NUTRITION: Frozen foods can be an easy addition to healthy diet

Now that we’ve survived the Polar Vortex, let’s look at ways freezing temperatures can benefit our nutrition. I find that freezer foods have a bad reputation, either for being unhealthy or poor quality, but neither of those ideas need to apply to all frozen foods. The technology of frozen foods has improved significantly in recent time. Living where we do, frozen foods help us get a variety of healthful produce, seafood and even grains year-round.

The No. 1 nutrition strategy I work with patients on is to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Frozen foods are a great way to help achieve this goal. Recent studies show that frozen fruits and vegetables may be even more nutritious than fresh because when the produce is frozen within hours of being picked, the nutrients are locked in. When buying frozen fruits and vegetables, look at the ingredient list. It should contain the type of produce and no other ingredients, for example, “frozen strawberries” and nothing else. Avoid frozen fruits and vegetables that contain additional flavorings, sauces or syrups. Frozen produce can be used in many ways that fresh is used. Make a stir fry, mix them in to soups and casseroles, mix them into cereal or add them to baked goods. Or prepare and consume them just as they are for a quick and easy side dish.

Technological advances have have improved the freezing of meat and fish. Some fish is flash-frozen right on the boat; it is hard to get fresher than that. Dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 8 ounces of seafood per week, and most Americans fall well below that recommendation.

Fish and meats can be cooked straight from the freezer. I recently heard a chef touting the quality of cooking large pork chops from frozen; he took a very hot skillet and seared the chops before placing them into the oven to finish cooking through. The result was perfectly seared and juicy pork chops. Fish, steaks and pork need to reach internal temperature of 145 degrees. Ground meat needs to reach 160 degrees, and poultry 165 degrees.

Freezing grains is something I wish I did more often. Frozen grains are a great timesaver. It is simple to cook a large batch of grains and freeze them into smaller portions. Once the grains are cooked, place them in a thin, flat layer in your freezer. This allows them to be stored easily and also prevents excessive ice buildup. Frozen grains reheat in just a few minutes in a microwave or saucepan. Stir them into hot soups and stews, or put a frozen bag in your lunch box so it is thawed by lunchtime and can be used to top a salad.

How about those classic “TV dinner” frozen meals? Well, they are not so classic anymore. I like recommending some of these meals to people who don’t like to cook and have a difficult time controlling portions; the package itself is portion-controlled. There is a lot of variety in the frozen aisle. Look for options with less than 600 mg of sodium. Find meals that contain a protein, grain and vegetables. Some of these frozen meals can be changed to fit your diet guidelines and preferences; have a fruit on the side or mix in some lean protein or extra vegetables.

The frozen section in the grocery store is growing rapidly. Go explore and try something new.