Frozen Foods That Are Worth the Freezer Space
Stock up on these to make healthy eating easier
March is National Frozen Food Month, so chances are your supermarket will be offering plenty of deals. We’ve asked some dietitians to share the pros and cons of eating frozen foods to help you figure out which ones are worth stocking up on.
“Frozen foods can be a lifesaver when you don’t have the time or ingredients to make a healthy meal from scratch,” says Angie Murad, R.D., a dietitian with the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minn. “But not all frozen foods are ones you want to rely on, so you do have to be careful what you choose.”
(Check out the CR's review of the best freezers of 2020.)
What to Look For
The healthiest frozen foods are the single-ingredient ones. “I stock my freezer using the same principles I use when buying fresh food,” says Liz DeJulius, R.D., a dietitian at Fitness Formula Clubs in Chicago. “I look for high-quality whole foods that I can use as ingredients for making a quick, healthy meal.”
These include frozen items such as:
What to Be Wary Of
The frozen-food aisles can be nutritional minefields if you don’t know what to look out for. While no category of frozen food needs to be totally off-limits, make sure to read labels and know what you’re getting.
Frozen entrées. They’re incredibly convenient when you need a meal that’s ready in minutes, but frozen entrées present several pitfalls. Check the nutrition label to see how much sodium an entrée contains. “Sodium is used as both a flavoring and preservative in frozen foods,” Murad says. “Choose ones that have around 600 mg per serving” (and no more than 800 mg). And skip anything that’s fattened up by a heavy cream or cheese sauce. The flip side is that some frozen entrées are so small and low in calories that they may not fill you up enough to count as a meal. “Look for ones that have 350 to 500 calories and at least 3 to 5 grams of fiber to help you stay satisfied longer,” Murad says. Some frozen grain bowls may fit the bill. For example, Luvo Planted Power Bowl Great Karma Coconut Curry, which was highly rated in CR’s tests, has 330 calories, 9 grams of fiber, and 390 mg of sodium. If you choose a meal that has fewer calories, round it out with a salad or some fruit and nuts.
Pizza. A double-meat-lover’s pizza with a thick, doughy crust is not the healthiest choice. But a slice or two of thin-crust pizza (ideally made with whole-wheat flour) topped with veggies isn’t a bad option when you’re in a hurry. You can even bump up the nutritional value by tossing a handful of spinach or arugula on top after you cook it. Be wary of the sodium count, however: Pizza is one of the top 10 sources of sodium in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the pizza is your entrée, 600 mg of sodium or less is a good number to shoot for, and no more than 800 mg per serving. However, when checking the nutrition information, look at the serving size. It could be the whole pizza (for a personal pie), half the pie, a third of the pie, or one-sixth of the pie. (Check CR’s ratings of healthier frozen pizzas.)
Ice cream. This once-in-a-while indulgence will never be mistaken for a health food, but you can make smarter choices when selecting a frozen treat. “Premium ice creams have more fat and therefore more calories,” Wright says. For example, ⅔ cup of vanilla Ben & Jerry’s has 330 calories, 21 grams of fat (13 grams saturated), and 21 grams of added sugars compared with the same amount of Breyers Natural Vanilla, which has 170 calories, 9 grams of fat (6 grams saturated), and 14 grams of added sugars. “And the more ‘add-ins’—such as nuts, fudge, candy—the more calories, sugar, and fat,” Wright says. Sherbets, ices, and sorbets are lower-calorie options but might not be lower in added sugars.
Breakfast sandwiches. These aren’t the healthiest way to start your day. They’re typically made with eggs, which are fine to eat. However, the eggs are often combined with processed meat and refined-flour bread. If you need to make breakfast from the freezer, you’re much better off grabbing some frozen fruit to whip into a smoothie and microwaving a bowl of frozen steel-cut oatmeal (just watch the sugar content).
Just because it’s in the freezer doesn’t mean it’ll keep forever. Ideally, you’ll eat your way through your freezer’s contents within six months. “Package food so that air can’t get in (when it does, ice crystals and freezer burn occur) to help it stay fresh longer,” Murad says. Her tip: Date your packages when you put them in the freezer, so it will be easy spot the ones that have lingered too long.
Keep your frozen foods at the right temperature with these top-performing freezers from CR’s tests and check out our freezer buying guide.
How to Make the Perfect Smoothie at Home
Think that store-bought smoothie is healthy? On the “Consumer 101” TV show, host Jack Rico learns how to whip up a more nutritious beverage right at home.