There’s No Time For Frozen
I was totally tricked.
But that’s okay. I actually tried more frozen food in one sitting than I’ve had in my entire life. Learning experience, right?
I got this invite (above ) to a demonstration at a local cooking school. I briefly scanned the details, saw that I could bring a guest, let 80P check his schedule and then I confirmed. I assumed this event was tied to the chef, Trish Magwood‘s book tour. She would cook recipes from her book, the food writers would munch, possibly write about the event, and the cycle of: product—PR—press would continue as normal.
Now, I truly hate when bloggers bitch. Like I super fucking hate it. Food writers are truly blessed with ridiculous perks: free food, trips, wine, cookbooks and inflated egos. I guess that’s the problem in the first place. Maybe I expect too much.
Well this demo was all about Stouffer’s new line of frozen food: Anytime Gourmet. With plenty of wine to quell most complaints, Trish “cooked” a few of the frozen dinners. The gimmick of this new brand is it allows people to kinda cook. The meal isn’t assembled into tiny sections, each ingredient is wrapped in its own plastic bag.
For one of the chicken dishes the consumer must mix together the de-thawed ingredients: bread crumbs, dehydrated mushrooms, and some water to create a crust for the chicken. The eater must bread the chicken, then top it with the packed cheese. While that cooks in the oven (20 something minutes?), the rest of the meal, green beans, quartered red potatoes and a brown gravy, can be nuked. The food wasn’t completely terrible, but it tasted generic.
Now, I’ve maybe had two or three frozen meals in my life. And this was even before I became obsessed with cooking. I never really understood the attraction. If I’m in a pinch, I’ll scramble a few eggs. I’ll toast a bagel. I’d even rather heat up ramen than turn to the freezer section. But whatever. Clearly Americans find this packaging appealing. And Stouffer’s is preying on busy families and dudes that want to impress their dates. Oh, and this semi-hassle free meal goes for 15 bucks for 2 servings.
I have no idea what it’s like to be a working parent, trying to figure how to find time for a personal life when the current workplace in no way reflects the current workforce. But is high fructose corn syrup the answer? Isn’t eating together as a family still a valued moment (everyone microwaving her own meals doesn’t count)? Should cooking be portrayed as a chore?
We’ve recently debated these issues on ES (here and here). And, well, I just feel like a pretentious little city girl. I’m 28 with no dependents (80 can technically pour himself cereal, so I’ll leave him out of the equation). I can spend 3 hours cooking and leave the clean up for the next day. I don’t need to make time for homework, baths, soccer practice or whatever kids do these days. (Did you know that kids send like 100 texts a day – crazy!)
Earlier this week I finished reading In Defense of Food. I’m clearly on my Michael Pollan soapbox. Pollan completely brainwashed me. I am spreading the *we need an American food culture* gospel. And I’m afraid, Stouffer’s and Trish (who should know better as a Beard award winner!), that frozen food is not the answer.
Go fry an egg. It’s good for you.
I so agree with you – I’m 30 and husband and I like to cook, and we cook often – it makes no sense to eat any other way, but it’s not like we have dependents/kids, so I always wonder if maybe we are just really lucky. I guess if picky kids won’t eat anything with a lot of flavor, then maybe parents just resort to the freezer.
And btw – and I am sure you know this – you can make an AWESOME meal for 15$ for 2 if you go the from scratch route. Heck, it could include seafood or red meat even.
Ahhh, I got invited to this too! I’m so glad I didn’t go now. It sounds like in the time it takes to make that, you can make something a whole lot better.
I’m not going to say that I grew up on frozen food, but we always had some lean cuisine’s in the freezer. So I’m not going to condemn them too much. They obviously aren’t made from scratch quality, but nuking a meal in 5 minutes is waaay easier than the making and cleaning up after cooking.
These new hybid meals are another story though, I’m not sure they will work. But then again, I am not the target customer, which they full admitted during the evening. They are not dumb, they know this will be a suburban product.
