Whether it's a quick morning breakfast or a midnight snack, who doesn't love to find a bunch of ready-to-heat/fry/frozen goodies in their refrigerator. Today, our lives are fast-paced and busier than ever. While preparing fresh food at home every day is healthy, yet painfully time-consuming, frozen foods are an appetising, convenient and most often, quite a budget-friendly option. But the question is, are they as easy on your health as they are on your wallet?
Chowdhury Tasneem Hasin, Chief Nutritionist at the United Hospital Limited, agrees that while nothing tops freshly cooked meals, frozen foods can be a feasible option to settle for in our current busy lifestyles. “What's most important is the kind of frozen food we are consuming, and how we are storing them,” Hasin elaborated.
Be familiar with your food and fridge: Every kind of frozen food has a specific shelf life – the amount of time for which it can be stored at a certain temperature. Hasin pointed out that besides this, various colourful images and instructions can be found inside most refrigerators to guide the user about food storage chambers. Knowing the shelf-life and right placement of frozen food is extremely vital to keep it well preserved. Fresh meat for example, should not be refrigerated immediately after it is bought. “You should drain the blood and water from the meat well and keep it outside for at least an hour before refrigerating it in the deep freezing chamber,” Hasin advised.
Choose your ingredients wisely: Before going into preservation methods, it's important to know the right cooking techniques and ingredients of the food that we intend to freeze. “Food that contains perishable items like vegetables, especially onions, tend to rot sooner,” informed Hasin. The best procedure would be to use lesser amounts of water and/or perishable ingredients. Adding a generous portion of oil to the food is also ideal as it is known to be a good preservative.
Proper preservation: To start off with preserving home-cooked food, we should choose a container that is cleaned and dried properly. The amount of gravy in the food should not be excessive. Moreover, Hasin recommends using zip locked bags to store chopped vegetables and raw fish/meat instead of regular plastic/polythene bags. “Ziplocks are completely airtight so they prevent any form of bacterial reactions,” she explained. Local fish for instance, which are exported to various countries abroad, often reach their destinations after a whole month. “However, it doesn't affect the taste or condition of the fish as much as you'd expect because of proper preservation,” she added.
Double check the dates: When buying a commercially produced frozen food, checking the production and expiry dates is a must. Hasin provided a handful of useful information on the duration of certain home-cooked frozen foods. According to her, cooked vegetables can be eaten within 3-4 days of storage. For cooked beef, it could be up to 2 weeks and chicken/fish can be consumed up to a week after it has been cooked. But of course, that validity still depends on the cooking and freezing process.
Apart from this, from a nutritional viewpoint, Hasin agrees that it is true that some major micro and macro nutrients do get altered in the process of preservation. However, she suggests that if the preservation/freezing procedure is completed at the right time, then there is no harm in consuming the food.
Is this frozen food culture a perilous one?
The practice of freezing homemade food or buying commercially frozen food is sometimes required, if not recommended. In fact, sometimes frozen foods are a life saver when you reach home late from work and find out that you have guests visiting you without notice.
For instance, samosas and rolls are popular commercial frozen foods that you can find at any supermarket aisle. As they are made of perishable ingredients, it's crucial to check their dates and details. “If you continue to eat spoilt frozen food without realising, it may cause a prolonged reaction, if not an immediate one,” Hasin warns. After a while, the consumer may experience slight heartburn, acidity, etc. Similarly, sometimes bacteria may develop in packaged or homemade frozen items. While they do not cause any immediate visible reaction, if the bacteria remain in your food pipe, they will develop into a colony in the gastrointestinal tract and cause further complications. Commercially produced food also contain high levels of certain carcinogenic preservatives and additives, so it is best to limit their consumption.
On healthier alternatives, Hasin restates, “There is no doubt, that any fresh food is better than frozen food, especially for children.” A smart alternative to marketed frozen food would be simple homemade frozen foods that should be eaten for a short span of time. Another fresh food that is always available is fresh fruits. Hasin highly encourages having fresh fruits daily and suggests that it is even possible to serve them as interesting side dishes or snacks as well!