Have you browsed the frozen food aisle recently? When it comes to food, many health-conscious shoppers are spending more time than ever looking for organic, farm-to-table ingredients. But if you don’t have a farmer’s market down the block, fear not—frozen foods are usually more convenient than the fresh equivalent, and in some cases can even be healthier!
How can frozen foods be better than fresh? The biggest factor is time. Eating raspberries right off the bush, for instance, is a best-case scenario, but the berries you buy from your local grocery store may have spent several days being shipped, stored, and possibly bruised by the time they reach shelves. As food ages, nutrients and vitamins are lost.
Furthermore, the demands of transportation necessitate that grocery store produce is often picked well before reaching ideal ripeness. But frozen foods can be harvested at their best, then immediately flash-frozen to retain their nutritional content. In other cases, freezer options are simply a more convenient way to save time and money. If you're looking to restock your freezer, or just want to know which foods offer the best bang for your limited freezer space, read on.
Today’s food scientists agree that in nearly all cases, frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, and in some cases, the frozen varieties even pack an extra-healthy punch. In a study conducted at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Ali Bouzari and her team discovered that the process of blanching and freezing broccoli florets actually results in a higher level of riboflavin (an essential B vitamin that helps with energy production). Not to mention you’ll save space and weight in your grocery bag by passing on bulky broccoli stalks!
2. HASH BROWNS
Although fruits and vegetables are some of the easiest and most common choices, don’t forget that prepared foods and more complex dishes can be stored in the freezer as well. In fact, celebrity chef Billy Parisi tells Parade magazine that "the surest bet you’ll find in my kitchen is a well-stocked freezer." In addition to more expected fare like peas and chicken breasts, Parisi’s a fan of using frozen hash browns to get a jump on a big weekend family breakfast. "I love to simply sear frozen hash browns in a little olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper and serve it as a side," he says, or he suggests adding in scrambled eggs, bacon, peppers, and onions for a hearty hash.
Freezing seafood can be intimidating—not all species of fish freeze effectively, and various types of shellfish require different procedures to safely freeze, thaw, and prepare. Frozen shrimp, however, are a staggeringly easy back-of-the-freezer secret weapon, and they can last 6-8 months in the reserves. Keep an eye out for brands which advertise "IQF" ("Individually Quick Frozen"), a process which ensures the meat will retain better flavor and texture after thawing. Next time surprise guests arrive before dinner, just add pre-cleaned shrimp to fill out a stew, salad, or pasta. Take a look at The City Cook’s primer for even more tips to make the most of your marine morsels.
Blueberries boast an amazing blend of antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, potassium, and vitamins—they’re a legitimate "superfood" and can help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Fresh berries are divine, but according to the Environmental Working Group, blueberries are also one of the fruits most likely to carry a high pesticide content (they were listed as #14 of 48 in 2016). Frozen blueberries are just as convenient, and according to Livestrong.com, contain less than half the insecticides of fresh berries. They'll last longer frozen and are just as easy to toss in warm oatmeal or a smoothie for an invigorating start to your day.
Speaking of time-saving measures, some foods lend themselves to freezing simply by virtue of scale. Take chili, for instance—most recipes (even the weird ones) take several hours to prepare and yield 6-8 servings, if not more. That works out great for Super Bowl Sunday, but it's a bit impractical for a Tuesday night dinner for two. Fortunately, frozen chili retains its rib-sticking appeal for 4-6 months, but remains safe even past that. So, if you make a huge pot over the weekend, you can enjoy re-heating bowls of unbelievably easy comfort food for weeks on end.
6. FRESH HERBS
Incorporating fresh herbs (ideally from your own backyard) is one of the most enjoyable elements of summertime cooking. The end of warm weather, however, provides an excellent opportunity to employ another strategic freezer move. Dice the herbs—anything from basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, oregano, mint, etc.—then coat them with olive oil before freezing in ice cube trays or Ziploc bags. (There’s some debate about the best method; Serious Eats compared several possibilities for the scientifically curious.) When winter rolls around, you can pop a flavorful herb-cube right into your favorite sauce or soup.
Corn is another vegetable that Dr. Bouzari found to have a nutritional net benefit after the industrial flash-freezing process—her study found the frozen sample had higher levels of vitamin C than fresh corn, and no significant difference in fiber or mineral content. Even putting nutrition aside, however, frozen corn deserves a place on this list solely for ease of preparation. Simply thawing corn to toss into a burrito or casserole saves lots of time and hassle.
You might be hard-pressed to find anyone who argues for the superiority of hastily made frozen pizza over a hot, fresh pie out of a wood oven. But with some insider knowledge, it’s easier than ever to give your local pizzeria some competition. Bon Appétit's Adam Rapoport advises starting with Roberta’s frozen pizza, then ramping it up with thin slices of red onion, sea salt, and a drizzle of quality olive oil before baking. Here, four other chefs suggest similar specialty-ingredient improvements, from pickled pepperoncinis to grated Indian Amul cheese.
9. GIRL SCOUT COOKIES
The year's batch of Girl Scout Cookies are currently being distributed, and typically, most boxes don’t last very long. But for those with the foresight to buy extra (and the discipline to not eat them all immediately), popping a box or two in the freezer until the summer months can make for a delightfully cool snack on a sweltering day. Plus, saving some Thin Mints for a sweet, boozy chocolate-mint milkshake is the perfect way to reward your patience.
All images via iStock unless otherwise stated.