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The Pros and Cons of Freezing Meats, Fish, And Produce | The Paleo Diet

Nothing beats a fresh, crisp salad with a cilantro-lime marinated chicken breast, tossed with an assortment of leftover grilled veggies from last night’s barbecue you hosted, for a healthy, balanced Paleo lunch on a hot summer’s day.

And the next day, perhaps some of those grilled veggies and leftover chicken find their way into a chilled soup puree simply by adding in some bone broth and topping with a dollop of homemade guacamole.

But by day number three, grilled chicken and veggies are starting to sound far from appetizing. While they’re still edible and nutritious, having been stored properly in the fridge, their appeal has dissipated to the point that they’re last thing you’re craving.

You arrive at a crossroads: force feed yourself, or toss it in the garbage and wear the wasting food badge. Thankfully there’s another prong to this fork: freezing.

Prepared, frozen foods and meals tend to be high in sodium, sugar, and a wide range of unfavorable additives, and preservatives. But, freezing meats, fish, and produce can be a healthy, handy part of your weekly Paleo regime, not to mention a huge savings in time, labor and cost.

While some of the flavor may be lost in the freezing process, it’s a good way to preserve the nutritional value and texture. In fact, it’s not the freezing process that actually changes the food, but the cooking that is often done beforehand and thawing afterward.1

From a health risk standpoint, don’t make the mistake of taking out a whole frozen chicken and letting it sit all day on the counter to defrost. Raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products, as any perishable foods, must be kept at a safe temperature during the thawing process. While they’re safe indefinitely while frozen, as soon as they begin to thaw and become warmer than 40° F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply. As such, perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Plan ahead and thaw in the refrigerator where the food will remain at a safe, constant temperature — at 40° F or below.2

With the cons of freezing almost negligible, we can safely incorporate the process and save ourselves a good amount of time by doing a once or twice weekly prep as I refer to in Paleoista, with the “Hour in the Kitchen.”

During this time, if we simply steam several types of veggies, bake, broil or grill a few proteins, wash our lettuces and so on, we end up at the end of the hour with many ready to eat options. Then, we can mix and match in order to create a nice variety of meals to eat right then and there, to go or to freeze! By portioning out foods that are completely prepared into single servings and then freezing, we also save on cost as this approach allows us to prepare larger quantities.

Isn’t fresh always best, though?  Won’t freezing meats, fish, and produce cause the nutrient density to diminish? Yes…and no.

Of course, in an ideal world, we’d all eat fresh fish, grass fed meats and pasture-raised poultry with local, organic produce at every single meal, all the time. As soon as we get back to reality, however, it becomes very clear that for most of us, doing this every time we eat just isn’t practical. But which foods freeze best and which should avoid the icebox?

BEST FOODS TO FREEZE

  • Proteins including grass fed meats, wild fish, pasture raised poultry, basically any Paleo friendly protein that’s part of your routine, aside from whole, raw eggs in the shell (scrambled eggs may pass the test), make good candidates for freezing.
  • Keep your raw nuts in the freezer, too; they’ll stay fresher longer and due to their high fat content, can be eaten right as they are!

FOODS SAFE TO FREEZE, BUT MAY CHANGE IN TEXTURE

  • Fruits and vegetables with high water content will not freeze well (think frozen lettuce, cucumber or radish…no, thanks!).
  • Salty fatty meats – meats such as bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs, ‘lunch meats’ and some fish do not last long in the freezer. The USDA only recommends freezing these items for 1-2 months. The salt causes fat to go rancid in the freezer.3 Good thing these processed foods aren’t part of a regular Paleo diet!

But what to do if we find ourselves with too much food for one reason or another and some of it falls into the category of doesn’t freeze well?  There are still ways to prevent total waste.

1. HAVE A PLAN

Make a menu and aim to use up the most perishable foods first, and stagger out the heartier ones to be eaten a few days later.

2. BE CREATIVE

Balance out reinventing leftover proteins and keep them fresh by making them into a soup puree, mixing and matching with a fresh, crisp salad or a different type of veggie which can turn a boring meal into something totally different.

