When I go grocery shopping with my clients, many assume that we’re going to skip the frozen food section altogether. The truth is, 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—especially if you need time-saving shortcuts to help you eat more healthfully (you know, those nights where you need to make something quick or you’re 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. That’s because the second produce is harvested, it begins to lose nutrients. Since frozen produce is typically iced close to the time it’s picked, and freezing preserves and possibly boosts antioxidants and nutrients, freezing essentially “locks in” good nutrition.
I’m 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 you’re 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 voilà, you have a veggie side dish in mere minutes.
A lot of my clients end up eating processed or refined grains at dinner because they’re 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 itself—that’s it (talk about clean eating).
And because they’re fully cooked, they’re 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, you’ll find stabilizers, preservatives, and other additives that make you think, “What is that?” Since freezing acts as a natural preservative, breads found in the freezer section don’t require those unwanted extras, so they often have ingredient lists that read like a simple, good old-fashioned recipe—just 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 “mystery fish” sticks might come to mind. But these days you’ll 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 sautéed. 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 registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.