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Healthy Eats and Repeat

Highlighting Food, Recipes, and Ideas for a Healthy Lifestyle
Freezer - Leia

Fill Your Freezer with Healthy Eats

Posted by Caitlin Huth - chicken

Happy Anniversary to the "Healthy Eats and Repeat" blog: going 1 year strong. I hope thus far you have found some information each month to help you feel confident in trying new foods and eating healthier. Many of us have had similar routines in food and fitness for years and years, and today is a great time to decide how you will refresh the usual.  What one thing will you do?

March is a month for many food holidays, but this time around I want to focus on "Frozen Food Month." Frozen foods might be the ultimate in convenience, letting us eat instantly from the freezer or after just minutes of reheating.

However, frozen foods can also be the ultimate in poor nutrition. Many are high in saturated and trans fats, contain refined grains, and rack up the sodium sky-high. (For more on saturated and trans fats, see last month's post "February is for Fat.")

Fortunately, your freezer can be filled with healthier options: some you buy and some you can make.

Healthy Convenience

In the frozen food aisle, look for "healthy conveniences." These are foods that have good value nutritionally but provide some conveniences to help make meal preparation faster, easier, and simpler. Look for...

  • Unsweetened frozen fruit
    • These are great additions to smoothies and work well thawed and added to a fruit salad. Avoid sweetened frozen fruit and smoothie blends, such as with yogurt, which add unnecessary sugar. Fruits are already sweet. No need to change what is already delicious.
  • Plain frozen vegetables and vegetable blends
    • Steam or microwave for a vegetable side dish in as little as 5 minutes. Avoid varieties with added sauces or flavorings that rack up salt and fat quickly.
    • Find pre-cut onions, celery, and other frozen vegetables to save time when prepping a recipe.
  • Plain whole grains
    • Find plain brown rice, whole-wheat bread dough, and other grains in your freezer aisle that simply need reheating or quick cooking. Avoid varieties with added sauces or flavorings.
  • Frozen meat, poultry, and seafood
    • Quick to reheat or cook, look for plain cuts of meat, poultry, and seafood with skin removed. Or plan to remove skin after cooking, such as with some frozen fish fillets.
    • Avoid breaded and pre-marinated meats, poultry, and seafood to limit fat and sodium. But read labels: some "plain" cuts may still be packaged in sodium solutions (salt water) to retain moisture and texture while frozen.
  • Frozen meals
    • Choose frozen meals that have multiple food groups, most often protein, vegetables, and grains. Look for protein that is grilled, rather than breaded. The more vegetables, the better. Same goes for whole grains: the more, the better. Or add extra from a separate bag of frozen vegetables or grains.
    • Compare between similar products (multiple brands sell chicken stir fry or chicken-broccoli alfredo) to pick the meal lowest in fat and sodium and highest in fiber. Reading labels will help you decide.

Freeze Your Own

Foods in your freezer do not have to be bought already frozen. Freezing what you have can help you save time and money. Remember to label and date foods going into your freezer so you remember what they are and how old.

  • Create your own frozen fruits and vegetables. The National Center for Food Preservation will walk you through how to freeze different produce.
  • Have a few extra servings of last night's soup, stew, or barbeque pork? Freeze the leftovers in individual portions for reheating later. Most recipes freeze well, although recipes with pasta or potatoes may become slightly mushy and lose their texture when reheated.
  • Bought an extra loaf of bread or a bag of English muffins on sale? Freeze and toast later.
  • Freeze leftover ingredients in portioned containers for another time. Freeze extra broth you did not use in 1-cup containers or tomato pasta in 2-Tbsp mounds. Then they are available for when you need them.

Mix-and-Match

Bump up the nutrition of some less healthy frozen foods with other healthy conveniences.

  • Does your chicken-broccoli alfredo frozen meal have only a few pieces of broccoli? Steam or microwave some frozen broccoli to added extra vegetables, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Found a frozen breakfast sandwich that has only two food groups (grains and protein)? Thaw some frozen fruit to serve along-side to add another food group to your meal.

How do you use your freezer to eat healthfully? Leave a comment to let us know.

Chicken-Corn Chowder (serves 4)

If you cannot find frozen conveniences in your freezer aisle, buy fresh vegetables to cut. Leftover cooked chicken can easily be frozen and used in recipes later on, just like this soup.

1 Tbsp cooking oil
2 Tbsp frozen diced celery
2 Tbsp frozen diced onion
2 Tbsp frozen diced green pepper
1 10-oz pkg frozen whole kernel corn
1 cup peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cups low fat (1%) or skim milk, divided
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups frozen leftover cooked and cubed chicken, thawed

1. Heat oil in large saucepan. Add celery, onion, and green pepper and sauté for 2 minutes.
2. Add corn, potatoes, water, salt, pepper, and paprika. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender.
3. In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup milk with flour until smooth. Slowly stir milk mixture into vegetables until combined. Cook while stirring frequently until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
4. Add remaining milk and chicken. Continue cooking until mixture is bubbling, chicken is heated through, and potatoes are tender.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 310 calories, 8g fat, 260mg sodium, 32g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 29g protein

Recipe adapted from: Corn Chowder, Illinois Nutrition Education Programs, http://web.extension.illinois.edu/inep/recipes/

WEB HIGHLIGHT: Celebrate another March food holiday: National Nutrition Month from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

PROGRAM HIGHLIGHT: Register today for "Enjoying the Taste of Eating Right," a Kirby's Kitchen class in March. This cooking class will focus on makeover comfort food to eat for taste as well as health.



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