Frozen foods are the busy person's champion. You can keep frozen produce and meat for up to six months, says Jessica Crandall, RD, a Denver-based dietitian, and they're still just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. You can take your food from frozen to fresh, delicious meals in minutes. It's healthy cooking on your time and your terms.
Buy packaged frozen food from your grocery store's freezer aisle, or buy fresh food to freeze once you get home. If you're buying packaged foods, pick ones without added ingredients, Crandall says. If you're going to freeze fresh food, give your veggies a 1- to 2-minute bath in boiling water before freezing to ensure they're crisp when you finally do cook with them.
Ready to work frozen food into your rotation? Here are five ways:
Smoothies. Try a mixed berry smoothie for one that's high in fiber and antioxidants, or blend frozen mango chunks or melon cubes for a tropical treat year-round that's also loaded with vitamin C. For a single serving, blend half of a cup of frozen fruit with 4 to 6 ounces of nonfat yogurt and 2 ounces of low fat milk. Add four ice cubes to up your smoothie's chill factor. You can also sneak in your veggies without altering the fruity flavor with an eighth of a cup of dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale.
Stir-fries. Frozen bell peppers, broccoli, edamame, and snap peas go easily from your freezer to your wok. Peas, carrots, and water chestnuts also combine well in your wok and are often sold as one packaged mix at the store. Use a 50-50 mix of water and oil like olive or canola for a lower-fat way of keeping your veggies from sticking to your wok. Cook on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until your veggies are hot and crisp but not soggy. Add frozen strips of meat like chicken or beef for some protein. Small strips won't need defrosting, but if you're cooking a lot of meat, Crandall recommends defrosting it in your microwave on low for 3 to 4 minutes to be safe. Cook the meat in the wok for about 15 minutes, or until any juices run clear.
Slow Cooker. If you know you're not going to want to cook at all when you get home from a long day, the slow cooker is your savior. Simply put your ingredients in the pot that morning, turn on the heat, come home that night and serve. To save even more time, combine all of the ingredients in one bag before you freeze. Write the name of the dish, the amount of time and heat setting it requires, and any additional spices on the bag.
Soups. Frozen vegetables are an easy way to enhance any soup. Let diced veggies like broccoli, carrots or potatoes simmer in your soup for about 30 minutes. Your veggies should reach al dente consistency, soft but not mushy.
Pasta and rice dishes. Frozen meat and veggies can be paired with pasta and rice for a complete meal in a bowl. Try to make the dish more about the veggies than the pasta, Crandall says. "The pasta serving is the size of your fist," she says. Cook your frozen food separate from your rice or pasta. Stir-fry bell peppers, spinach and mushrooms and toss with pasta. Or add chicken and sausage to rice for jambalaya.