Editor’s Picks: The Healthy Frozen Foods I *Always* Keep on Hand
Published on November 9, 2021
By Jess Novak
In a perfect world, we’d all go to the farmer’s market each week to stock up on seasonal, fresh, local produce. And sometimes, we do get to do that — and those are great weeks. But other times, we’re just too busy, tired, forgetful, or broke to make the weekly produce shop a priority in our lives. When that happens, we can go a few different routes: order takeout (delicious but costly and not usually that healthy), take a peek into the cupboard (cost-effective but often carb-heavy), or turn to our trusty freezer. Personally, I tend towards the last option.
Keeping healthy, quick-to-defrost vegetables and proteins on hand is my favorite way of making sure I can always cook a fast, healthy dinner, no matter what’s going on. These are the healthy frozen foods that I keep stocked 24/7 — and some ideas for what to do with them.
1. Butternut squash
I hate chopping butternut squash more than any other kitchen task, including cleaning out the sink trap. So instead, I now buy bags of frozen, pre-cut butternut squash, which are good for basically any stovetop squash recipe. If I’m having a really busy day, I’ll take a premade soup (I’m partial to the Imagine and Pacific brands), then toss some mixed vegetables and proteins from the freezer in along with spices like garam masala and some fresh chopped garlic. It’s a healthful, tasty meal that takes very little time and effort. One of my favorite combinations? Sweet potato soup with frozen butternut squash chunks, frozen kale, and frozen cauliflower rice.
2. Quorn Meatless Pieces
This is not a sponsored story and Quorn didn’t send me any samples for review, I just love this product so much I had to include it — and I’m not even vegan. Or vegetarian. Or to be honest, even remotely plant-based. (I try to eat a lot of vegetables, but I also take down a steak on a regular basis.) These meatless pieces are light, mild, and low-calorie, with 17g of mushroom protein, 3g of fat, and 130 calories per serving. They also taste faintly of popcorn, which sounds weird for chicken, but I swear is actually really good. Sometimes I’ll sauté them in avocado oil, but I’ll often poach these in actual chicken broth before using them, which obviously renders them useless for vegetarians, but is great if you just want these tasty little pieces of fake chicken to taste more chicken-y. I toss these into salads, serve them atop red lentil pasta, mix them into the aforementioned butternut squash soup, stuff ’em into jacket potatoes… you get the idea.
3. Chopped onion
One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself in the kitchen is start keeping a few bags of frozen chopped onion on hand. It’s such a time-saver for weeknights because the onion defrosts in seconds when you throw it in a hot pan, and it’s a totally tear-free experience. The next time you chop an onion for a dish, do another one and throw it right in the freezer. I put mine in a zip-top bag and squeeze as much air out as I possibly can, then label it if I’m not planning on using it within the month (the flavor will get stronger the longer it’s in there, so be forewarned).
Here at Clean Plates, we wrote a whole story on excellent Frozen Shrimp Recipes because shrimp is so easy to use from the freezer. Defrost them by putting them in a bowl of water in the sink, then poach or sauté (but be sure to err on the side of underdone with these). They’re great on top of a quinoa rainbow bowl, as the star of a simple salad, in shrimp and grits — you name it.
Both in-the-shell and out-of-the-shell edamame are great, healthy frozen foods, and I always keep a bag of both kinds on hand. In-the-shell edamame steams quickly into a high-protein, high-fiber snack. (And it’s great sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with rice wine vinegar.) Out-of-the-shell edamame is such a mild, gentle little protein bomb, and can get tossed into basically any salad or thrown into a quick stir-fry.
6. Cauliflower rice
Have you ever actually made cauliflower rice, by which I mean disassembled an entire head of cauliflower? You can do it (and we have a great guide for it, if you’re interested), but it is a pain in the butt, in my opinion, and not appreciably better than a bag of the frozen stuff. We wrote before about these Quick & Easy Ways to Turn Cauliflower Rice into Dinner, and every single one of them is just as good with a bag of frozen. (The cauliflower rice skillet recipe is the meal I make when I really want pasta but am trying to keep my refined carb intake down).
Jess Novak is the Head of Content and Audience Development for Clean Plates. She’s obsessed with making meals that taste like they’re not healthy (but absolutely are). You can follow her on Instagram @jtothenovak.