Across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it, including how we shop for groceries. Due to limited inventory and online delivery slots, many people now purchase two to three weeks’ worth of meals at a time—and that requires strategy. After all, we need foods that will last, but we also don’t want to be stuck eating foods filled with preservatives.
Fortunately, canned and frozen foods have done the preserving for you. Here, registered dietitians break down how to navigate the world of canned and frozen vegetables, fruits, fish, beans and more—and how to use them to make mealtime quick, easy, and healthy.
The Goods On Canned Goods
Think fresh produce is better than canned? Not necessarily! “Fruits and vegetables used for canning are picked at peak freshness,” says culinary nutritionist Regina Ragone, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
Canned produce totally stacks up against fresh in terms of minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, she explains.
The nutritional trade-off? The high-heat processing associated with canning can deplete water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins. However, the heating process that may harm some vitamins can actually increase antioxidant content, Ragone says.
Ultimately, when shelf-life is a priority, canned goods have their merits—as long as you pick the right ones.
“If you are going to consume canned goods, ensure they’re BPA- and BPS-free, and that the ingredients are what you planned on eating,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N. “Tomatoes, for example, should only list tomatoes.”
Michels suggests shoppers be on the lookout for chemical preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, added sugar, and excess sodium.
Read More: 7 Ways To Turn Grains Into Hearty Meals
The Best Canned Goods To Grab
There are savvy canned choices on the shelves. Here are five dietitians love.
Tomatoes release more lycopene when heated, making canned varieties an even better source of the antioxidant, explains dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.
Plus, “if you add a little oil—which I always add to my tomato sauces—it enhances the absorption of lycopene even more,” she says.
We enjoy eating corn on the cob in the summer, but don’t discount the canned kind for a year-round bargain. Like tomatoes, canned corn delivers more antioxidants than fresh, says Ragone.
“Whole kernel canned corn is high in fiber,” she says. “I throw it into chili and salads.”
Ragone is a big believer in canned tuna—just opt for mercury-free and wild caught varieties, when possible.
Don’t ignore other canned fish, either! “Sardines, mackerel, and salmon are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and protein,” says Taub-Dix, who recommends buying fish packed in water rather than oil.
“If I’m using it for a salad, I like to add mashed avocado instead of mayo,” she says. “Avocado has more than 20 vitamins and minerals, and it’s a heart healthy fat.” (If you’re not quite sold, start with half mayo and half avocado.)
4. Beans and Pulses
The dietitians were unanimous: Legumes are a stellar choice when it comes to canned goods.
“Legumes like black beans, pintos, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzos, lentils, and split peas are readily available in the aisles of most grocery stores,” says Michels. “They’re all good sources of protein and fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron.” They also provide antioxidants and phytochemicals, specifically polyphenols.
To ditch up to 40 percent of the sodium that canned beans are packed with, rinse and drain them before chowing down, says Taub-Dix.
She loves roasting chickpeas with a little oil and seasoning until crispy for a snack or salad-topper.
5. Hearts Of Palm
These overlooked gems might not have been snatched up as grocery shelves started to go bare—but they’re totally worth grabbing.
“Canned hearts of palm are rich in fiber, iron, copper, and manganese,” says Taub-Dix. “Each one cup serving has 3.5 grams fiber, 3.7 grams of protein, and just 41 calories.”
Since canned hearts of palm tend to be high in sodium, Taub-Dix recommends using them to accent dishes.
Frozen Foods To Chill With
Frozen foods aren’t just hot commodities because they last so long. “Foods begin to lose nutrients the moment they are picked,” says Michels. “Produce is frozen as soon as it’s picked, so the nutritional value is hard to match.”
Like canned goods, though, frozen foods come with their own stipulations.
“When selecting frozen foods, check the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list, and avoid those with added sauces,” says Ragone. Also avoid excess saturated fat, added sugar, and salt—and look for options with as much fiber, vitamins, and minerals as possible.
The Best Frozen Foods To Snag
When it comes to frozen foods, the RDs have a few go-to’s.
“I really love frozen fruit,” says Taub-Dix. “I love the way it makes a smoothie colder and frothier, and allows me to not add as much ice—if any.”
Frozen berries can also make your green smoothie work harder for you. “The vitamin C in frozen strawberries enhances the iron in frozen spinach,” she says.
Michels keeps a bag of frozen edamame on hand because she finds it maintains great texture when thawed.
Edamame makes for a great snack or addition to stir-fries and grain bowls. If you can’t find them frozen, try a dry-roasted variety (like Dry Roasted Edamame from Seapoint Farms).
3. Chopped Onion
Though you might overlook the chopped onion in the freezer aisle, it’s a convenient meal starter and provides vitamin C and antioxidants.
“I use them straight from the freezer—no thawing,” says Ragone. “They’re a good time saver.”
Use frozen chopped onions in omelets, stews, and anything else you’re cooking up on the stove.
4. Mixed Vegetables
“Frozen mixed vegetables show off an array of colors and contain a variety of nutrients, thanks to the different vitamins and minerals each veggie provides,” says Taub-Dix.
Their real superpower, though, is their ability to bulk up meals, says Taub-Dix, who adds them to meatloaf and soups.
Shrimp may not be your go-to protein option, but if you have no issues with shellfish, they’re smart to have around.
“I love keeping shrimp in the freezer,” says Michels. “They’re easy to thaw and cook, and a great source of protein and omega-3s.” (To maintain taste and texture, she recommends buying frozen shrimp with the shell on.)
Not sure what to do with frozen shrimp? They’re fabulous in curries and pasta dishes.
Don’t Forget About DIY Frozen Foods
If you find the freezer section wiped out, head back to the produce aisle and freeze your own fruits and vegetables.
The best method for DIY frozen veggies: Blanch them (which involves giving them a quick bath in boiling water, plunging them into ice water, and drying them) before freezing.
Here’s how to do it:
- Drop veggies into boiling water.
- After 30 seconds, remove one, cool it in ice water, and taste for doneness.
- If needed, continue blanching, checking every 30 to 60 seconds until tender.
- Once blanched, dry veggies thoroughly, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze them.
- Then place veggies in a zip-top bag or an air-tight container. (This prevents them from becoming one huge, icy block.)
This blanching method works well for many green vegetables (like spinach, green beans, and broccoli), as well as cauliflower and corn.
Starchy vegetables (like potatoes and yams), meanwhile, are best cooked and then frozen.
Of course, you can also steam or microwave any vegetable before freezing it to save time.
For fruit, just freeze it raw. (Though you might want to cut up items like bananas and mangoes so they’re easier to work with.)
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