Good news! 26% of total U.S. grocery shoppers are shopping in the frozen foods department more frequently than last year, according to The Future of Frozen, produced by Acosta Sales & Marketing. Convenience is one of the driving forces of consumers’ grocery shopping purchases. Consumers are now busier than ever and their schedules are continuing to redefine the concept of a meal. This is where the frozen aisle is helpful.
Previously working as a Supermarket RD, I’m pretty savvy navigating the aisles at the grocery store.
First, I challenge you with this question:
It’s actually a trick question. Frozen can be just as nutritious as fresh thanks to American inventor Clarence Frank Birdseye II, who invented the process of flash freezing. Flash freezing of fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood preserves flavor, quality, and nutrients. Birdseye discovered the key was freezing the food quickly, which locks in foods nutritional value. Flash freezing forms small ice crystals, which prevent the cell walls from bursting. Large ice crystals, which are formed when something is frozen slowly, turn the food to mush.
As like any section of the grocery store, the frozen aisle is broken into categories. Follow this dietitian’s guide to navigating the frozen food aisle.
Frozen fruit is great to keep on hand in your freezer. You’ll never have to worry about your produce spoiling if you don’t use it up quick enough. Frozen fruit can also be cost effective. Fresh berries in the wintertime are much more expensive since they are not in season. Check the ingredient list. Make sure the only thing listed is the fruit itself. Try to avoid added sugar, as fruit is sweet enough as is!
Ways to use frozen fruit:
- Use frozen fruit in a smoothie. The frozen fruit will help thicken your smoothie and keep it chilled without adding extra ice, which can water down the flavor.
- Skip the syrup! Top pancakes with fruit. Add frozen fruit to a small pot and let simmer. The fruit will turn gooey and syrupy. Want a thicken sauce? Add chia seeds to thicken.
- Jazz up your favorite vinaigrette by adding thawed frozen fruit; puree in a blender and strain if desired. Check out these dietitian-approved recipes.
Same goes for veggies – keep your freezer stocked with frozen vegetables to always have on hand. The beauty of frozen veggies, they are already washed and pre-chopped – no extra prep time needed!
Opt for the plain varieties of frozen vegetables. Skip the vegetables with gravies, cheese sauces, and even those labels as “lightly seasoned”. They may be light in taste, but check the nutrition label for hidden excess sodium and fat.
Be mindful of “par-fried” items – I’m looking at you frozen French fries. Par-fried means they item has been blanched, which involved partially frying the food but not browning it, so that it must be cooked again before serving. Even though you might be baking your frozen French fries at home, they are still fried.
Ways to use frozen vegetables:
- Blend it into hummus for added fiber.
- Stretch soup into more servings by adding frozen veggies.
- Toss into a chili.
- Keep up with the trend. Now frozen cauliflower rice, rice broccoli and riced sweet potatoes are taking spots on the frozen shelf, ready to be turned into a stir-fry.
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended for Americans that half of their daily intake of grains should be from whole grains. Look for the first word on the ingredient list to be the word “whole”, the options are limitless! Here are a few obscure options you may enjoy.
Now whole grains are even easier, if utilizing the frozen options. Keep your pots in the cabinets and simply warm up frozen whole grains like, quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, farro, and barley.
Ways to use frozen grains:
- Choose whole grain waffles for a great way to start your morning. Top your waffles with a fruit “syrup” like mentioned above.
- Add frozen barely or farro to soups.
- Quickly thaw frozen quinoa and add to salads or stir-fries.
The frozen aisles not only carry raw animal sources of proteins, but also pre-cooked frozen options as well. Typically wholesale items are available of proteins at an affordable price. Just be sure to thaw frozen raw protein properly.
Don’t forget about the plant-based proteins in the frozen aisle. Shelled edamame is a protein-packed and convenient choice. Grocery stores are now stocking the shelves with frozen black beans, lentils, and other legume varieties.
Ways to use frozen protein:
- Thaw and cook any beef, chicken, fish, etc. like you would if you bought it fresh.
- Thaw pre-cooked sliced chicken breast and add to a salad.
- Toss frozen edamame into a quick stir fry.
- Create black bean burgers with thawed black beans.
There is a whole other refrigerated aisle dedicated to whole food dairy items, like milk, yogurt, and cheeses, but the frozen aisle does go beyond just ice cream. There are now many yogurt based ice creams and frozen treats.
Ways to use frozen dairy:
- Pair a scoop of ice cream with some fruit and nuts
- Enjoy a frozen yogurt bar for dessert
- Make this heavenly, vegan watermelon, coconut, and strawberry ice cream recipe
Frozen meals have come a long ways compared to what they once used to be.
In general, look for meals that include one or more servings each of vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat, fish, poultry, or plant-based protein. This combination will be higher in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber (which helps fill you up). Skip frozen dinners with cream sauces, gravies, or fried foods. And although dessert included may look like a bonus, have a piece of fresh fruit instead for more fiber, nutrition, and fewer calories.
When comparing labels for frozen meals, many eyes jump right down to the sodium, because some frozen meals can be sodium bombs. Look for a frozen meals (like Luvo) with < 600 milligrams of sodium.
It’s important to pay attention to serving sizes. Although they may be lower in calories, smaller entrees may leave you hungry. But don’t be afraid to add a few extras to boost the nutrition and satisfaction. Add a side salad or an extra bag of steamed veggies to up nutritional value of the meal. It also adds extra fiber, so it will fill you up and satisfy your hunger. Looking to bump up the protein? Add 1/2 cup of beans or a sprinkling of nuts to your meal. No additional cooking required!