4 Healthy, Easy Meal Ideas That Begin With a Bag of Frozen Spinach
“I always have at least a few packages of frozen spinach and my freezer because they're convenient and often cheaper than fresh," says Charlotte Martin, RDN, CPT. "As an added bonus, they last much longer than those fresh bags of spinach that tend to spoil before you ever get the chance to finish them up," she says.
Plus, frozen spinach is packed with nutrition, and it may even have more retained than in fresh—so you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck. “Spinach is loaded with disease-fighting nutrients, like the antioxidant vitamins A and C. It's also a good source of calcium for vegetarians and vegans,” Martin says. Because of the freezing process, she says it might retain more vitamin C than fresh spinach that's been sitting on the shelf (and then in your fridge) for several days. So keep it next to that frozen cauliflower rice and broccoli chunks, for sure.
However, frozen spinach can feel like a trickier thing to deal with than other frozen foods. It's often frozen in large blocks, making it intimidating to handle on a weeknight when you're just cooking for one. Plus, what do you even do with it? It's not like you can really make a salad out of it...can you? Keep reading for the deets on how to cook frozen spinach.
How to prepare frozen spinach for cooking
First off, you have two options when buying frozen spinach: blocks or bags. (Appetizing, right?)
Each format has its own benefits. “I typically buy the bags of frozen spinach instead of the blocks," says Martin. "The spinach in the bags is already broken up into chunks, so it's easier to use for single-serve meals. I can take what I need from the bag, close it and put it back in the freezer for later."
Blocks of spinach, on the other hand, are better if you're making larger quantities of food (meal prep, anyone?). “If you do have the smaller blocks, try to utilize in one recipe that can extend over a few days. This way, you can thaw it all at once, which is much less messy than trying to break apart or chop the frozen block,” says Kelly Jones, RD.
When dealing with a block of spinach, let it thaw before using, then go to cut it up once it's no longer frozen solid. “I recommend removing from the package and thawing for several hours before use in a bowl in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can thaw in the microwave in 30-second increments before you’re able to break it a part,” says Jones. Once thawed, Martin adds that you should squeeze out the excess liquid using paper towels, cheesecloth, or a thin, clean dishtowel. Then, it's ready to use in practically any dish you choose.
Got all that? Awesome. Here are Jones's and Martin's suggestions for how to use up your frozen spinach stockpile.
Looking for other great frozen foods? These are an RD's top picks:
How to cook frozen spinach, 4 ways:
1. Add it to egg dishes
“If I happen to buy a block of spinach, it's usually to add to a casserole or quiche,” says Martin. She's partial to her spinach and feta quiche recipe, which uses sweet potatoes instead of wheat flour to make the crust. After thawing and pressing out the liquid from the frozen spinach, fold it into whisked eggs and cheese, then pour the egg mixture into the sweet potato crust and bake.
"I also often thaw frozen spinach for use in omelets or frittata muffins," adds Jones. Again, thaw and strain the excess liquid from the frozen spinach before using.
2. Blend or juice it
“I also love to use frozen spinach in my morning smoothies," says Martin. "I buy a bag of frozen spinach and just scoop out a half cup)." Then pile in some protein, good fats, and fiber, such as from other greens and fruit, nut butter or seeds, and some protein powder, too. (Here's your no-brainer guide to making a healthy smoothie.)
3. Use it to bulk up soup and chili
You can also use frozen spinach for extra greens and fiber in a bowl of soup or chili. “I love having frozen spinach on hand to enhance pantry recipes or just add greens to a basic weeknight meal,” says Jones. “For some recipes, such as soups or chili, you can just add the whole block at once. My spicy sweet potato chili includes two cups (the amount in one block) that are added at the end whether you cook on the stove or your slow cookers,” she says.
4. Add it to Pasta or Pizza
Enjoy your carbs while avoiding "beige diet" by adding in some frozen spinach for color and nutrition. “It’s great to balance out a basic pasta meal or pizza,” says Jones. Pair with chicken in pasta, or add it to a cauliflower crust with sauce, cheese, and other veggies, like mushrooms, broccoli, or bell pepper.
Looking for other ways to cook with your stockpiled provisions? Here are a ton of different ways to use rice, lentils, and chickpeas.
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