For some people, a stroll down the frozen-food aisle can be nearly as intimidating as a voyage to the South Pole. So many choices sit behind all that fogged glass; plus there's that nagging feeling that no matter what you choose, you'll be sacrificing creativity and nutrition for the sake of expediency. But shopping the frozen section can be a a healthy practice, according to dietitian Lisa High, MS, RD. Frozen food is a convenient way to add to your menu without a lot of prep time, and flash-frozen vegetables and fruits can be more nutritious than canned or even fresh.
"It's hard to find nutrition and convenience together, but you can get it in the frozen-food aisle," says High. To help you brave the cold, High offers a few cool pointers and product picks.
tip>> Don't assume it's healthy. Never fear, we didn't forget this seductive section. A little sweet treat is fine, advises High. "But keep in mind this is ice cream. It's not a health food," she says. "Choose what is really going to satisfy you without overdoing it and what is the cleanest in terms of ingredients."
cool idea>> Don't eat your ice cream out of the container—put your serving in a small cup, so you don't eat more than you intend to.
Product pick>> Häagen-Dazs Fat Free Sorbet Although it's technically not ice cream, this sinfully luxurious option is actually low-fat and full of fruit puree and juices. The mango flavor is top notch.
tip>> Keep the list short. Check for high nutrient numbers and low sodium, fat, and calories, and look for what High calls "clean meals"—those with short ingredient lists.
- Instead of grilling or frying frozen vegetable burgers, sauté them in a pan with a little vegetable broth—they'll soak up the moisture.
- Grab a ready-made natural frozen pizza; or layer tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, soy sausage, and Italian spices on a whole-grain frozen crust.
Frontera Roasted Vegetable Stone-Fired Pizza
Bucking tradition, this Mexican-inspired pizza has a crispy crust and a sauce reminiscent of salsa.
Tabatchnick Tuscany Lentil Soup
This all-natural, veggie-filled, hearty soup is great on its own, or you can add fresh vegetables or soy protein to make it a complete meal.
Amy's Pocket Sandwiches
These handheld pie packets are "a great way to get your vegetables," says High.
Ethnic Gourmet Frozen Dinners
Only authentic, simple ingredients. High prefers the Eggplant Bhartha and Palak Paneer.
Fruits and vegetables
tip>> Get even more vitamins Here's a surprise: Frozen fruits and vegetables may be one of the smartest items to grab from the grocery store. "By the time fresh vegetables and fruits are harvested, shipped, and put on display, they could lose 50 percent to 75 percent of their vitamin C content," says High. "But in frozen food, they harvest the vegetables and wash them and flash freeze them, so nearly all of the vitamin content is preserved."
- Steam or blanch organic and nongenetically modified frozen veggies, from bell peppers to edamame (soybeans), to make slightly sweet, nutrient-rich finger foods. You can top them with hummus or soy sauce. Pop leftovers in the fridge for a quick snack the next day.
- Empty a bag of frozen mixed vegetables into your pasta water five minutes before the noodles are done, and add the whole shebang to your sauce for an extra-chunky pasta dish.
- For a gourmet twist, cook up a bag of frozen butternut squash, then blend with cinnamon, a bit of butter, and vegetable broth for a unique and savory soup. Or throw in coconut milk and ginger.
- Mix frozen pineapple juice concentrate with olive oil, champagne vinegar, salt, and pepper for a tasty salad dressing. "It's so much healthier [than many processed salad dressings], and you get a little bit of potassium," says High. It's perfect for your sweet tooth.
- To make a homespun smoothie, pick up a bag of frozen blueberries or strawberries and blend them with low-fat yogurt for calcium, guava nectar for vitamin C, milled flaxseed for omega-3 fatty acids, grated fresh ginger for antioxidants, and coconut milk for a rich taste.
- For a sweet treat, grab frozen blueberries, put them in a glass, and pour milk on top. "It's as satisfying as ice cream," says High.
Product pick>> Natural Choice Full of Fruit Frozen Fruit Bars These popsicles taste so good you'll have a hard time believing they are little more than organic fruit juice and water.