Time to chill out
Frozen food can mean the difference between ordering a takeaway and cooking a healthy meal, nutritional therapist Elsa Jones tells Claire O'Mahony
The freezer is a staple in most households but it may be the case that we're not making enough use of this appliance. According to recent research by food retailers Iceland, while 56pc of Irish mothers regularly cook meals from scratch and freeze them for convenience, some 47pc of those surveyed did not realise that many foods can be more nutritious when frozen because the nutrients are locked in, immediately and at source. Nutritional therapist Elsa Jones (pictured left), who launched Iceland's new summer range as part of its Power of Frozen campaign, says that there are lots of reasons to embrace more frozen foods.
"I think we possibly have negative associations of frozen food because when we think frozen food we tend to think of the highly processed frozen food - the ready-made meals, the frozen pizza, the ice cream and the garlic bread," she says. "Whereas I don't think we necessarily think of frozen berries or cauliflower."
There is a place in a healthy diet for both frozen and fresh produce, she maintains.
"I definitely think that anything that makes healthier eating easier for people is a positive because for example, three quarters of Irish adults don't actually get their five-a-day. The main reason people don't get their five-a-day is time constraints, budget, tiredness, busyness - 21st-century life essentially. Sometimes having frozen vegetables, things like frozen stir-fried vegetables or frozen cauliflower rice can be the difference between someone making a healthy meal and just choosing to opt out and not prepare a meal. If you get in late after a hard day's work or you're busy with the kids and you can't face the process of prepping and chopping and cooking, you might be tempted to go for pizza, beans or toast or order a takeaway. But if you have healthy frozen options to hand, I think it makes you a lot more likely to throw together a healthy meal."
She herself is a fan of frozen, cubed butternut squash, a vegetable that some may avoid because it's time consuming to peel and difficult to chop.
"I have a two-year-old and he likes butternut squash blended into things - a lot of babies and kids like the taste of butternut squash when they're weaning and in meals - so if I just wanted to grab a handful of butternut squash and throw it into a veggie pasta sauce for him, that's a really useful way of using frozen food," she says.
Another appealing aspect of making more use of your freezer is that it allows you to control portions and freeze anything unused for another meal. Food waste is a significant problem in Ireland where an estimated one million tonnes of food is binned every year, which is the equivalent of 80kg of food per person.
The nutritional therapist points to the differences in consumer behaviour in Spain and France for example, where food purchasing is done on a daily or every second day basis, in comparison with this country where weekly shops are more the norm.
"This means we're buying our fruit and veg in bulk and sometimes you just don't get the time to eat it all and you end up throwing out a lot of fruit and vegetables at the end of the week, which is annoying - I threw out a whole load of brown nectarines from my fruit bowl the other day," she says. Using a handful of frozen berries or mango in smoothies means what isn't used doesn't end up going out in the rubbish, nor are home cooks trying to desperately think of ways to use up the surplus. The same goes for dishes like a Thai stir-fry for example, which might require small amounts of ingredients such as ginger, chilli and coriander. "The likelihood is that I will buy all those ingredients at the supermarket, use probably a quarter of them and then the rest of if probably ends up being binned at the end of the week," says Elsa. "But options like the small pouches of frozen grated ginger available at Iceland mean you can take little bits, as and when you need them."
Her top tip for using frozen foods is to look at the label.
"There should be a small amount of foods on the ingredient list; it should be food that you recognise, it shouldn't be long list of words that you can't pronounce.
"I think having frozen fruit and veg in our freezer makes it easier to eat our five-a-day but also to consider produce like frozen fish, or foods we may not know how to cook but would like to experiment with, like frozen quinoa. It's budget-conscious, it's good if you've got time constraints, and it's accessible."
Elsa’s Green Goddess Smoothie
½ ripe avocado, (fresh or frozen)
1 cup spinach leaves
(room temp or frozen)
1 scoop protein powder
(I recommend a vanilla-flavoured plantbased protein powder)
1 cup of cold almond milk.
1tsp honey, optional
Blend together until smooth and enjoy.