15 Mistakes You're Making When Cooking Frozen Foods
Frozen foods are great to have on hand for when you need to heat something up fast when you're too drained to cook after a long day at work, and they come in handy for making meal prep a breeze. With the longer shelf life, they last a while in the freezer, so you don't need to rush to use them before they spoil. And frozen foods are also pretty nutritious, where many frozen veggies, fruits, and meats have protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients that can get something clean, balanced, and delicious on the table.
Yet, you might be making a few common mistakes when storing, cooking, and prepping your frozen foods.
To help you out in the kitchen, we rounded up 15 mishaps to watch out for so you can avoid making these frozen foods mistakes. You won't want to compromise your dish's flavor and texture or strip away the nutritional value of these foods, right?
Mistake: Not Thawing and Draining Certain Veggies
"Spinach, for example, retains a lot of fluid when frozen and therefore transfers this fluid into whichever dish you add it to," says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. While it may work when adding it right from the freezer to soups or stews, it may provide a less desirable texture for other meals, like eggs or spinach artichoke dip. In the latter cases, thaw and press out the liquid before using, or cook the liquid off.
Mistake: Not Using the Oven or Air Fryer
So many frozen vegetables can be roasted in the oven or an air fryer, including broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans to name a few, so don't limit yourself to just the stove or microwave. "They're actually my top methods of preparation since it offers a crisp texture with hands-off cooking method," says Jones.
Mistake: Overcooking Veggies
It may sound counter-intuitive since they're much colder in temperature, but frozen vegetables often cook more quickly than fresh veggies. "This is actually a benefit when it comes to prep time, but if you don't watch them on the stove, you may wind up losing flavor, texture, and nutrients," says Jones.
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Mistake: Thawing Frozen Berries for Too Long
While they taste good when thawed if you're planning to add them to a dish like overnight oats, berries often don't have a nice texture when thawed on their own in the fridge. "Be mindful of this and only let them thaw partially if you plan to use them as a topping or stand-alone snack," says Jones.
Mistake: Cooking All of Your Frozen Veggies
"It may come as a surprise, but frozen cauliflower and butternut squash actually make delicious additions to smoothies, so you can enjoy your vegetables in a creamy smoothie, made in seconds," says Jones. Feel free to leave these raw!
Mistake: Adding Excess Water When Cooking on the Stove
Keep it simple—if you really want to add water, go with just a splash. "You'll get a much better texture and may even retain more nutrients if you cook your vegetables in some olive oil or a little grass-fed butter for flavor," says Jones. Using the fat will even help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients better.
Mistake: Only Using Frozen Fruit in Smoothies
Don't limit your frozen fruits! "I love using frozen berries to make a nutrient-dense topping for pancakes and waffles. Just add to a saucepan and reduce over medium heat with a splash of maple syrup, dash of vanilla extract, and pinch of salt," says Jones. Once it becomes thick, it's done.
Mistake: Not Sealing the Bag Properly After Use
Freezer burn is real, and it impacts not just texture, but taste, too. "If you can't confidently clip the bag closed without letting air get inside, place in a zip lock bag or glass storage container," says Jones. This will help seal it well.
Mistake: Defrosting Fruit Too Fast
"Frozen fruit is fabulous in a smoothie but if you want to use it in its unblended form, avoid defrosting it too quickly," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
The best way to prep frozen berries you plan to use in dishes that are not blended is to place them in a covered container and let them defrost overnight in the fridge. That way, most of the juices will remain in the fruit.
Mistake: Microwaving Frozen Fruit
"It's tempting to microwave frozen fruit such as a berry blend but if you are not careful, you end up with fruit soup," says Harris-Pincus. Resist the urge and go with a different method, like defrosting in the fridge.
Mistake: Not Cleaning the Microwave After Use
If you are making a meal with frozen fruits and veggies as well as meat, you need to make sure you clean up any meat spills before putting the produce in. "It's a mistake microwaving fruits or veggies after you microwave meat without wiping up any juices that might be left in the microwave," says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. It might lead to cross-contamination, so it's best to clean the area when microwaving items from the different food groups. (If you need some pointers, This Is the Mess-Free Way to Clean Your Microwave!)
Mistake: Defrosting Meat or Fish on the Counter
"Defrosting meat, fish, or poultry on the counter can be dangerous due to uneven thawing and time required," says Jones. In the time that the food is out, bacteria might form, and uneven cooking is more likely to happen. If so, bacteria won't be killed effectively and you could get sick.
Mistake: Defrosting Meat or Fish in the Microwave
"Defrosting meat fish or poultry by cooking it in the microwave will lead to an undesirable texture to eat, as well as uneven thawing," says Jones. If you do thaw in the microwave be sure you use the defrost setting to cook it properly through.
Mistake: Thawing Meat or Fish Under Warm Water
If you thaw your meat fish or poultry under warm water, you can end up with the same uneven thawing as with thawing on the counter, except to a more dramatic degree.
"Thaw under cool running water, or by filling a large bowl with cool water and letting the item sit in it (in its plastic package), being dumped and refilled every few minutes," says Jones.
Mistake: Thawing Certain Frozen Foods
Plot twist: thawing at all may be a mistake with certain foods! "Fish, chicken, and preformed burgers can be cooked from frozen so long as you're paying attention to temperature guidelines," says Jones. So, check those out first before doing unnecessary thawing.
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