By Cheryl S. Grant
I have always loved cooking, and not just because I love the idea of melding different flavors together, but because it gives me an excuse to indulge one of my other loves: entertaining friends and family. Aside from that, cooking relaxes me, which has been particularly useful while I've been staying home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like millions of other Americans, however, I'm not always able to find my favorite ingredients at the grocery store. I'm fortunate in that I'm not food insecure, nor do I live in a food desert; but my choices are more limited now.
While officials assure us that we won't face large-scale shortages, certain foods are hard to find these days. These can include fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and some meats. Even if the supermarket shelves were overflowing with stock, most of us are limiting our trips to the grocery store to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.
The result is the many of us are subsisting on frozen pizza or canned soup, with an occasional pasta dish thrown in. If that doesn't sound too appetizing, help is on the way. I recently reached out to Tina Martini, Ph.D., a chef, and author of Delicious Medicine: The Healing Power of Food. for her best tips on what to stock and how to eat healthy during the pandemic.
The first thing she said was to forget the old myth that frozen fruits and vegetables aren't as nutrient-rich as the fresh variety. "They are often more nutrient-dense than food that has been trucked all over the country," explained Martini.
That's because fruits and veggies intended for freezing are picked at the peak of ripeness, when they are healthiest. Produce intended to be sold fresh may be picked prior to peak ripeness, which means they are less nutrient-dense.
One 2015 study that looked at the vitamin and mineral content of eight fruits and vegetables, found that the frozen variety were not only comparable but sometimes surpassed the fresh kind. A notable exception was beta-carotene, which was found to decrease substantially in some items.
Here are our picks for great frozen alternatives to fresh foods.
Riced cauliflower. In addition to being high in dietary fiber, it also works well in many dishes. The taste is mild and can be masked to get a picky eater to consume more veggies. And for those who are trying to cut carbs, it is a good substitute for rice.
Mixed vegetables. Not only are mixed veggies a great side dish for meat, poultry and fish, but they can be used as a base for homemade stews. Pro tip: add to your favorite canned soup to boost the flavor and vitamin quotient.
Organic Corn. While it makes a great side dish to most meals, it also can be pureed and used as a thickener, to other recipes or made into a salad. For a tasty treat, mix two cups of corn, half of a diced red onion, a can of black beans that have been drained and rinsed, a little sea salt, and black pepper. You can eat it by itself, or mixed in with brown rice that can also be found in the frozen section.
Kale and spinach. In addition to being great add-ins in soups and stews, quiches, and even tomato sauce, they work well in smoothies. Plus, since they are frozen, there's no need to add ice. In a blender, combine frozen fruits such as peaches, banana slices, spinach, and a 7 oz container of Greek yogurt with a splash of orange juice. Enjoy it for breakfast or a snack.
These meat substitutes have come a long way and are made from a variety of ingredients, from black beans and quinoa to mushroom risotto and even beets. Great on a bun or on a bed of arugula, veggie burgers are high in nutrients and low in calories.
Frozen fruit. Cherries, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries make a great dessert. Blend your frozen fruit with a little juice or milk of your choice for sorbets and ice creams. For extra thickness, add in banana slices. Defrosted they can also be added to your pancake and waffle mix.
Here's a tasty treat that can be made with frozen fruit.
Cherry Oat Bars
- 2 cups of frozen fruit of your choice
- For best results, thaw the fruit first, so you get the most juice from the fruit
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp agave, monk fruit, or coconut sugar
- 1 Tbsp powdered agar (vegetarian gelatin)
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- ½ tsp almond extract (optional, or vanilla extract)
Place ingredients, up to lemon zest, in a small saucepan. Bring to boil and cook for six to eight minutes or until the fruit starts to “gel.” Turn off heat and stir in almond extract. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. For best results chill, overnight.
Streusel crust and topping
- 2 ¼ cups Rolled Oats
- 1 cup flour
- ¾ cup coconut sugar or organic brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 6 T Vegan butter, room temp
- 6 T coconut oil, room temp
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8x8 baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper or non-stick foil.
Place everything into a large mixing bowl and cut in fat until the streusel is the size of a pea. A pastry cutter or fingers work best. Press 2/3 of the crumbs into the prepared pan. Top with jam, and sprinkle remaining streusel over top. Press lightly to create a firm topping. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Cool on a rack and cut into bars.
Tip: Make a double batch, cut and freeze for snack emergencies. You don't need to make your own jam. Any whole fruit spread will work, perfectly.
Cheryl S. Grant is a nutritionist with 12 years of experience as a wellness, health, beauty and travel writer. She has reported for Cosmopolitan, Crain's, Reader's Digest, Brides, Glamour, Yoga Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, W, Family Circle, USA Today, MSN, Food Network, HGTV, Food Network and Learn Vest. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @cheryls_grant.