Healthy choices from the pantry and freezer

We love fresh food, but there are times when it may not be available. Don’t despair! Canned and frozen foods offer plenty of nutrients, as Kim Tikellis, Coles’ Group Nutritionist explains. Here are her top picks for the pantry and freezer.

Mixed frozen vegetables

“Fresh food is best” is a helpful nutrition rule, especially when foods such as seafood or fruit are in season. When we need alternatives, though, canned and frozen foods often stack up nutritionally equal to fresh varieties. The nutrient value of a food is retained when it is frozen from fresh. When canned, food is heated inside the can to kill any dangerous micro-organisms and extend shelf life, so added preservatives are not needed in canned foods.

Here are my tips for making healthier choices for your pantry or freezer.

Frozen fruit 

If you know what to look for, frozen fruit and veggies aren’t a nutritional trade-off. In the freezer, look for 100% frozen fruit, such as berries with no added sugar. These are terrific for smoothies (no ice required!), baking or creating sauces. The freezer offers fruit options all year round, such as mixed berries, frozen mango, pomegranate seeds and even avocado. As you only use what you need for a dish, there’s an added bonus of less food waste.  

Frozen vegetables

Frozen veggies are a terrific way to get a convenient mix of vegetables, prepped and ready to use.  Frozen corn and peas are a staple in our family freezer, but you can also find variety pre-mixes such as stir-fry Asian-style vegetables – just add a protein and sauce to create a quick family meal.

Frozen chopped onions or herbs are also time-savers, and you can portion-control using only what you need. Frozen corn cobs can be easily charred on a barbecue to heat through, then serve with lime juice and mild paprika.

Did you know? Frozen fruit and vegetables are already partially cooked or blanched, prior to freezing. There is no need to defrost, simply add frozen directly into a dish for reheating towards the end of the cooking process to maintain maximum nutrition and texture. 

Canned fruit and veggies

Fruit is often canned close to the orchards, maintaining maximum nutrients and reducing losses in transport over shelf life. The trick is to look for no-added-sugar varieties, and fruit canned in natural fruit juice rather than sugar syrup.

For canned vegetables, tomatoes or beans, choose no-added-salt varieties, as you can always add your own flavours or herbs, to taste. Draining and rinsing canned foods will also lower their salt and sugar contents.

Canned tomatoes add flavour to a soup, pasta dish or casserole; canned corn or asparagus adds a nutrition and colour to a quiche or frittata; and what’s an Aussie burger without canned beetroot?

Canned legumes

Canned legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, beans or edamame, are extremely nutritious and versatile. The canning process means legumes are ready to eat – no soaking, boiling or lengthy cooking required. 

Legumes make a plant-based nutritional alternative, providing quality protein plus dietary fibre, B-vitamins and essential minerals. The Australian Dietary Guidelines include legumes as both a protein food and a vegetable, in two of the five core food groups. Aim for half a cup of no-added-salt legumes at least three times a week for good health. 

Tasty ideas to include legumes in your cooking:

  • Add black beans or edamame into Mexican dishes
  • Serve chickpea-based dips such as hummus
  • Create a mixed bean salad, and top with cherry tomatoes
  • Mix lentils into soup or pasta sauces such as bolognaise
  • Enjoy baked beans on your weekend breakfast plate

Canned seafood

Although fresh fish is packed with nutrients, it’s also highly perishable. Tinned tuna or salmon is a pantry staple and a convenient source of quality protein, and canned oily fish such as sardines and mackerel are rich in Omega 3 “good” fats for heart health.

Choose seafood canned in water rather than salty brine and check the ingredient information on the label for added salt or sodium. Choose seafood in healthy oils such as olive oil, which also makes a convenient dressing base for a salad or wrap – just add lemon juice and herbs such as dill.  

These easy-to-make pantry meals are a great example of how to make the most of ingredients in your cupboard and freezer