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Tasty cooking tips for frozen foods

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Fabulous Frozen Foods

Frozen foods can be a blessing on days when your schedule is jam-packed but you still need to get a wholesome meal on the table. There is more to frozen foods than microwavable boxed meals; you can actually transform them into healthier, tastier dishes your family will love. March is National Frozen Food Month and we're sharing our best frozen food tips to make frozen foods into meals that are totally new and inspired.

Frozen Mixed Vegetables

Benefits of Frozen Fruits & Vegetables

Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually picked at the peak of freshness and flash frozen almost immediately, meaning that they are as close to fresh-picked as you can get at a supermarket.

Most fresh produce travels from across the country or the world and is typically picked one to two weeks before it reaches your plate. As fresh produce ripens, it loses freshness and vital nutrients whereas frozen produce will keep a high amount of nutrients because it is picked ripe and frozen when the nutrients are at their peak.

Frozen fruits and veggies are also better than canned produce since most canned fruits are packed in sugary syrup and the vegetables are loaded with sodium.

Another bonus of using frozen produce is that most of the work is done for you. No cleaning or chopping, you can simply add the vegetables or fruits to any recipe for a healthy and delicious meal in minutes.

Recreating frozen dinners

Frozen meals can be used for more than just defrosting and eating. They can actually be used in a variety of creative ways that will save you time and effort but still deliver a healthy and nutritious dish.

For example, frozen macaroni and cheese can be mixed with fresh or frozen vegetables and chicken or ham for a tasty and quick balanced dinner, while frozen potatoes au gratin can be used in a baked tomato and cheese casserole. Just about any frozen dinner can be reinvented for a new and interesting twist. Here are just a few ideas to inspire your frozen food finessing.

National Frozen Food Month recipes

Spinach, Artichoke, and Asparagus Casserole

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
10 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 (7.5-ounce) box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 cup dry brown rice
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 (7.5-ounce) box frozen asparagus spears, thawed, cut in half
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté shallot and red pepper until just tender. Stir spinach and artichokes into mixture and sauté 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add rice to skillet and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in broth, parsley, and dill and bring broth to a boil. Cook rice until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.

4. Spoon mixture into a casserole dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked through.

5. Remove casserole dish from oven and top with asparagus and cheese. Place casserole dish back in oven, uncovered, and bake until cheese is melted, 10 to 15 minutes.

Macaroni and Cheese Cacciatore

Makes 4 servings

Recipe courtesy of Stouffers

Ingredients:
1 (40-ounce) package Classic Dishes Macaroni & Cheese, prepared according to package directions
1-1/2 cups cooked, diced chicken or turkey
1 cup canned Italian seasoned tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup diced onion

Directions:
1. Preheat broiler.

2. Mix macaroni and cheese, chicken, tomatoes, bell pepper, and onion in a 2-quart baking dish.

3. Broil until top is golden brown.

Strawberry and Pineapple Pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
16 ounces frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 bananas, peeled, sliced
16 ounces frozen sliced strawberries
16 ounces pineapple chunks
1 (16-ounce) box graham crackers

Directions:
1. Beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Gently stir in whipped topping then fruit.

2. Arrange half of the graham crackers on the bottom of a 13x9-inch casserole. Spoon fruit mixture on top of graham crackers then top with remaining crackers.

3. Chill until set, about 3 to 4 hours.

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