This post brought to you by American Frozen Foods Institute and the Frozen Food Roundtable. All opinions are 100% mine.
“Clean eating” is a bit of a buzz word these days, and it might come across as the latest diet fad to some. But in reality, it’s a lot like eating the way our grandparents did when they were growing up: fresh, in season products, food close to its source of origin (so whole wheat instead of enriched wheat, for example), and cutting out excess sugar, as well as other ingredients that are really hard to read (that’s on over-simplification, but you get the idea).
My family goes back and forth between clean eating and “not so clean” eating, and we have found the following two things to be true:
1. We feel significantly better when we eat clean
2. We get overwhelmed after a few weeks in the attempt because it seems to require two trips to the grocery store each week for all that fresh food, and also a trip to the farmer’s market. It’s hard to keep up!
Don’t Forget the Frozen Section
But recently I realized that one piece of advice I had received when attempting clean eating was incorrect. That advice was to avoid the frozen food section altogether. After all, fresh was much better, right? Well, the fresh vs frozen debate I originally heard left out some very important information. Did you realize, for example, that frozen fruits and vegetables have been picked at their peak and by being frozen, it’s like the pause button has been hit for them, and all those nutrients have been locked into place (as well as the great flavor!) until you are ready to consume them. In the produce section, you’ll often be choosing from produce that was picked before it was actually ripe.
I’ve wondered about How Fresh Stays Fresh and my research on the topic has taught me some things that I want to pass on to you. Did you know that freezing food actually takes place is just seconds, at temperatures well below zero? It’s not at all the same process as if you were freezing something in your own freezer. That quick freezing is what locks all the awesome in.
How We Use Frozen Foods to Eat Clean(er)
Every time I go “all in” on the clean foods attempt, I get frustrated and quit. This time around, I’m taking a much more practical approach and striving for around 80% clean eating. Some enriched flours are going to occasionally land on our table, and so is some corn syrup. But I’m getting better at reading labels and I’m pleased to say that while there have been many (MANY) items in the grocery store that I’ve had to put back after reading ingredients, there have also been many great finds, especially in the frozen food section!
There are many benefits of frozen foods, not the least of which is their convenience. I’m sure you can relate to having such a busy day that dinner time rolls around and you realize that you haven’t given a second thought to what you’ll be making. That’s when it is SO nice to be able to pull something out of the freezer that can be on the table in anywhere from 2-15 minutes. I want to show you some of the great food we’ve been eating during an especially hectic week here. Frozen foods helped us spend less time in the kitchen, but we didn’t have to let go of our wish to eat cleaner, either.
One morning this week I had to get up really early to work on some blog posts. I worked until my oldest woke up and came downstairs. Her greeting to me wasn’t, “Good morning!” Or, “So happy to see you, mom!” Instead it was, “My tummy is growling with hunger. Please fix it now.” At least she said please…
My kids like hot breakfasts, and of course I hadn’t even thought about what they would be eating. No biggie…I just headed to the freezer where I had some whole grain waffles, oatmeal made with steel cut oats, and a healthy breakfast sandwich for Tim waiting to be heated up. I added honey and bananas to the waffles and served banana chunks to everyone for a serving of fruit. We also had small glasses of orange juice. Basically, it felt like a super nice breakfast and it took me just a few minutes to throw together. #Winning.
I have two days a week that are true “work days” for me. The girls are in school from 9:30-2:30, and I try to work up until the moment when Tim walks in the door for lunch without a break so I can maximize my “kid-free” time. And then I always feel guilty that we have to spend part of his lunch break figuring out what to eat. This time, though, I was ready!
I had a Lean Cuisine salad additions, which just required a wee bit of time in the microwave and some lettuce. I also had some veggie patties made with chick peas and added some tomato slices and lettuce to whole wheat buns. Mercy, you guys, this was a great lunch! Tim said, “My body feels SO happy with this meal!” We also had more time to hang out with each other (just the two of us since the kids were away!). It was a beautiful thing, friends.
On a recent weekend night, I had the time to prepare a whole chicken (never done it? I was 32 before I attempted it…it’s embarrassingly easy, you guys). I paired it with some delicious french fries (ingredints: potatoes, olive oil, salt) and some frozen broccoli (ingredients: broccoli). And we had some watermelon left over from a picnic the day before. The meal came together beautifully!
The following night I put the leftover chicken to work by adding it to a stir fry. I was SO pumped to see this HUGE bag of cut up veggies in the frozen section. It also came with sauce packets that I opted to use (and heavens, it was good) but you could also add your own sauce if you preferred. Every single person in my family DEVOURED this meal, and my oldest in particular can be quite picky, so this was a major victory to get so many veggies (and some protein!) in her body. I also loved how easy it was to use up some leftovers! I added some yummy frozen sides that had simple ingredients in them, and we had a true feast with precious little effort.
A Note on Portion Control
Tim commented to me a few days ago that one of his favorite things about the frozen meals I had selected for our busy week was the portion control, as well as the portion customization options. I typically make meals for 4 when I cook, but if our kids don’t like what I made, we have a significant amount of leftovers. And we are not as awesome as I wish we were about eating leftovers (I’m the worst!). When we made our stir fry, though, we only cooked half the bag. We still had leftovers, but it was only enough for 1 person, which was perfect, because it actually got eaten! And we still have half the bag waiting for us for sometime in the next few weeks when we need a helping hand in the kitchen again. We also had half of our yummy sides left over to prepare again next time. So easy!
The single serve items we used were also in a reasonable portion size. I personally struggle with putting too much on my plate at times, and found that not to be as much of a problem when eating something that was already portioned for me.
Frozen Foods are Part of Our Journey
Normally a busy week like the one we’ve had would have been enough for me to totally fall off the clean eating wagon again. We all know what it feels like for the hours in the day to simply not be enough. Something’s got to give, and picking up some takeout often seems like the path of least resistance. But now that I’ve scoped out the frozen food aisle for items that work with the eating habits we want to cultivate in our home, I realize I’ve got plenty of great options that I can put together in less time than it would take to go pick up some fast food. We are eating an awesome variety of proteins, veggies and fruits. We are cooking on our own when we can, and we are accepting help from our friends on the frozen aisle when we need it, too! If you are trying to eat cleaner, don’t by-pass the frozen section on your next trip. Take a look around; I think you’ll be really excited by some of the thing you’ll find there that can help make eating clean easier!