Perhaps now, more than ever, it is worth noting that March is Frozen Food Month. That’s right, another ultra-specific trade association is here to shine a spotlight on an under-celebrated grocery aisle—in this case, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Food Association (NFRA), which annually celebrates and raises awareness about frozen foods. And wow, what a job they’re doing! People are lining up in self-checkout lanes with carts full of frozen vegetables, fruits, and proteins. All around Los Angeles, it seems like people are pushing me out of the way to get their hands on a family pack of fucking frozen salmon filets. To put the NFRA’s hard work into perspective, if you go to the Ralph’s on Western to buy frozen foods (or toilet paper, I’ve noticed), you’ve got to get there by 6 a.m. to avoid the long lines! I mean, that’s just the power of a good trade association. My guess is that their sister website, EasyHomeMeals.com, is the reason people are clutching bags of frozen peas everywhere you look. In the NFRA’s 75 years of existence, I don’t think they’ve ever made such a sweeping impact on Americans. They’re killing it!
They even have their own annual awards—the Golden Penguins—complete with Hall of Fame inductions.
Not sure who Larsen and Thomas are, but we can only assume they’ve absolutely earned these crystal chalices that they’ll probably chug milk out of. Congratulations, Larsen and Thomas!
The bottom line is this: The NFRA has put a lot of money into changing the conversation around frozen foods, and for good reason: The public image is that this stuff sucks. We’ve all heard the myths about frozen produce: it’s lower quality, it’s less healthy, it has fewer nutrients, etc. However, studies actually show it’s the opposite. Frozen fruits and vegetables tend to retain their nutrients quite well. In a lot of cases, they’re even healthier than fresh options. The freezing process is more likely to suspend food at its most nutritious state, while fresh produce tends to deteriorate in quality by the day. Moreover, frozen food is our best bet to limit food waste. There’s lots of reasons to embrace it, so let’s take a look at some of the best frozen foods you can buy.
What was your plan, again? To cook down an entire $6 bag of spinach to feed .75 people? You’re better off buying frozen spinach. Frozen spinach will save your ass. Thaw it for soups, pastas, curries, or let it be the star of the show in a decadent, creamed side dish. There are few things that you’ll actually need fresh spinach for, so I think it’s a no-brainer to always have a brick of this stuff in the freezer. Also, one cup of frozen spinach has almost four times as many nutrients as a cup of fresh spinach. Less coin for higher nutrition—that’s good value, folks. Don’t sleep on frozen spinach.
I’ve never been crazy about fruits that are canned, but boy, when you freeze them it just works. This goes double for berries. Berries take on a pleasant crystallized texture when frozen. It’s like they’ve suddenly become dessert. I’ve got fond memories of picking fresh blueberries during Pennsylvania summers, then freezing them on sheet trays and grabbing them in handfuls as a snack on a hot day. Much like vegetables, they also retain great nutritional value if frozen during peak season. There’s nothing to lose here, and you’re gaining additional texture and value.
The USDA says that basically anything frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit is safe indefinitely, although that doesn’t take into account quality, flavor, or texture. For those things, here’s a great chart:
I’ve never been a huge fan of freezing raw steaks, or even chicken, as these tend to take on a tougher, more mealy quality once you thaw them out again. That said, frozen sausage scores pretty well in the texture and flavor department once thawed. The fat in sausage is distributed well, meaning that it’s nearly impossible to be tough. It could get freezer burned if it’s in there too long, but if it’s vacuum sealed there’s no chance of that. I know this chart says 1-2 months, but I just refuse to believe that sausage would taste any different after 6 months in a freezer. It’s too marbleized with fat to not taste delicious.
I guess technically this isn’t something you’d buy frozen, but make no mistake: nuts belong in the freezer. Nuts can go rancid quickly due to their fat content, and this is just an easy way to preserve them. Have you ever tried using an entire bag of walnuts before they go bad? Impossible. Walnuts specifically can bump up their shelf life from two weeks to about two years once you transfer them to the freezer. Nuts also make for a great snack when frozen, as the cold oil and fat create a burst of flavor you just don’t get at room temperature. Me? I’ve always got a bag of pine nuts in the freezer. They’re delicious and take on a more substantial quality that way.
