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Historically, frozen foods have gotten a “meh” rating from nutrition experts and consumers alike. Think of the freezer-burnt TV dinners that always seem to taste a bit “off” and many of those other packaged options that are laced with sugars, sodium, refined grains and questionable fats. Not to mention the ingredients that sound like they belong more in a chemistry lab than your freezer. But that’s not to say that you should steer your cart clear of frozen foods completely.
In several cases, opting for frozen can benefit you in terms of nutrition, flavor, cost and time savings in the kitchen. It’s just a matter of looking past the shelves of icy pizzas and tater tots for the subzero heroes that you most certainly should not give the cold shoulder. Eat better than ever by keeping these foods on hand in your icebox.
Made by pulverizing items like cauliflower and broccoli into rice-sized pebbles, a bag of frozen riced vegetables can be your answer to sneaking in an extra serving or two of nutrient-rich veggies while simultaneously trimming some of the starchy carbohydrate calories from regular rice.
A 3/4-cup serving of riced cauliflower has a mere 20 calories and 4 grams of carbs compared to the 150 calories and 33 grams of carbs in the same amount of cooked white rice. It’s not necessarily about going low-carb, but finding ways to work more nutrient-dense options into your diet. A recent study published in the journal Circulation found that three daily servings of non-starchy vegetables (combined with 2 daily servings of fruit) could reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, respiratory illness and overall mortality in adults. And because your eyes see roughly the same volume of food on the plate when you eat riced veggies as with cooked grains, you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
You can buy plain riced veggies and season them as you wish or pick up bags with different flavor profiles like fried rice, teriyaki or savory herb. Just remember that any added dairy such as cheese will increase the calorie count. And since they’re frozen, it’s easy to use only what you need and put the rest back in the freezer without the fear of wasting food and money. Luckily, they thaw quickly and don’t require too much forethought for meal prep.
Try using riced veggies as a stand-alone side dish, as a base for stir-fry, for bulking up soups, part of the filling for tacos, or as a rice swap for fried “rice.” You can also stir them into scrambled eggs or make veggie hash browns.
Best Buy: Green Giant Riced Veggies Cauliflower Medley
Cauliflower is tossed with green peas, carrots and onion for a nutrition-packed side dish. This option is 100 percent vegetables with no sketchy sauces.(Photo: GettyImages)
At this time of year, fresh berries can be expensive — and go fuzzy quickly. Opting for frozen berries is more economical, and they last for months in the freezer. Fruits like berries get called out for their sugar content, but those sugars from Mother Nature come wrapped up in a healthful package of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, like the brain-benefiting anthocyanins found abundantly in certain berries such as blueberries and blackberries. Emerging research suggests that the microorganisms in our guts work on plant compounds, including anthocyanins, affecting gut bacteria (the good kind) in a positive way.
Berries are higher in hunger-quelling, gut-friendly fiber than other frozen fruit, and by selecting a medley you’ll get a greater range of nutrients and antioxidants as opposed to just focusing on one berry. Frozen berries are also picked at peak ripeness and then quickly flash-frozen to preserve their quality and nutrition. Compare this with fresh berries that are often picked too early, trucked in from afar and then sit around on store shelves for several days — all things that negatively impact flavor and nutrition.
Use frozen berries on oatmeal, yogurt and in smoothies. They can also go straight from freezer into baked goods like muffins and crisps. Or make an easy freezer-fruit compote for the ultimate breakfast topper.
Frozen Berry Compote
This compote can go on everything from your favorite protein pancakes to a bowl of ice cream for extra deliciousness.
Best Buy: Wyman’s Triple Berry
The trio of raspberries, blackberries and wild blueberries pack a serious antioxidant punch.
When trolling for dinner, don’t believe frozen seafood is a second-rate choice. The state-of-the-art flash-freezing technology and vacuum sealing that are now widely used by farmed and wild fish and shellfish operations result in maintaining high-quality protein. Plus, as long as freezer temperatures are kept at 0°F or below, bacterial growth comes to a complete halt, versus temps in the fridge or on ice, which only slow down the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria.
If you’re watching your food budget, it’s also a relief to know that frozen seafood such as cod and shrimp is often priced better than fresh counterparts. Time-sensitive fresh fish like wild salmon must be shipped by air, which adds to the cost, but frozen fish can travel by various methods including boat, rail or truck, requiring less energy to get to market.
Casting your line in the freezer section also lets you buy several servings of seafood in advance and use them up when desired over a few months. And if all this gets you to eat more fish, consider that a win for frozen. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that consuming more fish and less of other meats, particularly processed and red meats, is good for heart health overall.
You also may not know that you can cook fish fillets straight from the freezer if you haven’t planned ahead to allow for adequate thawing time in the fridge. Remove fish from its packaging, rinse under cold water to remove any frost or ice that’s accumulated, pat dry with a paper towel and then brush with a thin layer of oil before seasoning with salt and pepper. Then bake in a 350°F oven, adding a few minutes to the cooking time in your recipe to account for the frozen start.
Best Buy: Australis Barramundi All Natural Fillets
Sustainably farmed with laudable amounts of omega-3 fats and protein. Less “fishy” tasting than salmon and tested to assure very low contaminant levels.(Photo: GettyImages)
Here’s more proof that it’s time to eat a little greener. For not very many calories (about 100 in a 3-ounce serving of frozen shelled beans) you get a nutrition payload from edamame that includes 9 grams of complete protein and 8 grams of fiber in a 1-cup serving. That makes these immature soybeans very helpful in reaching your daily fiber recommendations.
There is mounting evidence that a diet abundant in fiber is protective against several different killers, including heart disease and cancer. The nutritional bounty also includes lofty amounts of folate, iron, potassium, and vitamin K for stronger bones. Besides, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found that the more diverse your plant protein intake is, the better the overall quality your diet is likely to be. Busy cooks will appreciate that they cook lightning-fast — about 1 minute in boiling water.
Keeping a bag of frozen edamame on hand is an easy way to add nutrition to soups, salads, grain bowls and stir-fries. Tossed with some seasonings like a dusting of curry powder or chili powder, boiled edamame is a great snack option on its own. Also, use the green soybeans in dips like a riff on hummus.
Best Buy: Cascadian Farm Shelled Edamame
This high-quality buy includes nothing but organic, non-GMO verdant soybeans.
Looking to upgrade your smoothies with minimal effort? The ready-to-go frozen smoothie pucks from Blender Bites just need to be blitzed with some liquid and perhaps a scoop of protein powder to deliver a hefty dose of fruit and veggie nutrition. Your post-workout routine will now taste like sunshine.