3. REFRIGERATOR SURPRISE IT

This is an approach I use quite regularly and began several years ago right before I left for vacation. I had frozen what was freezeable, but found I still had several odds and ends, like half an onion, parsley, part of a roast chicken carcass and so on. I threw them all into a Dutch oven with some leftover broth and created the first iteration of refrigerator surprise. A risky endeavor perhaps had the leftovers not tasted great, but much to my surprise, a tasty combo sans waste!

Freezing is definitely permitted on the Paleo diet as a permanent part of your healthy regime. Allowing you to save on cost and time, these pros far outweigh any cons, and a highly recommended approach to balancing out the times when you can go fresh!

 

REFERENCES

[1] “What Nutrients Are Lost or Destroyed by Freezing?” What Nutrients Are Lost or Destroyed by Freezing? N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2015.

[2] “FSIS.” The Big Thaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2015.

[3] “The Best and the Worst Foods to Freeze for Long Term Storage.” Ready Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2015.

Meal Plan | The Paleo Diet

Dear Dr. Cordain,

I’m a college student about to head into my second year this upcoming fall semester. I’ve decided to try The Paleo Diet and see how it works. I’ve always struggled with my weight and recently decided to do something about it. My school requires those who live in the dorms to have a meal plan (14 meals per week). I don’t want to waste all the meals that I’ve already had to pay for. My question is how can I follow strict Paleo with dorm food. I’m hoping to go to the onsite nutritionist and try to see if that will help (telling them I’m lactose intolerant). And, while they do have a salad bar, I’m just looking for advice so I can stay true to The Paleo Diet.

Thank You,

David

Kyle Cordain’s Response:

David,

I am glad to hear that you are off on the right foot with improving your weight and overall health. It can be difficult at first to adhere to a Paleo lifestyle, but with time it becomes easier and your body and mind will thank you for it.

Most colleges and universities require first year students to live in on-campus dormitories. Many people perceive dormitories as a setback when going to college, but there are definitely many benefits to “dorm life.” Living on-campus is great for meeting new people and to learn the basics of being independent. Plus, it ensures that you have access to all of the study tools and resources that you need to succeed as an undergraduate. That being said, it can be quite difficult to stick to The Paleo Diet especially when your school requires you to purchase a meal plan that probably does not include many Paleo-friendly options. Fortunately, there are plenty of options that you can consider to make sure that your healthy eating plan is not compromised by your school’s conventional eating plans.

First, I would contact your school’s dining hall service and see if you can obtain nutrition facts, including labels, food sources, and the like for every item offered in the varied meal plan options. Go through the list of all food options and highlight those that adhere to Paleo. You mentioned that there is a salad bar available, so if there is a fairly decent amount of fresh vegetables and fruit, half the battle is won.

Typically, the biggest challenge with eating “dorm-food” is sourcing quality meat, eggs, and other protein sources. More often than not, the dining Halls provide meat that is far from what we would label Paleo. It is quite the challenge to find a meal plan that offers grass-fed meat, free of preservatives, salt, sugars, nitrites, and nitrates. Often dining halls will source the cheapest factory raised meat that is available, and cook up a dish that is smothered with gluten, sugar, and or salt-infested sauces that ultimately make the meat non-Paleo. It’s also worth mentioning that factory raised meat, is usually raised on corn or soy, and is loaded with hormones or antibiotics. The omega-3 and omega-6 balance ratio becomes disrupted when animals are raised on diets rich in grains and soy where the byproduct is inflammatory and not very good for you.

If I were you, I would speak to an administrator in your university’s dining services and explain that you have one or more food intolerance and that you are striving to follow a specific diet that the dorm meal plan simply does not permit. If they cannot make an exception, meet them in the middle and try to shorten your meal plan to only seven meals per week or fewer. Make sure to stock up on lots of fresh fruit, veggies, and nuts which you can store in a mini fridge in your dorm room. Depending on fire codes provided by housing and dining services, you may also consider bringing a hotplate to cook eggs, chicken, steak, and stir-fry dishes.

Many universities are beginning to diet is a heightened concern for many people and now offer public kitchens where students can cook meals on their own time. If you do not have access to a kitchen on-campus, stick with upperclassmen and other friends that live off-campus who will let you use their kitchens. After all, cooking and food bring people together.

I wish you the best of luck with school and your new Paleo lifestyle!

Kyle Cordain
The Paleo Diet Team

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