Life moves fast, and frozen foods have become indispensable for preparing healthy, quick and easy meals. It’s possible to equate “quick and easy” with “bad for you” in the freezer aisle because there are many unhealthy options there. But as with all foods, use your common sense and read the nutrition labels, and you’ll find healthy, nutritious food.
To be clear: I’m advocating for buying frozen ingredients to make meals rather than processed, ready-to-heat-and-eat meals in boxes. But I don’t judge, I always have a frozen lasagna stashed in case of emergency.
Freezing vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats and seafood preserves their peak nutrition for a long time. According to the Food and Drug Administration, frozen foods are safe to eat indefinitely. The taste may diminish, but the food will remain safe to eat if it stays frozen.
The best thing about frozen food is it saves you money and time. Many items are simply cheaper to buy frozen than fresh. Compared with their fresh counterparts, they’re picked and processed at the height of ripeness, then frozen at their peak, sealing in nutrients and flavor. The shelf life is longer, and availability is year-round. Plus, you must factor in your time. Many items are prewashed, pre-cut and ready to cook.
Here are the best bargains in the frozen-food section:
Fruits — Peak season for most fruit is fleeting. They’re fragile in transport, then go bad quickly when you get them home. You can skip all that with frozen fruit, which can be used in smoothies, cobblers, muffins and more. Peaches stay summertime fresh, cherries and berries are available year-round, and mangos are cut and ready to eat.
Seafood — We’re supposed to eat more fish, but fresh fish is expensive. Fish that’s flash frozen immediately after it’s caught is economical. It can actually taste fresher than fish at the seafood counter (which likely was previously frozen anyway). Frozen shrimp is a bargain, as are mussels and scallops.
Vegetables — Comparing price per pound, frozen veggies frequently cost less than fresh. Plus, they’re washed and pre-cut. Difficult to prepare veggies — like butternut squash, artichoke hearts or riced cauliflower — are a breeze when pre-cut. Frozen can be healthier, too. For instance, fresh corn is often genetically modified, while many frozen varieties are non-GMO certified. But skip the veggies with sauce or cheese, as they’re highly processed and loaded with calories.
Juice concentrates — Look at your carton of orange juice or lemonade; it probably says “from concentrate.” Just buy that concentrate frozen for a fraction of the cost, mix it with water and you have the same thing, just cheaper!
Puff pastry — Here’s the secret to a frugal and fabulous gourmet dessert anytime. Puff pastry takes expertise and hours to make, but the frozen stuff bakes up beautifully and makes you look like a rock star. Use it to make flaky tarts, turnovers or fancy desserts. Puff pastry also is great for savory dishes like hors d’oeuvres, cheese puffs or topping a chicken pot pie.
Potato products — The king of side dishes, frozen potatoes are a versatile, quick and easy way to add a wholesome foundation to so many meals. While fresh potatoes are even less expensive than frozen, turning them into dishes like hash browns and French fries is time-consuming. Fries make a sandwich into a meal, and hash browns make breakfast a special occasion. Why make tater tots from scratch when they’re so inexpensive to buy?
So, let’s chill out while we enjoy the convenience and savings of frozen food.
Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is the penny-pinching, party-planning, recipe developer and content creator of the website “Divas On A Dime — Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at firstname.lastname@example.org
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