March is National Frozen Food Month, and frozen vegetables and fruits are healthy options, offering plenty of vitamins, fiber and nutrients.
Clarence Frank Birdseye II is known as the inventor of frozen foods. He was also a pioneer in food preservation, according to Teresa Henson, Extension specialist-program outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.
During March, many stores offer sales on frozen foods, including vegetables and fruits. Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually picked, processed and frozen within 24 hours, she said. In winter, because of the quick turnaround time for processing frozen vegetables and fruits, these foods may have more nutrients than their fresh counterparts and can be a healthier option.
"Birdseye's work stemmed from working in the Arctic, where he was amazed at how the Arctic natives processed their fish by keeping it cold using a freezing method," she said. "Since the technique was a big hit, he figured out ways to freeze other foods such as fruits and vegetables."
His experiment led him to create the "quick freeze machine" in 1930. The creation has since flooded the food frozen market with billions of dollars vested in the industry by consumers and businesses, Henson said.
The taste and quality of frozen foods has greatly improved since 1930.
"To be on the path to good health, you should eat different colors of fruits and vegetables. You should 'eat the rainbow,'" Henson said. "Try to make at least half your plate fruits and/or vegetables."
Frozen produce is a convenient way to eat more fruits and vegetables, she said. They can easily be added to many recipes. Some types of frozen produce can be simply thawed and added to salads. Options for this include corn, peas and green beans.
Frozen vegetables are also great additions to stews, soups, stir-fry and other cooked dishes. Frozen vegetables and fruits are a healthy option–they have plenty of vitamins, fiber and nutrients.
"Look on package labels for frozen produce that does not have added fat, salt or sugar," Henson said. "Instead of buying vegetables in sauces or fruits in syrups, look for options that are just the frozen fruit or vegetable. They will be the most versatile because you can add them to different dishes in portions you choose and season them any way you want."
The concept of freezing foods has made it convenient for everyone to prepare simple, delicious and healthy meals, she said. However, there are food safety guidelines you need to follow when storing food in the refrigerator and freezer. Check out the Cold Food Storage Chart at https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts. The chart highlights foods according to the right temperature to freeze, and refrigeration.
For an easy, healthy dinner choice that uses frozen vegetables, try this pot pie recipe, Henson said. The recipe serves six.
EASY CHICKEN POT PIE
1 2/3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (thawed)
1 cup cooked chicken (cut-up)
1 can cream of chicken soup, low-fat (10 3/4 oz, condensed)
1 cup baking mix, reduced fat (such as Jiffy Mix or Bisquick)
1/2 cup milk (non-fat)
Wash hands and any cooking surfaces. Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F. Mix vegetables, chicken and soup in an ungreased, 9-inch pie plate. Stir remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl with fork until blended. Pour over vegetables and chicken in pie plate. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 5 minutes and serve.
Nutrition facts per serving (1/6 of cup): 189 calories, 4g fat, 716mg sodium, 13g protein.
Source: Texas Cooperative Extension, the Texas A&M University System, Expanded Nutrition Program.
Debbie Archer is an Extension associate-communications with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.