Blue Zones Frozen Meals Are Tasty and Healthy but Expensive

Blue Zones Frozen Meals Are Tasty and Healthy but Expensive

  • Blue Zone diets are known for promoting longevity with nutritious, home-cooked meals.
  • New frozen versions make healthy eating more convenient, and we thought they were delicious.
  • But at around $8 each, they’re kind of expensive for a small portion.

Some of the healthiest people in the world live on home-cooked meals based on cherished recipes passed down through multiple generations. But if you don’t have Greek or Sardinian grandmother cooking up a zesty bean stew loaded with fresh herbs, there may still be hope for your diet.

The people who’ve popularized the world’s “Blue Zones” — longevity hotspots where healthy aging is second nature — have developed a line of convenience foods inspired by Blue Zone diets. Their new meals are called Blue Zones Kitchen bowls — they’re minimally processed, healthy dinners that can be ready in the microwave in about 3 minutes.

“We prefer to see people cooking at home, but the next best thing is to eat a whole food, plant-based meal that’s been carefully crafted for longevity,” Dan Buettner, who’s been investigating life in the Blue Zones for two decades now, told Business Insider. “Most of the time these frozen meals, they have a sauce on and the sauce is like crack. It’s usually full of sodium and sugar and flavor enhancers, and people don’t really care what’s under this delicious sauce.”

His new meals don’t have any added sugar or artificial ingredients, and each one is loaded up with nutrients that are integral to Blue Zone diets.

Could these rock-hard freezer bowls “crafted for longevity” ever rival healthy home cooking? We were skeptical, but they won us over on everything but one key detail.

What’s on the menu

blue zone in the freezer

Hilary Brueck/Business Insider

We tried all four Blue Zones meals:

  • Okinawan Sesame Ginger Bowl with carrots, edamame, brown rice, and garbanzo beans — 240 calories, 11 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber

  • Sardinian Minestrone Casserole with tomato, red beans, wheat pasta, garbanzo beans, and carrots — 280 calories, 11 grams of protein, and 6 grams of fiber

  • Costa Rican Burrito Bowl with corn, black beans, sweet potato, and jalapeño — 290 calories, 11 grams of protein, and 7 grams of fiber

  • Southern Heirloom Rice Bowl with kale, tomato, red beans, sweet potato and Carolina gold rice — 310 calories, 10 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber

They taste surprisingly good

heirloom rice heated

The heirloom rice bowl was packed with flavor and kept me full all afternoon.

Hilary Brueck/Business Insider

To our surprise, these bowls tasted like real food — we could identify herbs, vegetables, and whole grains we’d use if we were cooking at home. The heirloom rice bowl was loaded with a generous dollop of fresh paprika, while the sesame ginger bowl featured crunchy bright green edamame, and a sauce that was both creamy and warming, brimming with just the right spices for a cold winter’s day.

“The most important ingredient is taste,” Buettner said. He insisted that these bowls were crafted with a “maniacal focus” on being delicious, above all else. “There’s no magical food — ‘I’m going to eat it this week and I’m going to live longer!’ No, it doesn’t work like that. You have to eat the right foods and avoid the wrong foods for long enough to not develop Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease, or dementia, or cancers of the GI tract.”

That means you have to actually like your healthy food. The flavors of a plant-based diet have to be just as unctuous as a fatty slice of meat, or as irresistible as a gooey, cheesy casserole.

We were surprised by the high fiber content — that’s rare for frozen meals

For a packaged meal, the Blue Zones products balanced macronutrients well, packing six to seven grams of fiber, or about 20 to 25% of your daily recommended intake. They also offer a reasonable 10-11 grams of plant-based protein per serving, with portions ranging from 240 to 310 calories.

While it’s trendy for processed foods to tout protein as a selling point and give what dietitians call a “health halo” aura, there’s typically not a lot of fiber in them. Less than 10% of Americans get enough fiber on a daily basis, which is critical for staying full, and can help control blood sugar.

Microwaveable food can be healthy

blue zone burrito bowl frozen

Hilary Brueck/Business Insider

For decades, Buettner has aimed, with his Blue Zones method, to convince Americans to cook more whole, fiberful foods, and embrace less sexy ingredients. Beans and vegetables are filled with nutrients that can help people stay healthy into old age, and avoid – or sometimes even reverse — some of the most pervasive chronic diseases.

The Blue Zones frozen meals may be a stepping stone for people who want to eat more healthfully, but maybe can’t commit the time to chopping and simmering longevity-boosting herbs and veggies at home.

It may sound surprising, but frozen meals can still be good for you.

“We look at the frozen category as being this incredible place where you can use the active freezing as a replacement for all preservatives,” Abby Coleman, the COO at Blue Zones Kitchen, told Business Insider. “So you can take a very homemade approach and you don’t need chemicals, you don’t need additives.”

The drawback: $8 is a lot for a meal at home

blue zones meal delivery

Hilary Brueck/Business Insider

The one problem we discovered with these meals is that they’re both small and expensive. For $6-8 per bowl, I’d like just another scoop of beans in my lunchbox. (In full disclosure we were given the meals for free to try from Blue Zones Kitchen, but such a price tag on a frozen dinner would give me pause at the grocery store, especially since the competition from processed meal makers like Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice is about half that much.)

Coleman says part of the reason for the extra cost is because the ingredients in these bowls are high-end, geared towards providing the most delicious frozen meal experience out there.

“I spent a long time on kale, getting ones that didn’t have big ribs and tough texture — it had to be tender,” she said. “I taste-tested about six different black beans until I found the right one that was going to be creamy, and it’s also this incredible blue-black color. They’re just these beautiful beans, but I had to search for them.”

Our takeaway

Though we might not be able to cut out all processed food from our diets, gather our own herbs, and ditch our cars for Sardinian sheep herding, maybe there’s room to compromise.

The new Blue Zones Kitchen meals offered us a hybrid sweet spot between the standard American way of life and Blue Zones idyllism. It might be OK to take some shortcuts for convenience sometimes and still be healthy — for a price.

But, if you can stomach spending just a little more time in the kitchen at home, you can get these same benefits without doing as much damage to your wallet.

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