There’s not much nutritional value, but frozen waffles are the quintessential freezer treat. Waffles are somehow breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They barely make sense at any time of the day, so I’m not overly concerned about quality or nutrition here. I eat frozen waffles to forget about pain. Pop ’em in the toaster, the oven, the microwave—it doesn’t matter. There’s going to be so much butter and syrup on them that I could very well be eating a notebook and I wouldn’t bat an eye. How popular are frozen waffles? We could remove the word waffle from the dictionary, replace it with Eggo, and everybody would still know what we’re talking about. Put ’em in the Hall of Fame with Larsen and Thomas.
Shrimp is hard to acquire fresh if you’re landlocked, and even then, most shrimp in the United States is frozen. It’s a fact of life. Shrimp has such a long journey to most supermarkets that the only way to preserve its quality once it’s caught is for fisherman to immediately throw it on ice. And it’s perfectly fine if you know how to cook it right. Sadly, I’ve watched my share of line cooks blindly dump frozen shrimp into boiling water hoping for the best, not realizing that it needs to be thawed first to cook thoroughly and maintain a pleasant texture. Thaw your shrimp, season the water generously, and use the whole bag immediately, otherwise it will turn on you fast. Shrimp goes from friend to foe faster than a professional wrestler. Building a dinner around it might not be quite as practical as salmon or cod, but shrimp is a treat to splurge on and shouldn’t be forgotten.
Frozen corn is ultra-convenient. Taking the time to shuck, boil, then cut off kernels of corn seems a bit masochistic when the frozen stuff is so readily available. There’s no loss in nutrients, either. Various studies have confirmed that frozen corn is actually better for you than fresh. In addition to having fewer calories, it’s also higher in potassium and calcium. That’s miraculous if you ask me. Frozen corn runs cheap, and it’s the perfect addition to soups and vegetable medleys. The benefits are too great to ignore.
Look, man, I’ve pretty much covered the wonders of frozen hash browns extensively here, but it’s worth mentioning again. Frozen hash browns rule. It’s all convenience with no loss of quality. More and more companies are reducing the amount of additives in their frozen foods, and a bag of frozen hash browns has just three ingredients. They are the perfect carbohydrate to pair with eggs, and when good bread is scarce, you’re going to want diner-quality hash browns with your eggs! I’ll defend Big Frozen Hash Brown till I die.
Having a frozen pizza on hand, depending on where you live, is the ultimate clutch move. If you’re not in NYC or Chicago (or even if you are), it’s probably best to keep some stocked. Is most frozen pizza bad? Yes, but it’s nothing a bottle of ranch can’t fix. That’s disgusting and I should be ashamed, you say? Yeah, well, way ahead of you. I have never eaten frozen pizza in broad daylight, and I’m not going to start now. All frozen pizza tastes the same to me, and it’s always what I need it to be. When people debate Red Baron, Tombstone, and Amy’s, I truly don’t know the difference because it’s going to get obliterated with homemade garlic butter or salad dressing anyways. I’ve never once had a frozen pizza while sober. Back off.
Having ice cream at home is a risky proposition for somebody who fancies themselves a completionist. I regularly crush entire bags of chips, sacks of jelly beans, and sleeves of Girl Scout cookies like I’m going to get honored by the mayor for my bravery, so it’s bonkers to keep a half gallon of ice cream in the freezer. They say that even when pizza is bad, it’s still pretty good, but this actually applies to ice cream most of all. I’ll eat soft serve that tastes like freezer burn, I don’t care. I’ll eat it out of those giant plastic buckets that get reused for mop water at small restaurants. Ice cream, even in its lowest, most overly frozen form, is still pleasant and thus deserves a spot on this list.