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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Frozen Veggies Keep Good Eating On Track

Here we are at the point in the yearly calendar where January morphs into February, and as expected, much of the nation is coping with an onslaught of sub-freezing temperatures, ice, slush and snow. Most every day seems the same--cold and miserable.

When your fashion statement is clunky boots, two sweaters, a scarf and gloves, and your day starts by scraping snow and frost off your windshield, well, it's hard to recapture that "new you" who pledged to eat better, exercise, and live healthy and stress-free back on National Resolution Day--the first day of the first month of the brand new year.

But get back on track with frozen, yes that’s frozen foods. One of the healthiest yet overlooked sections of the supermarket are the frozen vegetable cases. The Frozen Food Guy recommends keeping your kitchen freezer stocked with at least two packages of frozen vegetables at all times.

The Frozen Food Guy likes to keep one regular package of a nationally known brand (say Green Giant or Birds Eye) or store brand of broccoli or leaf spinach and one package of a steam-in-the-bag vegetable on hand at all times. I let the actual selection be my in-store impulse purchase, figuring the more time I spend dickering over corn vs. mixed vegetable vs. spring peas is less time spent fending off the enticing but non-nutritional offerings found in the chips and cookies aisle, and that ultimate grocery store danger zone--the in-store bakery.

Not only are frozen veggies nutritionally sound, they are a meal-planning lifesaver. Often I've perused the insides of my refrigerator, and having made the commitment to cooking chicken breasts or, say, a pork chop, I still can't formulate what to prepare for the rest of my plate. Sometimes the effort of making a salad is a complete turn-off. While “eat a healthy salad” sounds good in theory, the actual practical application of rinsing, chopping, scraping and discarding the unused detritus of onions, leafy greens, mushrooms, etc. seems an insurmountable task. And the quality of the prepackaged salads in my area stores has decreased while commensurately the prices have increased.

I like to heat up the entire package of frozen veggies either on the stovetop or in the microwave, and use some as a side dish while leaving the rest for the following day (an average size package serves 3 to 4.) They are great for soup stretchers. I like to make a big pot of homemade vegetable soup about every two weeks or so and then freeze it in one large and several smaller containers, so I can later use the soup for single or multiple servings. Often, I'll reheat my homemade soup and add in my leftover veggies. Ditto for any of the canned soup varieties I have on hand. I'll also add in some fresh chopped onion, maybe some garlic, and a sprinkle or two or oregano or basil. Leafy green spinach and chopped broccoli mix up particularly well as “soup stretchers.”

My personal shopping comfort index (SCI) scores pretty high when I can glance down into my cart and see my frozen broccoli, spinach or mixed veggies. I know the payoff will come days later when faced with that meal solution conundrum--what to make for dinner? And what can I make that has at least a semblance of good nutrition?

Plus, it takes the guesswork out of assessing the life expectancy of some of the fresh produce sold in the store these days.

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