Stouffer’s promises its innovative Steam Perfect Bag protects the flavor and nutrition of the vegetables and other premium ingredients in the company’s new Farmers’ Harvest line of steam meals-for-one.
Kellogg’s-owned Kashi also uses steam as the cooking method for the four new varieties of steam meals that hit the market in late January. All of the dinners are built around Kashi’s signature “Seven Whole Grain blend.”
With such national exposure, it’s likely consumers will become more amenable to steaming their meals, which isn’t a bad thing, according to diet experts.
“It’s a better way to cook because you’re not adding fats to the process, and you’re preserving the nutrients, especially with vegetables,” said Michelle Mix, a registered dietitian and nutrition coordinator at Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine.
Birds Eye pioneered the modern steam cooking category when the frozen vegetable packer introduced its Steamfresh line of vegetables, blends and corn on the cob in 2006. Since then, the brand has grown to include rice blends and pre-sauced vegetables.
Despite the health aspects, steaming has a much more practical side as well.
“The biggest driver to me is the convenience of using your microwave, which is what these products allow you to do,” noted Kara Nielsen, trendologist at the Center for Culinary Development, San Francisco. “The technology is very smart because people don’t even have to get a bowl to put the bag in. They can simply throw it into the microwave.”
At Hannaford, Mix says her clientele isn’t always familiar with steaming and requires a bit of education. She urges them to buy a steam basket but tells them it’s as simple as putting a small amount of water in a pot.
“I tell them that if you boil vegetables, the nutrients leach into the water and you’re essentially throwing away most of the vitamins and minerals that are good for you,” she said.
Nielsen believes the timing is right for steam cooking to become more popular. The continued preference for home cooking and the desire for better diets are two factors that motivate the trend. Steaming can also help manufacturers reformulate their recipes. Refrigerated and frozen entrees often are notorious for their high fat and sodium contents.
“We’re seeing the sophistication of food that goes into the microwave that’s super-convenient, and it also feels fresher,” she said.