Lately in the US we have become total food elitists. It seems like everyone is into nutrition these days, which is great! But somewhere along the way, through media and advertising and Facebook feed clickbait “nutritious” has become synonymous with words like “organic”, “gluten-free”, “low-calorie”, “vegan”, “protein”, and “local”. While all these things can be part of what makes a diet nutritious, none of these qualities is sufficient in itself to promote health and good nutrition. What’s even worse is that this sort of exclusivity has caused many Americans to unnecessarily eliminate certain perfectly healthy foods that don’t conform to these adjectives. One victim is particularly undeserving: frozen foods.
The process of freezing a food does only one thing to its nutrient content – it preserves it. Two broccoli crowns picked on the same day from the same plant will have the same nutrient content. If one is frozen immediately and the other allowed to sit, even if refrigerated, it will lose nutrient content due to degradation. While you can pull out the frozen broccoli months down the line and reap all the nutritional benefits, the refrigerated broccoli will be at most long spoiled and at least far lower in content of the vitamins and minerals that you chose the vegetable for in the first place.
Why do we frown upon frozen food then? Other than the over-glorification of fresh foods, there is some cell damage when a food is frozen. We all know that water expands when it freezes, and this can rupture cell walls, leading to less firmness upon thawing. The effect that this has on a food’s texture varies based on what the food is: think about the juicy liquid in a bowl of thawed strawberries – big difference. But chicken breasts that have been frozen then cooked? Hardly a change.
I am personally a huge fan of frozen foods because they are a lot less of a pain in the ass. They’re not going to go bad on you any time soon, making meal planning much easier. You can always have a variety of foods available for recipes instead of worrying about getting only what you’re positive you’ll use within the next week or so. Plus, food safety issues are far reduced because the organisms that may colonize your refrigerator foods can’t survive the freezing temps.
In fact, I know I’m right about loving frozen food simply because the French do. For real. In France there is a store devoted to extra delicious food called Picard, and all of it is frozen. Need to pick up some Morel mushrooms (i.e. $20/ounce dried delicacy) for that risotto? Head to Picard, they’ve got those. And some foie gras? They’ve got that too. If the French can put all the fanciest foods in a freezer, so can we. So let’s all hop off the “fresh is the only way” high horse.
Now that we’ve established my allegiance to frozen foods, let me qualify that statement. There are a lot of things in the freezer that really are out to get you. Those frozen TV dinners? Chock full of sodium, few nutrients, and almost nothing to keep you full. Even the low-calorie ones are little more than refined carbohydrates with salt on them. Steer clear of prepared frozen foods and go with whole food ingredients that you can use to quickly prepare a recipe of your own. Cooking on your own terms will eliminate the crap (i.e. refined carbohydrates, excessive sodium and saturated fat) and pump up the good stuff (fiber, vitamins, and minerals).
Here is a list of my essentials:
|What||Why||How to Transform|
|Frozen green beans||Frozen green beans are the best frozen vegetable, in my opinion. They keep their shape really well – no squishiness here.||Use in any recipe that calls for green beans or as a side. If you want to get fancy, you can saute some garlic in a pan and add the beans straight from the freezer. When you’re cooking at home, you should always be looking for opportunities to add more vegetables to recipes in order to boost the nutrients, get enough fiber, and keep calories in check. Green beans can be great in pastas, sautés, casseroles, and soups.|
|Frozen stir fry vegetables||The variety of vegetables in stir fry medleys is awesome – way more different vegetables than I want to keep fresh in my refrigerator. Plus, snow peas. It’s a gimme.||Veggies can go straight from the freezer to the pan. Add some chopped garlic and grated ginger along with a stir fry sauce of your choice and you’re in business!|
|Frozen chopped spinach||Frozen spinach is super cheap and all the work has been done for you – just thaw and go. Plus, it’s got all that good-for-you leafy green nutrition for very few calories and even less dollars.||Frozen chopped spinach is my favorite to add to soups. You can put it in just about any soup and it will add color and nutrition without changing the flavor. Throw in a chunk for your next pot of chicken noodle or lentil – you’ll thank me later.|
|Frozen chicken breasts||Frozen chicken breast is lean and can be fully cooked in 20 minutes.||In a 375 degree oven, bake frozen chicken breast on foil lined baking sheet for 20-30 minutes or until cooked through. You can season with ANYTHING – herbs and spices, salt and pepper, garlic, marinara sauce, pesto, any marinade you may have hangin around. It’s that easy!|
|Frozen salmon||Salmon is an awesome source of omega-3s which reduce inflammation and cholesterol and keep your heart happy J Maybe it’s just me but I hate getting fish at the store unless I’m going to cook it the same day. Frozen eliminates that issue.||Unlike chicken breast, fish needs to be thawed before use, so take it out the night before and leave it in the refrigerator. I really love flavoring salmon with lemon and garlic, or marinating in teriyaki sauce for use in a salmon stir fry.|
|Frozen berries||Berries are a nutrient treasure trove. They’ve got tons of vitamins and minerals (as evidenced by their vibrant color) and all those little seeds make for tons of fiber. Plus, they’re delicious. Unfortunately, berries have a really short window of ripeness. Buying frozen or freezing your U-Pick haul is a perfect way to keep your berries around all year long.||Use frozen berries in baked goods, smoothies, atop your oatmeal, simmer with a touch of sugar for a bright, delicious pancake/French toast/yogurt/ice cream topping, simmer without the sugar for a delicious marinade/sauce for meats, or my favorite: scoop some plain Greek yogurt into a Tupperware and top with frozen berries. The fruit will keep your yogurt chilly until snack time and as the berries thaw their juices will flavor your yogurt.|
|Frozen mixed fruit||Just like berries, frozen fruits stay nutrient rich and don’t spoil.||Frozen mixed fruit is especially good with plain yougurt and as an addition to smoothies. You can even make a low-sugar fruit crumble using mixed frozen fruit topped with a mixture of oats, nuts, and a touch of butter and sugar. Or if you’re especially pressed for time, microwave a bowl of fruit and top with cereal or granola.|
|Frozen bananas||Bananas have a high pectin content, which gives them some special properties. Plus, their mild, sweet flavor means they’re the perfect fruit to add natural sweetness to recipes.||Ever heard of banana ice cream? Yonanas? It’s a scientific marvel. Chuck your frozen bananas in the food processor with a splash of milk and let it blend until your bananas are indistinguishable from soft serve ice cream. You’ve gotta see it to believe it!|
|Frozen leftovers||I’ve talked about meal planning before, and freezing leftovers in individual containers is the best thing that will ever happen to you.||After coming home from a long day and sitting in traffic getting hungrier and hungrier, pop one of these babies out and microwave until it’s your desired temperature. Voila – a home-cooked meal with almost zero effort!|
|Frozen stock||Chicken stock, shrimp stock, vegetable stock…they all make good use of leftover bones/shells/veggies and add a depth of flavor to recipes that couldn’t be there otherwise. If you haven’t made and frozen your own, get some at the store.||Use in anything that calls for water. You can use stock to saute veggies more healthfully, you can use it to cook rice or other grains, or (the obvious) you can use to make soup! In my house, we always make jambalaya with half shrimp stock and half chicken stock. It’s delicious!|
Happy eating, my friends!