I worked at a place that sold this sort of stuff, except we (or the customers) assembled the meals on site from fresh (sort of) ingredients and then froze them, so maybe it was sort of better.
Still, I never ate it, and couldn’t figure out the people that came in and bought those meals by the dozen.
As a mother of 3, I totally do go for the frozen food section once in a while. They are adventurous eaters for the most part and I do cook home made 9 nights out of 10. Sometimes with time constraints and activities and just being worn out from battling wills with a 3 year old, being able to put some chicken fingers and tatter tots in the oven is such a relief. I don’t think this new style of frozen foods will appeal to me either. If I had the time to defrost, mix up, bread my chicken etc. etc. then I wouldn’t be looking in my freezer I would be making something home made.
$15 for 2 servings is outrageous. I totally begged for frozen meals growing up (I had homemade food coming out of my ears; grass is greener I guess) and loved TV dinners to no end. I have this aversion to paying more than a couple of dollars (at MOST) for frozen meals though. There’s no way I’d shell out $15 (especially now that I cook, umm no). I can order TAKEOUT for that much (lol) and it’s freshly made! And no work! Less clean up! WTF?
They did have 5 varieties that were 10 dollars, in their defense. Not all were 15.
The Stoufers logo at the type of the invitation didnt give it away?
I am ashamed to admit it, I do have one or two Healthy Choice meals in my freezer for emergencies. Not because I like them. Nor do I think they are good. And would rather not eat them, but sometimes I need to eat something really fast. And its cheaper, healthier, more balanced & faster then take out. I specifically get the Cafe Steamers because they have the least Sodium (I know that’s not saying much)
Though I like to cook and do so often, I also regularly eat frozen food, and I have to say, there is only one reason I eat it: Some weeks I run out of leftovers and just don’t have the time to do big, well-planned shopping trips or cook anything new, especially if I’m living in the library and can’t make it home.
So, these meals make ZERO sense. The WHOLE reason to eat frozen meals is to feel like you’re eating a real meal and not actually have to cook it.
And I’d also like to point out that not all frozen foods are terrible for you and full of artificial ingredients. I basically live on frozen Indian food (Tandoor Chef anyone? Love it) and Annie’s organic stuff during finals, and I don’t feel any grosser than when I cook a lasagna or enchiladas and live on the leftovers, especially if I snack on relatively healthy things, like carrots. It’s all about reading the ingredients.
All my office eats is lean cuisines. I need a new job.
I almost never eat frozen meals at home, but I do eat them for lunch at work most days. When I can bring leftovers, that’s great, but since it’s just my wife and I, we often don’t cook enough to have leftovers. I would classify most of them as “fine.” But most of them are also around $3, which is hard to beat. Recently I’ve been splurging ($4.50 or so) on the “Kashi” brand. I’m pretty obsessed with the “Mayan Harvest Bake,” which is fascinating, and truly flavorful. I’d love to know what someone with a less stupid palate thinks of it.
I am a full-time student and momma of 2 kids ages 7 & 9. I think it is a matter of priorities. I never buy pre-made frozen meals; if I am in such a hurry that I can’t cook we will grab take-out but in an attempt to cut back on this I make meals that can be partially cooked and then try to keep at least 2 of them in the freezer at all times. My kids’ favorites are lasagna and cranberry chicken. I just toss them in the oven and bake ’em for 45 minutes. This gives us time to do homework and make a salad and we still get to sit down and eat together.
Tia – thank you. You are what I think is what should be the norm – it really bugs me when people tell me they don’t cook because they don’t have time, energy, blah, blah, blah. No, you have the time, you just prioritize it differently.
Also, I am not against frozen food AT ALL, but I choose differently. As someone else mentioned, not all frozen food is bad for you. When I am really crunched for time or feeling lazy, I have frozen dumplings (I pay a little extra for the kind that’s handmade/homemade/home-packaged, so it’s less preservatives) and frozen udon in the freezer. I use chicken stock or lately, miso paste and whip up miso udon with some dumplings – and usually, I’ll have some sort of leafy greens that I can throw in there for veggies, or some sort of vegetable… if even that isn’t going to work, I throw in frozen veggies and have a really delicious meal that took me 15-20 minutes to put together.
