4 Things to Look for in the Frozen Food Section
While I’m a huge advocate for eating more fresh fare and fewer packaged products, there are some hidden gems in the freezer section that are worth a spot in your cart. Here are my top four picks, plus good-for-you ways to enjoy them.
When I go grocery shopping with my clients, many assume that weâre going to skip the frozen food section altogether. The truth is, while Iâm a huge advocate for eating more fresh fare and fewer packaged products, there are some hidden gems in the freezer section that are worth a spot in your cartâespecially if you need time-saving shortcuts to help you eat more healthfully (you know, those nights where you need to make something quick or youâre ordering takeout!). Here are my top four picks, plus good-for-you ways to enjoy them.
You may be surprised to learn that frozen fruits and veggies may actually be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. Thatâs because the second produce is harvested, it begins to lose nutrients. Since frozen produce is typically iced close to the time itâs picked, and freezing preserves and possibly boosts antioxidants and nutrients, freezing essentially âlocks inâ good nutrition. Iâm such a big fan of frozen fruits and vegetables, I wrote an entire post about them, 5 Reasons This Nutritionist Buys Frozen Produce, which also lists other key benefits of buying frozen. On super busy days, keeping these goodies on hand has allowed many of my clients to squeeze in produce they might have otherwise skipped. If youâre out of fresh fruit, just transfer unsweetened frozen fruit, like whole berries, to the fridge to thaw, then eat them cold, or add them to a dish like oatmeal or a parfait. Frozen veggies simply need to be steamed, then seasoned. One of my favorite tricks is to lightly toss them with a bit of jarred vegan pesto or olive tapenade. For example, broccoli with sundried tomato pesto is delicious, and voilÃ , you have a veggie side dish in mere minutes.
A lot of my clients end up eating processed or refined grains at dinner because theyâre too tired or hungry to boil water and wait for whole grains like wild rice to cook. Fortunately, frozen is now an option. I regularly buy pre-cooked frozen black barley, wild rice, and wheatberries. The only ingredient in the bags is the whole grain itselfâthatâs it (talk about clean eating). And because theyâre fully cooked, theyâre incredibly versatile. I can thaw them in the fridge to add to garden salads or chilled dishes, along with veggies and beans or lentils, then I toss the mixture with balsamic vinaigrette. I can also add them directly to recipes, like simple homemade soups, heat them to accompany a stir fry, or make a warm breakfast porridge.
If you scan the ingredient list on most shelf-stable breads, even whole grain versions, youâll find stabilizers, preservatives, and other additives that make you think, âWhat is that?â Since freezing acts as a natural preservative, breads found in the freezer section donât require those unwanted extras, so they often have ingredient lists that read like a simple, good old-fashioned recipeâjust whole grains, water, yeast, and a little salt. Keep your loaves frozen and then thaw or toast one slice at a time. Spread with almond butter and cover with fresh fruit (or warmed up frozen fruit) at breakfast, or make a quick open-faced sandwich for lunch, topped with a healthy spread like avocado or hummus, along with lean protein and fresh veggies.
When you think of frozen seafood, images of processed, breaded âmystery fishâ sticks might come to mind. But these days youâll also find sustainably sourced, additive-free options, like wild-caught filets of salmon, halibut, cod, and tuna, as well as frozen shrimp with only the addition of salt. These lean proteins can be tossed on the grill, baked, broiled, or sautÃ©ed. Simply season with fresh or dried herbs, a little lemon or lime, and avocado, then pair with veggies and a small portion of healthy starch, like wild rice or baked sweet potato, for an easy, breezy balanced meal.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with masterâs degrees in both nutrition science and public health.