In a rush to get dinner on the table? BeWell from Giant Eagle suggests you turn to your freezer for help. Keeping it stocked with healthy frozen foods (think vegetables and fruits, fish fillets) and other essential ingredients that store well in the freezer will make it easy to whip together healthy meals—ones that represent the USDA’s MyPlate model of eating: whole grains, lean proteins, lots of veggies. Plus, filling your freezer with nutritious options makes it less enticing to run and get takeout. Here are some healthy ingredients to keep in your freezer.
Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough: With as many topping options as your imagination can dream up, it’s nearly impossible to tire of pizza—and with whole-wheat dough at the ready, it’s a quick, nutritious meal to pull together. Just transfer the dough to the fridge 24 hours before you want to use it. Top with lots of your favorite veggies, some lean protein (chicken sausage, anyone?) and a sprinkling of part-skim mozzarella or other lowerfat cheese.
Fish Fillets: Keeping frozen fish on hand is a great way to help boost your seafood intake, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Versatile, easy-to-find picks include wild salmon and farmed tilapia, and fillets in individually vacuum-sealed packages are less likely to get freezer burn. Pull out what you need the night before you’re going to cook it and put it in the refrigerator. A 5-ounce fillet takes 8 to 10 hours to thaw in the fridge.
Whole-Grain Bread: Bread spoils easily, especially if it’s kept on the counter in plastic. Fortunately, breads (and bread products like wraps and hamburger buns) freeze beautifully and don’t take much time at all to thaw. In fact, slices of bread go from freezer to toaster without a problem. Or just pull out what you need and let it thaw in your fridge for an hour or two.
Chicken Tenders: Why chicken tenders? Like conventional chicken breasts, they’re a great source of lean protein but they’re much smaller so they thaw quickly. Their smaller size also makes them easy to add to a soup or stir-fry without having to commit to thawing and cooking a whole breast. Pick up a big package of tenders and repackage them in quart-size zip-top bags for convenience. Just transfer them to your fridge to defrost the night before you’re ready to use them.
Nuts: Nuts are full of good fats. They are also great for baking, topping a salad or just plain snacking. And, as it turns out, storing nuts in the freezer is actually better than storing them in your pantry: it prevents the oils from going rancid. They don’t take long to thaw— 10 minutes or so on the counter and you’re ready to go.
Fruits and Vegetables: There are many advantages to keeping frozen vegetables and fruits on hand. For starters, many come chopped, which cuts prep time. And depending on the season, frozen fruits and vegetables actually may be better for you than fresh: they’re picked and frozen at their prime, so they often have more flavor and nutrients than their out-of-season counterparts. Most don’t have added sodium. If you thaw frozen fruits and vegetables, drain off any water that has collected in the bag or thaw in a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Depending on your recipes, you may not have to thaw them at all. Versatile, nutrient-rich picks: peas, spinach, vegetable medleys, berries.