Fruits and vegetables form the foundation of our Clean Cuisine anti-inflammatory diet and I’ll be honest, there is no way I could stick to the whole very healthy eating thing if it weren’t for frozen fruits and vegetables. I do buy tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, but the problem is they go bad quickly and fresh vegetables in particular are not always quickest and easiest foods in the world to prepare. Fast food prep is the primary reason I keep frozen fruits and vegetables on hand at all times. Frozen fruits are super easy to use but I’ll admit if you aren’t accustomed to cooking with frozen vegetables, it might take a little trial and error to figure out how to optimize their taste. But, once you get the hang of it you’ll be amazed at how much time can be saved. And trust me, if you keep plenty of frozen fruits and vegetables on hand at all times you are guaranteed to eat more produce — and certain to be healthier for it!
Are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables as Healthy as Fresh?
Although many health enthusiasts shun frozen produce for fresh, the cold truth is frozen fruits and veggies can sometimes be even more nutritious than fresh. Frozen produce is picked at the peak of freshness then flash frozen so nutrients are preserved. Keep in mind that if your spinach (or carrots, grapes, or apples) sits on the supermarket shelves too long or spends too much time driving around the country or flying in planes in transit to the supermarket, its nutrient content declines. Ideally, we would all eat our produce picked fresh from our own gardens every single day, the ultimate in produce utopia but not exactly real world either.
Some Frozen Fruit and Vegetable Brands Taste Better than Others
I know it sounds ridiculous because you would think a frozen strawberry is a frozen strawberry and therefore all frozen strawberries should taste alike. They should, but take it from someone who eats a lot of frozen fruits and vegetables, some brands are better than others. As for taste and texture, I have found certain brands, and certain vegetables or fruits within brands, are better than others…
The Best Frozen Berries
Cascadian Farm organic berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries. blackberries, mixed berries) are all very good. I do make it a point to buy organic strawberries not just to avoid pesticides but also because they really do taste better, especially when buying frozen. I’m not so picky about buying organic blueberries, but I do try to buy wild blueberries (such as the ones by WildBlueberries.com) because they have a significantly higher ORAC level (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) in comparison to cultivated blueberries. Wild blueberries are smaller but pack a much richer flavor compared to cultivated blueberries and they even sell them in bulk at our local Costco. Frozen berries are so easy to use and most of them tastefully make their way into my “SuperGreen Smoothies” or “No-Milk Shakes”. Sometimes I’ll let frozen berries thaw and then add them to my hot whole grain cereals. For frozen blueberries in particular I like to sprinkle a bit of raw cacao powder (such as by Navitas Naturals) and dark chocolate chips on top and heat the whole thing in the microwave for about 1 ½ minutes — you end up with a really rich pudding-like chocolaty concoction and then I put a few tablespoons of Coconut Bliss ice cream on top for a super easy dessert. Other times I like to drizzle thawed frozen berries with my “Spirited Chocolate Sauce” (recipe in our Clean Cuisine book) or a spoonful of guilt-free chocolate dip. (frozen berries can be heated quickly on the stovetop or in the microwave so that the berries sort of melt right in with the sauce.)
The Best Frozen Superfruit
Sambazon manufactures frozen acai “smoothie packets” and I always get the plain, unsweetened ones. Acai is bursting with antioxidants, including anthocyanin, which is common in fruits with rich red and purple colors, like grapes and berries, but acai has far more than any other food. Acai’s ORAC level is over 3,500, which is hundreds of times higher than your average fruits like apples and bananas. Acai also is a great source of omega-3 and unrefined omega-6 fats. My favorite way to use Sambazon frozen acai smoothie packets is in this 2 minute “No-Milk Shake” (which is also found in our Clean Cuisine book):
Banana Acai SuperFood No-Milk Shake
- 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
- 1 frozen banana, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 packet (100 grams), frozen unsweetened Sambazon frozen acai smoothie packet
- ¾ cup water
- Optional: 2 to 3 pitted dates
Directions: Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender (I prefer Vitamix and process until smooth and creamy.
More Frozen Fruits
I also use a lot of frozen mango, pineapple and cherries, especially in my SuperGreen Smoothies and No-Milk Shake recipes. Frozen mango is great for adding a creamy texture to smoothies by the way. Even though I don’t buy them frozen, I should mention frozen bananas here too. Chopped frozen bananas are a staple freezer item at all times in our house because they can’t be beat for adding the perfect non-dairy creamy texture to smoothies and they are one of nature’s best sweeteners. And did you know bananas have something called “resistant starch”, which means your body doesn’t even absorb all the carbohydrates/ sugar from bananas? In other words, unlike what some diet gurus would like you to believe, bananas are not fattening. I eat at least one banana every single day and although I don’t buy bananas frozen I freeze them myself. To freeze bananas simply peel a fresh banana, slice it, put the pieces in a zip-top bag and transfer to the freezer. Frozen bananas will keep for at least a month in the freezer. And they are great for baking with too! Oh, and you can extend the life of your grapes and watermelon buy freezing them too. Nothing beats a “watermelon cooler” (blended frozen watermelon with a touch of fresh mint) as the perfect post-exercise hydration.
