I'm a Dietitian & These Are the Frozen Foods I Always Buy
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life
One easy way to eat healthier is to make foods from scratch instead of buying them premade. With a little know-how and planning, it can boost the nutrition of your meals and help you customize flavors. Cooking from scratch doesn't need to be expensive, either. If you're on a budget like me, embracing frozen foods will make your dollar go further without sacrificing nutrition. Here are the frozen foods I always have on hand to help me save money and make quick, nutritious meals.
Frozen Berry Mix
Fresh berries are expensive, and go bad very quickly. Plus, they can be harder to find when they are not in season. I opt for frozen fruit because it is a fraction of the price and lasts for months in the freezer. Frozen berries are picked when they are ripe and then flash frozen to preserve their quality and freshness, compared to fresh berries that might be ripened in transit. I use frozen berries in smoothies, yogurt parfaits and even add them to seltzer or cocktails.
Keeping edamame, or soybeans, on hand is an easy way to add plant-based protein to stews, rice bowls, soups and stir-fries. It cooks in minutes and is packed with nutrients to round out any meal. Frozen peas work as well, but I prefer edamame because of the firmer texture.
The texture of frozen spinach actually works better than fresh for some recipes, including Spanakopita Stuffed Peppers and Slow-Cooker Spinach Artichoke Dip. Having frozen spinach on hand allows me to easily add greens without worrying about them going bad in the fridge. Plus, frozen spinach only costs about $0.13 per ounce, compared to around $0.23 per ounce for fresh.
Seafood has a short shelf life in the fridge, so freezing it is a great way to save money on this more expensive protein. I typically buy a large wild-caught salmon fillet from Costco, slice it into individual portions, and then freeze them in a reusable container. This helps me cut down on the plastic used in the pre-sliced frozen options, and allows me to have single portions ready to go whenever I am ready to use them.
Technically, I buy this fresh but keep it in my freezer. A package of ground beef, turkey or bison usually contains between 1 and 1 ⅓ pounds of meat, which is more than I need to make dinner for one or two. Instead of freezing the meat all together, I open the package and split it into bags. As a bonus, flattening out the meat before you freeze it helps it thaw really quickly when you are ready to use it for our Taco Lettuce Wraps or Ground Beef & Pasta Skillet recipe.
Though seeing tofu on this list might surprise you, it is the cheap and healthy protein I always have in my freezer. Freezing tofu transforms the texture to be firmer, more meaty while also helping it become more porous to absorb marinades and flavors when cooking. I used to waste packages of tofu if I didn't cook with it all right away, but now I slice fresh tofu and freeze it so it's portioned and ready to go for meals.
Frozen Tropical Fruits
Fruits like mango, papaya and pineapple are not something you get seasonally in Vermont, and usually travels a long way to get to the grocery stores here. I choose to buy frozen tropical fruits because they are picked at peak freshness and stay that way while they travel, compared to the fresh stuff. In fact, brands like Pitaya even have smoothie packs that you can just add to a blender with coconut water, juice or milk.
Full transparency, I always (always) have ice cream in my freezer. It's kind of a right of passage, being in Vermont. Sweet treats in moderation are absolutely part of a healthy eating pattern.
I do a lot of scratch cooking so I don't normally buy frozen meals, but they can be helpful for when you are short on time. These are the frozen foods I pretty much always have on hand for quickly, healthy meals, snacks, treats and more. Choosing frozen, especially for super perishable foods like berries and greens, can help you cut waste, save time and save money while still eating healthy.