Organic Food Hits the Freezer
Organic food is firmly established as the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, boasting 20 to 24 percent annual growth for the past several years. Sales are projected to reach $32 billion by 2009. So it’s not surprising that we’re seeing a new trend: more diverse offerings of organic frozen convenience meals.
Some diehard health and environmentally conscious consumers turn their noses up at prepackaged fare, claiming it contradicts core organic principles. When these shoppers think of organic food, they picture fresh fruits and vegetables combined in lovingly prepared, made-from-scratch meals. In addition, they argue that many of the ingredients in ready-to-eat organic packages are shipped in from all over the world rather than locally grown.
However, not everyone agrees with the criticisms. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the fundamental tenets of the organic movement are about producing food in a sustainable and ecologically friendly way without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. OTA prefers not to get bogged down in fresh-versus-frozen arguments.
"Certainly there are people who have tried to add ideas such as eating local produce to the original organic principles, but that’s not really what organic food is about," says Barbara Haumann, an OTA spokesperson. She says frozen organic convenience meals "provide another market to support organic farmers, which is good for the Earth."
Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a government and corporate watchdog group for the organic food industry, agrees. "Buying a product [like an organic frozen convenience meal] is an ecological choice because each dollar spent supports organic farmers" land and environmentally friendly farming methods, and limits their exposure to carcinogens," he says, adding that farmers have among the highest cancer rates of all American workers.
Mama Mia—The Lasagna Test
Philosophical disputes aside, I decided to put organic frozen convenience meals to the test in the ever-popular lasagna segment. Looking for the most convenient and healthy options, I hit the road. The local Stop & Shop mega-grocery offered only two brands of frozen organic lasagna: Amy’s Kitchen and Cedarlane Natural Foods. I also checked out seven health food stores and natural food chains, uncovering a total of four brands to review. Wild Oats offered the best selection of organic frozen convenience meals, carrying three of the four lasagna brands available in my region (the fourth is a proprietary brand at Trader Joe"s). Here’s what I discovered:
Creamy Spinach Lasagna by Seeds of Change
Presentation: After microwaving, I was disappointed to find a pale green entree, rather than the creamy white lasagna pictured on the box.
Taste: The lasagna had a watered-down, creamy texture with a strong spinach taste.
Organic Content: 94 percent of possible ingredients are organic.
Nutrition: 340 calories, 10 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates.
Convenience: Freezer to table in seven minutes.
Availability: I found this brand only at Wild Oats.
Vegetable Lasagna by Amy’s Kitchen
Presentation: This product is true to the appetizing picture on the box.
Taste: Amy’s lasagna has a marvelous zesty taste.
Organic Content:53 percent of possible ingredients are organic.
Nutrition: 300 calories, 12 grams of fat, 35 grams of carbohydrates.
Convenience: Freezer to table in 10 minutes.
Availability: Amy’s was offered at every store I visited.
Garden Vegetable Lasagna by Trader Giotto"s
Presentation: The picture on the box is somewhat misleading, as my entrée came with almost no cheese on top.
Taste: This lasagna tasted wonderful; the vegetables were fresh and the cheesy spinach filling was fantastic.
Organic Content: 73 percent of possible ingredients are organic.
Nutrition: 290 calories, 9 grams of fat, 41 grams of carbohydrates.
Convenience: Freezer to table in eight minutes.
Availability: This is a proprietary brand found only at Trader Joe"s, and stock varies from region to region.
Low-Fat Garden Vegetable Lasagna by Cedarlane Natural Foods
Presentation: I found the picture on the box accurately matched the cooked product.
Taste: This lasagna had the rich, pleasing taste of fresh tomatoes, but the pasta was a bit tough.
Organic Content: 46 percent of possible ingredients are organic.
Nutrition: 180 calories, 3 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbohydrates.
Convenience: Freezer to table in seven minutes.
Availability: I found this product in seven out of eight stores.
Which Lasagna Would You Choose?
The best organic frozen lasagna really depends on what’s important to you. If taste is your priority, I think Amy’s Vegetable Lasagna is the best choice; in fact, I think it tastes better than conventional counterparts like Stouffer"s. However, if organic content is your main priority, then Seeds of Change Creamy Spinach Lasagna would be your best bet. If you are on a tight budget, Trader Giotto’s Garden Vegetable Lasagna is for you at $2.49. For the waistline-conscious diner, Cedarlane’s Low-Fat Garden Vegetable Lasagna has the lowest number of calories, carbohydrates and fat grams. And if convenience is truly what you’re looking for in a frozen convenience meal, you can be eating Amy’s Vegetable Lasagna before any of the other competitors. Abondanza!
TIMOTHY BLEASDALE enjoys sampling new foods.