Frozen Greens — Super Speedy & Super Easy
I have always had great luck with pretty much any chopped frozen leafy green like kale, collards, turnips, broccoli raab, spinach, and mustard greens. You can use frozen chopped leafy greens a jillion different ways. Here are three super speedy and super easy ideas:
- Sauté crushed garlic in a large skillet (I like 100% Green skillets by Xtrema Cookware, click the link for a 10 percent discount) with a little extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add one finely chopped shallot and sauté until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add the frozen chopped greens to the skillet, and sauté until the greens are heated through.
- Put the chopped frozen veggies on a microwave-safe plate and heat directly in the microwave for 2 minutes, or until heated through, then top with a great sauce such as Rao’s Marinara or any of our sauce recipes in our Clean Cuisine book.
- Add thawed frozen chopped greens to soups, casseroles, and chilis, you’d be surprised at how they blend right in and barely change the taste.
And by the way, whatever you do, you don’t want to prepare your frozen vegetables in water, which for whatever reason is the exact thing most frozen vegetable packages will tell you to do. Instead, you want to steam, microwave, or sauté the vegetables in a little oil while still frozen. Cooking frozen vegetables in water will give you a terrible-tasting result.
The Best Frozen Broccoli
Frozen whole broccoli (but not chopped) is also surprisingly good, often better than fresh. Today’s Harvest brand frozen broccoli is my favorite. Ideally you want to look for frozen vegetables that come in a clear bag as opposed to an opaque bag because I have found many of the opaque bags often contain more of the undesirable broccoli stems rather than the florets. To prepare frozen broccoli you can either steam it or pop it in the microwave for about 1 ½ minutes. One of my favorite ways to eat frozen broccoli is to put about 2 cups worth of frozen broccoli florets in a large zip-top bag and then add about 2 tablespoons of the best balsamic vinegar I can find, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, unrefined salt, a bit of crushed red pepper and about 4 crushed garlic cloves. I then let the whole thing sit on the countertop and “marinate” while the broccoli thaws. You can eat it cold or at room temperature and it is probably my favorite way in the whole world to eat broccoli.
The Best Artichokes
Bird’s Eye has the best frozen artichokes and there is no way I would go to the hassle of using fresh artichokes when my roasted artichoke recipe (see below) yields such great results with such minimal fuss. What then do I do with my roasted artichokes? Everything! I put them in salads, I make a meal out of roasted artichokes, quinoa pasta, roasted cherry tomatoes (which I roast at the exact same temperature but for twice as long as I roast the artichokes) and fresh basil, I make artichoke dip, I chop them and add them to vegetable soups, I mix them with beans and fresh herbs and I often eat them straight from the cookie sheet I roast them on. Here’s how you roast frozen artichokes (and yes, you put them on the cookie sheet frozen)
- 2 packages (14-ounces each) frozen artichokes
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- Unrefined sea salt
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the artichokes on a large cookie sheet and drizzle with oil and salt to taste. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on desired doneness. Remove artichokes from oven and set aside to cool.
Other Great Frozen Vegetables
Frozen petite peas (not the bigger, fatter ones,) organic corn, and organic edamame are also standbys in our house and can be prepared simply by heating in the microwave for a minute or so or steamed in a steamer. And you can’t go wrong with frozen asparagus, haricot verts (thin green beans), snap peas, and snow peas either. Again, these can be steamed, pan seared, microwaved, or sautéed. Frozen asparagus can be roasted the exact same way you roast the frozen artichokes, but just reduce the cooking time by about half, which means you’ll want to roast frozen asparagus for only about 20 minutes. Frozen butternut squash is ideal for making squash-based soups, such as my Curried Butternut Squash Soup or any recipe that requires puréeing. Just thaw frozen butternut squash by letting it sit on the countertop or thaw it in the microwave or stovetop. Of course frozen mixed vegetables (almost any combination) are always a winner and make the perfect quick and easy side dish. Or afternoon snack (believe it or not, one of my son’s favorite after school snacks when he was in kindergarten was frozen mixed vegetables with a little pat of butter.)
One Last Thing…
And finally, it is always good to have a handful of go-to flavor combos for quickly jazzing up your frozen veggies. Here are a few of my favorites (and they are great with whole grains, beans and legumes too):
- Lemon juice, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil or flax oil, crushed garlic, balsamic vinegar
- Lime juice, minced cilantro, red pepper flakes, crushed garlic, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
- Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, basil, thyme
- Organic extra-virgin coconut oil, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger
- Dijon mustard, raw honey, lemon juice, crushed garlic, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
- Mashed avocado, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon juice, finely chopped cilantro