Who hasn’t heard “fresh is best” about a hundred times? Of course, fresh foods are healthy and delicious. But if you’ve ever tossed a crisper full of wilted produce or raced to get dinner on the table in minutes, you probably already know that fresh doesn’t always cut it.
That’s why so many nutritionists are frozen food enthusiasts. “I’m all about convenience and shortcuts in the kitchen, so the freezer aisle is a must when I shop for food,” says Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, host of Liz’s Healthy Table podcast. “Sure, you’ll find ice cream, pepperoni pizzas, and breakfast sausage, but there are loads of healthy items that make getting nutrition-packed meals on the table a lot easier.”
Which frozen foods do nutritionists lean on in a pinch? Here, their must-haves:
Falafel. “I always have easy-to-cook or pre-cooked proteins like falafel in my freezer so I can quickly assemble a meal,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RDN, owner of MNC Nutrition, LLC. “Since falafel is made with chickpeas, it’s rich in plant protein and fiber, which are key for heart health and help keep blood pressure stable.” For a speedy lunch or dinner, try it tossed into a salad. Look for brands that list chickpeas as the first ingredient and rely on heart-friendly unsaturated fats like canola oil.
Riced Cauliflower. “Having a bag of frozen cauliflower rice on hand to toss into fried rice or other grain dishes is a great way to boost vegetables and lighten things up at the same time,” says Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD, author of PREP: The Essential College Cookbook. “I also love cauliflower crust pizza, so having riced cauliflower handy makes it easy to whip up a crust.” If homemade crust sounds too ambitious, frozen cauliflower crust will get the job done too.
Crushed garlic and ginger. “Even though I’m a big fan of family meals, cooking dinner for the family night after night takes time, which is why I’m also a fan of ingredient shortcuts,” says Weiss. “When a recipe calls for crushed fresh garlic or ginger, or both, I just pop a frozen cube from the tray instead of taking the time to chop. They’re super convenient and taste just as good as fresh.”
Bacon. Some of the most freezer-friendly foods don’t start out in the freezer. “Bacon might not seem like the healthiest option, but a little bit adds a magical, smokey flavor to healthy foods like pasta sauce, veggie sautees, and salads,” says Morford. “I like to keep it in the freezer so I can pull off a slice or two without cooking up a whole pound.” To avoid nitrates, look for brands labeled “uncured.”
Potatoes. With more than 60 different disease-preventing phytonutrients and vitamins, spuds are woefully underrated. “Whether it’s sweet potato fries, shredded potatoes, or tater tots, I always have some sort of frozen potato on hand,” says Cohn. “They’re super versatile as a side dish, cooked into a quiche, or as the base for an appetizer.” If you really want to up your tater game look for roasted sweet potato “toasts”. A single slice can deliver nearly an entire day’s vitamin A. They’re especially delicious topped with a schmear of peanut butter or ricotta.
Quinoa. “Quinoa takes about 15 minutes to cook, but sometimes I don’t have 15 minutes, which is why I often turn to frozen quinoa,” says Weiss. “It’s ready in three to four minutes and it’s perfect for quick weeknight Buddha bowls or a simple gluten-free side dish.” Unlike sodium-spiked ready-to-serve quinoa, frozen quinoa often contains one simple ingredient: quinoa. Compare labels to know for sure.
If you’ve been avoiding the freezer aisle, it might be time to embrace it. With the right strategy, it could upgrade your diet and make your life a whole lot easier in the process.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.