What we did, and why--
If you're anything like me, (busy, lazy, hungry, stressed) you probably have good intentions when it comes to healthy eating, but life often gets in the way. You get home from a busy day. There are no clean dishes, and tackling the monster pile in the sink is the last thing you want to do. There's not much in the fridge, and you can't think of anything remotely easy to make. You settle for the dregs of the yogurt and half a bag of chips.
If I've just described your evening ritual, they you're in luck: a group of experts (ok, well, me, Alexa, Rachel, Jordan and James) explored the pros and cons of frozen and fresh (home-made) meals, as it relates to the average student, or otherwise frazzled person.
We decided to conduct a blind taste test at the Red River College Princess Street Campus to see what students (and other passers-by) preferred: fresh or frozen. We chose to compare a frozen Stouffer's Skillet Sensations Chicken Alfredo and a frozen Bassili's Best 6 Vegetable Lasagna with their respective home-made equivalents (cooked by us- average students with average cooking skills!).
While the fresh lasagna beat the frozen one with a whopping 76% of votes, the chicken alfredos came in much closer: tasters actually preferred the frozen option (at 53%) over the fresh (47%). We were surprised at this result.
Our average-to-low cooking skills may have contributed to the odd chicken alfredo result. (Really though, I tried it- our fresh cooked chicken alfredo was amazing!)
We also surveyed students to see what their priorities are when it comes to purchasing food: they rated taste, price, health and convenience from one (highest) to four (lowest).
Based on what 80 respondents ranked as their first priorities, here's how they stacked up:
1. Taste, at 53%
2. Price, at 30%
3. Health, at 11%
4. Convenience, at 6%
We were quite surprised at these results-- we expected price and convenience to rank highest among busy students who often have lots of expenses and debt. However, 67.5% of students voted convenience as their last priority. (Note: one flaw in our research was that while we were aiming to survey students, we attracted faculty, staff and the general public to our taste test and survey instead, which may have skewed our results.)
So what did we learn? Well, it all depends on what you're looking for.
If taste is your top priority then it's kind of a toss-up. If you're a great cook, then a home-made meal is probably the best bet. That way, you can customize your meal. But if you're useless in the kitchen, a quality frozen meal might be for you.
If you're on a budget and your pantry screams "discount bin," then you might go for the pre-packaged stuff as well-- but not always. While the fresh lasagna cost roughly twice as much to make than the frozen option, the chicken alfredos only varied in price by a couple of dollars (the fresh was a tiny bit pricier). Also, frugal shopping (such as buying in bulk) can make home-made meals more cost-efficient.
An interesting note: the huge price discrepancy between frozen and fresh lasagna corresponds to a large preference discrepancy, while both chicken alfredos were similar in taste preference and price.
In terms of health, it can go either way. Both our frozen entrees boasted the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check logo, but not all frozen foods do.
One health benefit to some frozen foods is that because you purchase a set amount, it can help you control your portions. When I make a big batch of something delicious, I have a hard time not consuming it all in one meal.
However, frozen processed foods may contain unhealthy preservatives and additives. This article warns against consuming them on a regular basis due to carcinogen exposure, allergies and other health risks. For example, Stouffer's Chicken Alfredo contains the additive phosphoric acid, rated harmful to health.
A benefit to home-made food is that you can see and choose what goes into your meal. It's up to you to decide the fat and sodium content. You can choose fresh, healthy and even home-grown vegetables. It keeps you in touch with your food like microwaving a pizza pop never will.
If time is of the essence, then go with the frozen option. Clearly, heating up a pre-made meal takes a fraction of the time it takes to prepare one from scratch, not to mention the stress it can cause an inexperienced cook.
Australian current affairs show Today Tonight conducted a similar frozen vs. fresh study, with several conclusions similar to ours.
The final word--
There is no wrong or right when it comes to fresh vs. frozen-- it all depends on what you're looking for. We hope we've at least spelled out the issues to consider, next time you're shivering in the frozen food aisle, wondering what to buy.
While this was NOT part of our project, I want to add a quick word regarding the environmental impacts of purchasing frozen foods. Just one more thing to consider, and a tie-in to my blog topic.
Frozen meals require disposable packaging that can often be avoided when diligently shopping for fresh ingredients. Further, importing foods from far away increases greenhouse gas emissions, and frozen foods require even more energy to keep them cold in transport. One North American study found that the average meal travels 2,400 km altogether, from field to table. Our frozen chicken alfredo is a product of the U.S.A., while our frozen lasagna hails from Edmonton.