It's fairly safe to say that most frozen foods make for kinda sad and lonely meals. But here's the thing: They're a necessity for most of us. When we don't have time to shop for fresh and seasonal, or the produce we bought at the farmer’s market is wilting in the fridge, they totally save the day. And it's not hard to turn a meh frozen dish into something stellar (and healthier) with only a few extra ingredients. We picked a few favorites to show you how to kitchen-MacGyver frozen meals into something you'd be proud to serve dinner guests. And no, you don't have to tell them where it came from. That's our little secret.
The ingredient list on this frozen corn and tomato blend reads like a dream: super sweet corn (white, yellow), sundried Roma tomatoes, sunflower oil, sea salt, granulated garlic, basil, oregano... yes, please. Take it from tasty side dish to stand-alone meal by turning it into maque choux, a traditional dish from South Louisiana. Sauté in olive oil with diced yellow onion and red pepper, a smidge of minced jalapeño and garlic, and whole-peeled shrimp. Serve over steamed white or brown rice, topped with thinly sliced fresh green onion. Pro tip: Add a touch of cream if you want to make the dish a little richer and heartier.
There's only everything to love about Evol's vegetarian ravioli stuffed with roasted butternut squash and ricotta cheese. Also in this healthy frozen pasta mix: kale and fire-roasted tomatoes. You can turn this meal-for-two-in-a-bag into a dinner-party main by baking the ravioli into a frittata or quiche. Layer the par-cooked ravioli (meaning only boil it until it is halfway cooked) in a casserole dish or premade pie shell, along with any quick-cooking veggies, such as sautéed onions or fresh spinach. Using a ratio of 6 eggs to 1/4 cup milk, fill the shell or casserole dish to cover the ingredients. If 6 eggs aren't enough, then you can add 3 more with 1/3 cup milk (and so on). Top with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and bake at 375 degrees until the frittata puffs and is lightly browned on top.
You can also pull this frittata or quiche trick with any other bagged freezer meal blend you love, like Alexia Sauté Reds with Portobello Mushrooms, Green Beans & Onions.
There's absolutely no shame in admitting you love boneless, crispy chicken tenders, particularly if they're Saffron Road all-natural, no-antibiotic, gluten-free tenders. But you can elevate this kindergarten classic to at least post-grad level. Think: chicken and waffles. Serve these tenders over toasted frozen waffles and top with slices of Granny Smith apples or peaches sautéed in butter with a dash of cinnamon and a pinch of ground black pepper. Use their store locator to find out where to buy it. Having trouble finding it? We also like Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Tenders.
Amy's all-natural burritos are a great go-to for quick and healthy, but let's face it: Naked, nuked burritos are the hangover-prevention snack you eat standing up at 2 a.m. in your kitchen minutes before falling into bed. Here's the secret to making this basic burrito a gourmet affair: Microwave the burrito for just 30 seconds. Then, finish cooking in a lightly oiled, pre-heated skillet or Panini press (this keeps the flour tortilla from going sad and gummy). Top the burrito with warmed salsa and fresh guacamole or slices of avocado, and season with a squeeze of lime.
Seabrook's all-natural creamed spinach nails the side dish like no other in the freezer section. And you can turn the frozen veggie into a lighter meal for a group by using it like a classic Florentine sauce. Toss the heated creamed spinach with grilled chicken, sautéed mushrooms, a sprinkling of diced sun-dried tomatoes, and your favorite whole-wheat pasta for Pasta a la Florentine. Seabrook Farms is sold at most brick-and-mortar stores, such as Safeway and Acme, but if you can't find it, just DIY. It's so easy: Melt a tablespoon butter in a sauce pan; add a minced garlic clove and a diced onion and cook until translucent, for about 5 minutes; stir in 1/4 cup cream cheese with a 1/4 cup heavy cream until melted; add one box of frozen spinach and stir until hot and well combined. And don't forget a dash of salt and pepper.
If you've ever questioned the mysterious contents of dumplings, these MSG- and preservative-free potstickers from TJ's remove the need for guesswork. They're super simple to prepare (boil, serve, dip), but you can take them to the next level by tossing them in a Chinese dumpling soup made with low-sodium (or homemade) chicken stock and sliced bok choy or chopped kale. More optional add-ins: slivers of fresh ginger, a dash of Sriracha or hot sesame oil, sliced carrots, and thinly sliced green onions.
Buying sustainable shrimp can be tricky, but when you have high-quality frozen ones on hand, it's a game-changer come dinnertime. For health and quality, it’s important to choose domestic IQF (individually quick frozen) shrimp from the Gulf or Pacific Northwest, so make sure you read the bag for its origin and details. This specific brand is sold in premium grocery stores and many online retailers. When you're ready to cook it, try a riff on Nigella Lawson’s I Ricci e i Poveri (The Rich and the Poor Shrimp and White Beans): Braise the shrimp in simmering white wine and water with a bay leaf over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp 3 minutes, then add one can of rinsed, drained cannellini beans. Toss with olive oil, white wine, and lemon juice. Then season with salt, pepper, and fresh chopped parsley.