Skip menu to read main page content

Originally Published: Mar 24, 2016

Frozen Food Questions Answered

While fresh food is always best, frozen foods can be just as healthy and, honestly, easier to store and prepare for those with a busy lifestyle!

Here are some common questions with answers from our Registered Dietitians:

“Can I buy from the frozen food section in the grocery store and still be eating healthy?”

Many frozen foods allow us to eat fruits and vegetables that are not in season. Also, many are budget-friendly. The quality of frozen foods has improved in the last several years.

What you can expect from a frozen food:

Vegetables: In general, the method by which they are frozen has led to fresher tastes, more nutrient retention, and textures that are closer to steamed fresh vegetables. Plain frozen vegetables or those prepared with low-fat sauces are all low in calories, fat, and sodium. Avoid those that add fat, especially saturated fat, and those that are breaded and fried.

Fruits: More varieties of frozen fruits are added every month. Their texture is best when eaten partially frozen. You can try one of the many frozen fruits as a perfect addition to your smoothies.  Watch out for fruits with added sugar. Frozen fruit bars are a nutritious snack or dessert. Look for those that are made with fruit and juice, and limit those made with flavored water with sweeteners.

Meals and Entreés: One benefit is that these are naturally portion-controlled. Just take note of the number of servings that are in a container. They may be single-serve or they may be intended for two or more people to eat. A reduced-fat mac and cheese made with whole-grain macaroni is a better choice than a full-fat version with regular (white flour) pasta. Choose entrees and meals that are low in saturated fat and sodium, and high in fiber and protein. Lean protein sources are beans, fish, chicken, or turkey. Look for vegetable-based sauces instead of cream-based ones. Entrées with brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pastas or crusts, corn tortillas, or beans and peas will offer more fiber.

Check the Nutrition Facts label for these nutrients (per serving):

  • 350-500 calories per meal
  • Less than 500 mg sodium (even less, if you have high blood pressure or heart disease)
  • Less than 3-4 gm saturated fat per serving
  • Zero trans fats (look for the absence of partially hydrogenated fats to make sure)
  • ½ to 1 cup of whole grains
  • 3 gm fiber or more
  • 14-21 gm protein

Low calorie entrees may be very low in calories, but some lack healthy fats and fiber which we need. Supplement the entrée or meal whenever it comes up short in important components.  If it is light on fiber, consider adding a veggie salad, whole grain roll, or piece of fruit. If it is low in protein, add some edamame or other legumes, or eat a string cheese or low-fat yogurt with your meal.  

“How long will my frozen food stay good/safe to eat?”

Guidelines from the USDA:
Soups and casseroles: 2 – 3 months
Cooked meat: 2 – 3 months
Uncooked steaks, roasts, or chops: 4 – 12 months
Cooked poultry: 4 months
Uncooked poultry: 9 – 12 months

“If I lose power, how long will my frozen food last?”

If you avoid opening the freezer door during a power outage, a full freezer should stay frozen for two days. 

“Can I re-freeze thawed food?”

As long as the food has not been outside the refrigerator for more than two hours (or one hour in 90 degree heat), you can re-freeze. Something to keep in mind though–meat that is uncooked may lose quality with each thaw and re-freeze.

“What are some ways I can make ‘DIY’ frozen meals?”

Meats: Preparing any type of meat not only takes time, it creates dirty dishes. The next time you are cooking chicken breast or frying up ground hamburger or turkey for chili, spaghetti, or tacos, prepare double and freeze half for the next time. Not only will you have saved time cooking, you won’t have to clean the frying pan a second time!

Leftovers: If you have already eaten your dish twice and can’t bear to eat it a third time, freeze what’s left. Depending on the leftover, consider portioning it into a single serving container to grab as a homemade frozen meal for lunch. Keep a log on your refrigerator to remind you.

“Are there good and bad foods for freezing? “

Foods that freeze well: baked goods, burgers burritos, calzones, casseroles, cooked beans, cooked grains, egg rolls, enchiladas, French toast, quiche, lasagna, manicotti, mashed potatoes, meatballs and meatloaf, pancakes, pot pies, poultry, roasted meats, sauces, sloppy Joes, soup, stuffed shells, taco fillings, tofu, TVP, and waffles.

Foods that do NOT freeze well: egg- and cream-based sauces, instant rice, salad, stuffed poultry, hard-cooked eggs and fried foods.

Sources include: