Reach into the freezer for some nutritious standbys for mealtime.
Years ago, when I was just beginning a career in the culinary field, I turned up my admittedly snobby nose at frozen veggies, thinking of them only as mushy, flavorless cafeteria food fare. When I added motherhood to my résumé, I looked at a number of "convenience" foods a different way. These ingredients could save me time and money.
In my mind, convenience foods are different from processed foods, which, while convenient, are also often full of preservatives, salt, sugar and fat. My favorite convenience foods are the ones that don't force me to sacrifice quality or nutrition, but still save me time and steps when it comes to feeding my family.
Canned beans, tomatoes and low-sodium broth can fit into that category, as can some frozen vegetables. In fact, recent studies have shown that since frozen vegetables are flash frozen right after being picked, they can in many instances be more nutritious than fresh vegetables that have been picked days, or even weeks prior to eating.
As I was thinking about frozen veggies, I did what I often do and asked other culinary pros about their thoughts on the topic. It was gratifying to hear that I wasn't the only one with a box of chopped spinach in my freezer. In fact, everybody seemed to have some variety of frozen veggie tucked away. Corn, spinach, pearl onions, kale, edamame and butternut squash were all mentioned, but the clear favorite was peas.
Fresher when frozen?
Frozen sweet peas are so popular because they usually taste sweeter and less starchy than fresh peas. The reason is simple. Peas begin to lose their sweet, tender nature within the first 24 hours of being picked. So unless you're growing your own, or purchasing at farmers market or roadside stand, it's unlikely you're going to get a pea that's younger than 24 hours. Frozen peas, on the other hand, are typically picked, sorted, washed and frozen all within a few hours.
While it's easy and delicious to heat up a box of frozen peas to serve as a side for dinner, I like to use them as the opening act in this incredibly easy and addictive Sweet Pea and Herb Dip, which is as simple as can be to make. It's nothing more than a handful of ingredients whirred together in a food processor. Though it's perfect for a party, I like to serve it to my family with carrots, peppers, celery, etc. while they're waiting for me to finish making dinner. That way I know my crew has already had some veggies before they even get to the main course. (This dip is so good that my son Connor, who is not my best vegetable eater, actually reached for the carrots repeatedly to use as a vehicle for this dip. I'm still stunned.)
When it comes to vegetables, don't walk past the frozen food aisle. There are some culinary treasures hiding there that can save you time, money and energy, and just might make a vegetable eater out of the most unlikely suspects.