Eat Frozen Produce, Stay Healthy
Plus, they’re chockfull of good-for-you nutrients like calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B, and C. Most people don’t realize that frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of their ripeness (when they’re most nutrient packed) and flash frozen immediately to lock in these nutrients. What’s important to know: you’re not losing out on any nutrients by eating frozen. In fact, if eating convenient frozen produce gets you to eat more fruits and vegetables, then even better!
Here are a few key tricks to selecting and cooking with/using frozen fruits and vegetables:
Frozen fruits and veggies are not the same as frozen processed foods.
Frozen processed foods (think: pizzas, ready-to-eat dishes, and other convenience foods) are high in sodium and are typically not the most nutritious choices you can make. Frozen fruits and veggies, however, are much different.
Keep it simple.
Skip frozen fruits and veggies with sauces or added flavor. These tend to be higher in calories and sodium. You can control how much extra flavor you want to add by getting good-old plain frozen fruits and veggies.
Look for mixed, pre-cut varieties of veggies.
There’s a Stir-Fry mix—still sans sauce and flavorings—that I buy that’s so easy to use. It has broccoli, cauliflower, water chestnuts, and carrots. I sauté up some onions (in a little olive oil), and then add this mix to the pan. Then I add some cut-up chicken breast—and cook well, before adding some herbs and spices (which are rich in health-supporting antioxidants). Serve with a little brown rice—and you’ve got a super healthy, super-fast dinner!
Look for the USDA U.S. Fancy seal.
this designates produce of the best size, shape, and color—and tends to indicate produce better than lower grades like U.S. No. 1 or U.S. No. 2.
Frozen fruits make smoothies even better.
I swear by frozen fruits for this! First, fresh berries are particularly expensive when they’re not in season—and they go bad pretty quickly. But frozen berries—when stored properly (I store in a zip-top plastic bag after opened)—can last months and months. Look for frozen strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and even blackberries. (Tip: you can make your own frozen bananas—which, when added to smoothies, make them thicker and creamier—by unpeeling too-ripe-to-eat bananas, and freezing them in zip-top bags.)
Think outside the box.
My freezer is filled with everything from frozen peas (my kids love them) and butternut squash cubes to frozen shitake mushrooms and cut-up red, orange, and green peppers. And there’s plenty more I haven’t even tried yet: Southwestern mixes, asparagus, kale, my to-try list goes on! It’s worth it to experiment with something new on your next visit to the grocery store. The best part: you can use only part of the bag—and freeze the rest.
Know how to cook them.
As with any vegetables, overcooking robs the vegetables of their nutrients (particularly water-soluble nutrients like vitamins B and C). And with frozen vegetables in particular, overcooking them can leave them soggy. So here are some tips:
Sauté whenever possible.
I love sautéing frozen veggies as I find this cooking method allows them to keep their crispness and color. (I always sauté with olive oil as it’s a good-for-you fat, but don’t use too much or your dish will be too greasy.) I even sauté some frozen veggies with onions—and cook it with brown rice to add flavor and extra nutrients to the rice.
Become a fan of steaming.
I use my stainless-steel steamer basket to steam veggies. But here’s a trick I learned first hand: once the veggies begin to steam, shut off the heat and let the veggies cook on their own for the next 15 minutes. This prevents overcooking. (This is a great steaming trick to use even if you’re working with fresh veggies, like broccoli or cauliflower.)
Microwave when necessary.
I use the microwave when I’m in a rush, but don’t if I have time to cook via the old-school methods. Some microwaving rules:
Never microwave anything in a plastic dish; always use glass (many plastic food containers contain the chemical BPA, which can leach into food when microwaved).
Never microwave veggies in their bag (even if the bag says it’s microwavable), just because I believe it’s better to use a glass dish (and I don’t trust plastics—of any kind—in a microwave).
Don’t pour tons of water into the dish when you’re microwaving veggies; key nutrients can leach out into the water. A tiny bit of water (if any at all) is all you need. I even like to drizzle a little low-sodium broth over the veggies before microwaving to add extra flavor.
Skip the butter. I know people who drown their veggies in butter—before they even sit down to taste them! Your best bet: cook the veggies, then add a tiny bit of flavor (be it butter, salt, or an herb mix) once you sit down to eat them. You’ll end up using a lot less, saving yourself calories and sodium in the long run.