Plan ahead so you have nutritious food on hand at all times.
Stocking your freezer isn’t just a precaution to take when bad weather may prevent you from getting out of the house. For older adults who can’t always go to the store, it’s smart to keep the freezer stocked with healthy foods all year round. “Fresh foods are extremely important in terms of nutrients,” says Melanie Pearsall, a registered dietitian with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats, dairy products, and whole grains are loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber your body needs to function properly. “But older adults may not buy enough fresh food because they feel it won’t keep, or they’ll cut back on meals when the good food runs out,” says Pearsall. Consuming fewer calories can lead to malnutrition, low energy levels, and poor concentration. “You may be weak or too tired to do anything, and trip and fall,” says Pearsall.
If you turn to processed canned or packaged meals that last longer, you’ll likely consume extra sugar, salt, trans fat, preservatives, and other additives. Even canned vegetables may have salt or other preservatives, and canned fruit may be packed in sugary syrup. Those poor-quality calories can make it harder to manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, and other chronic conditions.
Creating an inventory
One way to avoid malnutrition and ensure that you have nutritious food at all times is to fill your freezer with healthy options. Pearsall recommends starting with the basics—a variety of proteins (meat, poultry, and seafood), fruits, and vegetables. It doesn’t matter if you buy fruit and vegetables from the produce aisle or from the frozen food section (as long as the frozen foods are not precooked and have no additives or sauces).
Most fresh foods freeze well and retain their nutrients, including leafy greens such as kale, collards, and spinach; starchy vegetables such as corn and peas; most meat, poultry, and seafood, such as salmon, scallops, chicken, turkey, and lean beef; most fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, mangos, and peaches; and even milk, egg whites, and most cheeses, such as cheddar and Colby. Cooked whole grains (such as brown rice) and whole-grain breads, pastas, and crackers also freeze well.
Foods that don’t do well in the freezer include bananas, avocado, melon, dairy-style yogurt (not frozen dessert yogurt), cottage cheese, and whole tomatoes.
“You can still eat those foods after thawing, but there will be a significant change in texture,” says Pearsall. Don’t freeze whole eggs; they tend to crack and must be thrown away.
Using your supplies
When you’re ready to dip into your frozen food supplies, don’t feel compelled to cook large quantities. “Grab a handful of frozen blueberries and add them to oatmeal, or a handful of frozen vegetables and add them to soups or stews,” says Pearsall.
Or prepare in advance: place servings of the frozen foods you’d like tomorrow in covered dishes in your refrigerator today, to give them time to thaw. You can also thaw foods on low power in a microwave, or by placing a bag of frozen food in cold—not hot—water (to avoid bacterial growth). Don’t place frozen food on the counter to thaw; that promotes bacterial growth as well.
Just remember to keep your supplies plentiful. Each time you use something from your freezer inventory, add a new item to your grocery list.
Will freezer-burned foods make you sick?
The movie “Mother,” starring Debbie Reynolds and Albert Brooks, features a funny scene with Reynolds describing a thick layer of frost on some sherbet as “protective ice.” But frost or fuzzy white ice that you see on frozen foods is a sign that air has come in contact with the contents of the container. The USDA says freezer burn doesn’t make foods unsafe; it just makes them dry. Should you still eat them? “You can, but you won’t enjoy them, because the food quality suffers, and the foods absorb other odors in the freezer,” says Pearsall.
It’s better to try to avoid exposing frozen foods to air. Cover them tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then place them in sealed freezer bags, and label them so you know what’s inside. If you’re placing food in a plastic container, protect it further by covering the surface of the food (inside the container) with a little plastic wrap, and then putting the lid on the container. The USDA recommends keeping your freezer at a frosty 0° F or lower to ensure foods retain vitamin content, color, flavor, and texture.