Laura Tilt explains, “freezing is like pressing the pause button”, and frozen food on the whole is in fact likely to contain fewer preservatives than fresh, “as the freezing process preserves the food so that added preservatives aren’t required.” Clearly checking the label is paramount in this situation, but if you’d assumed that a bag of frozen peas (the UK’s bestselling frozen food incidentally) was in any way less “virtuous” than fresh kale et al, you can scrap that.
It’s easier to ‘eat the rainbow’
When fruit and vegetables are already stashed in your freezer chest, actually making use of your Nutribullet or packing a risotto with your five a day becomes a much more achievable prospect, as Scott emphasises:
“Keep bags of different varieties in your freezer and go for as many options as you can so that you benefit from a range of nutrients. Personally I always keep frozen berries in the freezer for smoothies, plus bags of peas, sweetcorn and carrots that are brilliant to turn to if I’m short of time.”
What’s more, Laura notes that “frozen food is available at peak quality all year round, irrespective of the season”. Freezing punnets of blackberries in the late summer will pay dividends for healthy desserts come the winter months, and you won’t be shelling out for expensive fresh produce that’s quite literally travelled the earth that way either, which brings us to...
Much of the food snobbery surrounding frozen food relates to the garish packaging and bargain price points, meaning that it can’t possibly be as wholesome as the just caught/dug up stuff, right? We’ll let Daniel take the floor:
“It’s cheaper to buy organic frozen produce and also frozen wild salmon and fish in general is inexpensive when frozen but just as nutritionally valuable and delicious.”
Freezing also clearly prevents your fruit bowl from rotting so quickly, which brings us to...
It reduces food waste
Scott stresses that eating more frozen food “is a great way to be more green”, whether you got a lot of mouths to feed or not:
“Frozen fruits and veggies are especially helpful for someone who might live alone if they’re prone to buying lots of fresh fruit and veg and not eating it all.”
Laura agrees, as not only does buying frozen food ensure that food is safer to eat for longer (and on the whole it retains its taste, although there are certain foods that don’t freeze well that we’ll go into...) but it also accommodates “kids who are always changing their minds about what they want to eat – frozen food is a great way to get a balanced diet without wasting food.”
It makes meal prep easy
Having multiple options to hand via the freezer not only cuts down on supermarket schleps, but your repertoire is probably wider than you think. According to Birds Eye, 65 per cent of us think that we can’t cook fruit and vegetables from frozen, and 75 per cent assume that meat and fish can’t be cooked from frozen either. Laura drops some frosty truth bombs:
“There are actually only a few foods that aren’t ideal for freezing, such as eggs (raw or cooked), and some vegetables with a high water content tend to go mushy upon defrosting. Otherwise, many foods, including fruits, vegetables, fish, mince and chicken can be cooked from frozen, although always check the packet for specific cooking instructions to be on the safe side.”
Scott acknowledges another perk of the freezer cabinet in that you can freeze most of your leftovers, reducing waste, cost and future mental energy regarding coming up with dinner ideas, although be sure not to ‘double freeze’ to avoid contamination.
In particular Scott advises bulk cooking stews and the like in a slow cooker (check out his peanut chicken slow cooker recipe for starters) before labelling and freezing them. In his view this trumps ready meals, as you’ll know exactly what’s going into your recipes, it’s generally more cost-effective and usually tastier, although the frozen ready meal landscape has changed a lot since the days of a salt-loaded cottage pie for one. Deliciously Ella’s frozen range brings vegan curry and chilli to the masses via Ocado and Wholefoods, while By Ruby is a new frozen food delivery service available nationwide that majors on eco-friendly packaging and natural produce with no additives or preservatives.
If you are going down the frozen ready meal route, Daniel underlines a few ingredients to limit if peak health is your priority:
“Look out for E numbers and preservatives, trans fats, hydrogenated palm oil, corn syrup, sugar (in its many disguises) and it’s especially important is to look at the sodium content as this is often very high in ready meals. If these are high up on the ingredients list, it’s probably not the healthiest choice.
“Also be sure to heat your meal on a non-plastic dish to reduce BPA exposure .”
It could ease food sensitivity
In some cases, frozen food could take the edge off of food sensitivities, although definitely don’t go there if you have a food allergy and always check with your doctor before diving into the freezer. Daniel sheds some light on this particular frozen food boon:
“Some people with histamine intolerance may have issues with fresh meat and fish as the longer it’s out, the more histamine levels increase. Food that’s frozen, however, has less histamine. There’s a company called Seafresh that specialises in low histamine frozen food.”
Otherwise, the only ailment that frozen food can probably truly soothe is a bruise or swollen ankle - a bag of peas is not the holy grail and as long as you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, the fresh or frozen argument isn’t hugely significant - you’ll still be getting vitamins and nutrients either way. We’ll see about the no deal thing, but just rest assured that if Calais gets choked up, the national frozen food stockpile doesn’t spell bad news for your health at least.