Sorry to get on the soapbox, but I really hate when people assume I have all this time to cook and eat well – no, I just make a point to do so, because it’s important to me.
I have several “frozen” meals here at work. For when I’m busy and I left lunch on the table at home and half an hour doesn’t give me time to run to a fast food joint. But that frozen meal means “fast” and easy to me, not “spend time putting it together and cooking it for 20 minutes”. Also there is just a small microwave at work. That’s it. So I’m not really sure who these meals are supposed to be for?
@ Yvo – it’s also important to me to eat well, and I’m very conscious of what I put in my body (being a vegetarian and a medical student to boot.) And as much as it bugs you that people assume you have “all this time to cook,” it bugs me that people assume that others can choose what they do with their time to the same extent that you can. For instance, it’s not infrequent that I don’t have any groceries in the house because my grocery store is only open 9-8 and I’ve been at the hospital until after 9 every night this week. So the situation arises that I have an exam in two days that I’m going to spent 35 out of the next 48 hours studying for, and I’ve run out of groceries. So I could go to my local sushi or sandwich place and get some great fresh meal for $8-$20, or even better, prepare myself a good meal at home that will take 20 minutes, plus 40 minutes getting home and back to the library or the hospital. But instead, I spend 5 minutes warming a meal and eat it either in front of my desk with my books or with friends in the cafeteria, because I’d rather spend that hour with good company than standing, alone, in my kitchen for a meal that’s probably no better for me than the no-preservative Indian lunch I’ve brought with me.
I could probably plan a little better and go to the grocery store earlier in the week, but fresh produce really requires you to eat it within a couple days of when you get it, right? And I’d rather eat something frozen than something I paid $3/pound for and then had to cut rot off of.
So yeah, you could say it’s a matter of priorities.
@Alex – Ummm… I think you misunderstood my comment? It wasn’t directed at you.
i have cut most canned/boxed foods out of my life (though my freezer is usually full of several kinds of leftover soups, falafel patties, vegi burger patties, hummus, blah blah…), but i will most likely never bother to make tater tots or fried spring rolls, and for those I am very thankful for the freezer section 😀
@Yvo – I know it wasn’t, but I really don’t have the time or energy to cook beautiful, healthy meals every day, and neither do a lot of other people. And you noted yourself that you were getting up on a soapbox. So it bugged me. Clearly.
Alex… if you want to go this route. I go to school and work fulltime too. My point was against those who tell me they don’t have time AND act like I have all the time in the world to eat well. Since you’ve never said to me “Oh my god, I would love to eat as well as you do, I just don’t have time like you do” the comment wasn’t directed at you, but if you’d like me to turn the light on you, so be it. As I mentioned in my original comment, I just make certain choices to ensure I eat as well as I’d like to during the week as I can given my time crunch. Does it ever happen that I don’t make that goal? Yes – I’d be lying if I said this past semester (my first back in school) there weren’t nights that I just didn’t eat (getting home at 11:30, midnight, will do that) and went to sleep (from being tired), or ate potato chips for dinner instead. The point I was trying to make is simply that those nights, sleeping was a bigger priority to me than it was to eat well. Studying can be a bigger priority for you, as you said, and I don’t have a problem with that (it’s really none of my business). I also said in my original comment that I had no issue with frozen food (though I do choose differently – I have heard of the frozen foods you’re talking about, they just don’t happen to be in my freezer). I have an issue with people who act like I have all the time in the world (I feel like I’ve said that many many times already). You seem to have an issue with people who think your priorities are wrong – which I don’t. So… I think that’s the end of this misunderstanding.
I agree. Trish’s book is pretty. Haven’t tried any of the recipes yet.