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When you think of nutrient-rich meals, you might envision vibrant green juices or colorful salads, but what about frozen foods? The frozen aisle is often seen as a place to find convenient meals rather than nutritious ones: think ice creams, pizza pockets, and frozen TV dinners.
Yet many nutritionists say that a ton of healthy, protein-rich, and balanced meals can be found in that handy frozen section, but you just have to know what to look for. We asked three nutritionists to pick their go-to items, from single items like edamame to full-on meals like veggie burgers, and explain how they cook with them at home. Get ready to grab a cart because we’re going grocery shopping.
You’re probably buying grains in the dry goods aisle, but NYC-based registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist Jackie Topol says to give the frozen section a try. “I always have frozen whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa, on hand to throw together a quick side dish with fresh or frozen vegetables,” she says. It’s a huge timesaver, as frozen precooked grains don’t need to be made from scratch like the dried counterparts do. You can simply add your grain to a saute to heat up and thaw.
Frozen cauliflower is a huge time and money saver. It never goes bad and is precooked, so it can be quickly used in any type of dish. Try mixing things up with cauliflower by giving your saute a tasty Asian-inspired flare. Grab some coconut aminos, garlic, and red chili flakes, and then crack an egg on top of your cauliflower dish, as registered dietitian Amy Shapiro does. Or make a bowl of quick fried rice with cauliflower rice and add in tamari, sesame oil, and veggies.
Shockingly, cauliflower is also incredible in smoothies—yes, smoothies. “It adds tons of nutrition without added sugar and it also adds some creaminess,” says Shapiro.
Add some greens to smoothies and frittatas in the form of spinach and kale, but also grab some more protein-rich items, like frozen peas and edamame. Frozen peas can be added to grain-based dishes or in a soup for protein, says Topol. And edamame is a handy, protein-rich snack that can be steamed and ready in just a few minutes. Topol suggests using the ones in the shell for snacking and the shelled version to add to meals. Peas are also almost always precooked, so they made meal prep a breeze.
The one fruit that’s most likely never in your freezer comes highly recommended by registered dietitian Carlene Thomas. “Frozen cranberries are America’s original superfruit,” she says. Cranberries have unique polyphenols that are not only healthy, but they also add a unique tang to any type of dish, from smoothies to sauces to roasted vegetables.
One frustrating thing when buying fresh foods is the potential for waste. But with a freezer, nothing has to ever go to unused, including overripe bananas. Peel and half them, and then put them in a freezer-safe container to bake later or to add to smoothies.
You might be overlooking this flavor-packed root, but not anymore, says Topol. You usually only need a tablespoon or two at a time for most recipes, so frozen ginger is handy to have for that random recipe that asks for it. You can also make a super tasty tea out of fresh ginger that’s frozen, thawing when needed, and letting it steep for an hour-plus for extra potency.
Veggie burgers are often passed over, but nutritionists still swear by them for a quick, convenient meal. “I’ll add some salad and avocado, et voila, your meal is made,” says Topol. Try Hilary’s, Sunshine Burger, or Dr. Praegers.
“Frozen wild salmon is often cheaper per pound than fresh, so I keep my fridge stocked with individual portions so a quick meal is only minutes away,” says Topol. Don’t discount frozen shrimp, either, which can be defrosted and cooked in under 10 minutes. “Add some pesto and sauté the shrimp with cauliflower rice, and dinner is done,” says Shapiro.
If you love smoothies but want a shortcut, grab the prepacked smoothie kits that most grocery stores offer. They feature items like kale, mixed berries, and other fruits, and all you have to do is add water or milk and you’ll be all set.
Shapiro also loves Daily Harvest (she’s the registered dietitian for the brand), which offers a variety of healthy smoothies. The veggies and fruits are organic and precut, so all you need to do is throw it in the mixer with milk and blend.
The frozen aisle is maybe most associated with its sweet offerings. But enjoying a frozen treat doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Frozen, chocolate-dipped bananas are a worthy treat, as are coconut-based ice creams. Shapiro also loves Good Pops Freezer Pops, which come in old-school push-up containers but are low in sugar and calories.
Keep shopping the frozen aisle:
Budget-Friendly Frozen Foods That Are Actually Good for You
10 Sneaky Ways to Hack Frozen Foods to Make Dinner
We Raided Trader Joe’s Frozen Dessert Aisle to Find the Best Sweets