Frozen foods get a bad rap: They’re less nutritious than their fresh counterparts, they’re highly processed and contain unwanted additives such as sodium, unhealthy fats and artificial preservatives.
But if you look beyond the frozen chicken nuggets, pizza and beef pot pies, you’ll find many nutrient-packed options that deserve a place in your shopping cart – and in your diet. What’s more, some frozen foods can be more nutritious than fresh.
Frozen fruits and vegetables, for example, often have higher levels of nutrients than out-of-season fresh ones. That’s because they’re harvested at peak ripeness, a time when produce is most nutrient-dense (and flavourful), and then quickly flash-frozen.
Fresh fruits and vegetables shipped to grocery stores from far-away farms are usually picked before they’re ripe, when they haven’t reached their full nutritional potential. Plus, the amount of time these fruits and vegetables spend in transit and storage increases nutrient losses.
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There’s a lot of variety in the frozen produce aisle. Besides the usual green beans, peas, carrots and corn, you’ll find frozen spiralized butternut squash, riced cauliflower, roasted sweet potatoes and blends of grilled vegetables.
If you’re looking for plant protein, frozen black beans, chickpeas and shelled edamame are also available to help you assemble a quick meal. All, like many frozen vegetables, without added sauces, salt or seasonings.
Besides being super convenient (no washing and chopping produce or draining canned beans), buying frozen foods prevents food waste. Unlike fresh foods, they don’t go bad quickly and you use only what you need and save the rest.
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The following frozen foods make it easier to whip together a nutritious meal.
These fresh green soybeans deliver 16 grams of protein per three-quarters of a cup. You also get eight g of filling-fibre, eight mg of iron and a decent amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Add shelled edamame (straight from the freezer) to a vegetable stir-fry or a soup near the end of cooking. Toss edamame into a green salad or whole grain bowl. Or eat them on their own as a satisfying snack.
These legumes (they’re related to peanuts) serve as more than an ice pack. They’re high in plant protein and fibre, supplying four grams of each per one-half cup, and a good source of vitamin K and choline, a B-like vitamin that’s involved in memory and muscle function.
Stir frozen green peas into a pasta sauces, stir-fries and soups. Sauté them with garlic and other chopped vegetables for a side dish. Add thawed green peas to leafy green and whole grain salads.
If you don’t want to risk buying an under- or overripe fresh avocado, or if you can’t use a whole one, buy frozen chopped avocado. This fatty fruit is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat (the same type as olive oil), fibre and folate, a B vitamin that makes DNA in cells.
Add frozen avocado chunks to smoothies and protein shakes. Once thawed, use them in salads, tacos and dips or spread them on whole grain toast.
This lean, low-calorie shellfish delivers plenty of protein (20 g per three ounces), along with vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Shrimp also contains astaxanthin, an antioxidant thought to reduce inflammation.
Add frozen shrimp to stir-fries, curries, pasta and paella. Or quickly thaw shrimp and toss them into salads.
Choose Atlantic or Pacific shrimp with an ecocertified label (Marine Stewardship Council or Best Aquaculture Practices), which indicates the shrimp is wild-caught or farmed sustainably.
Press out the water in frozen spinach and this nutrient- and antioxidant-dense leafy green is ready to add to lasagna, pasta sauces, casseroles, curries, omelettes and pizza. Or add it frozen to smoothies.
You get a lot more spinach when it’s condensed in its frozen form, which makes it an outstanding source of folate, magnesium, vitamin K, beta-carotene and lutein, an antioxidant that help guards against cataract and macular degeneration. Ditto for frozen kale.
Leslie Beck is a Toronto-based private practice dietitian.