I recommend to all my patients to keep frozen fruits and vegetables on hand at all times. Not only does it make menu planning and meal prep a breeze, it can increase the variety of plant foods you eat. Making healthy food easily accessible is the best thing we can do for our healthy eating plans. You can use frozen fruits and vegetables for quick meals and snacks as smoothies or baked dishes such as cobblers. Frozen fruit can also be thawed over night for a fruit salad the next day. Just mix up a jar of your favorite fruits and let it sit in your refrigerator over night to thaw. Then enjoy the next day in a bowl or even on some cereal or warmed and served over French toast, pancakes, or waffles in place of maple syrup.
You can mix frozen and fresh fruits together to add some summertime varieties to the limited options you can find locally in the fall and winter months. In the fall and winter, it is common to have access to really good apples, pears, pomegranates, and maybe banana and citrus fruits, but it is hard to find really tasty berries, cherries, mangoes, pineapples, etc. which is why it is a good idea to buy some frozen ones during peak season for later use. The nutrients are adequate and often times superior as they tend to be frozen at their peak, whereas “fresh” fruits may travel thousands of miles before reaching your store and wait days before then reaching your home kitchen. The taste of frozen fruit will also often be superior to canned ones.
When adding banana to fruit salad, I’d recommend adding it when you plan to eat it and not before. Bananas can keep in the fridge once ripened for several days, so just place your ripe bananas in your fridge for later use. I often slice and freeze bananas for later use in smoothies, but they do not thaw great for a fruit salad. A banana kept in the fridge for a few days once ripe, however, can maintain its texture just fine. Other fruits will likely be hearty enough to thaw together in a jar/bowl for overnight fruit salad. When serving the next day, add some fresh mint leaves, if you like the taste.
Recommended fruits to store frozen:
- Cherries (tart cherries are great for pies and cobblers, and Bing cherries make great additions to fruit salads, vegetable salads, and smoothies)
- Peaches and nectarines (it is a great idea to freeze your own at their peak ripeness for the best taste)
- Berries (blueberries usually have the best taste, but also try raspberries; you have have to freeze your own blackberries)
- Mango (these can get a big soggy when thawed, but usually that isn’t an issue as they provide a nice pectin thickness to the dish)
- Pineapple (usually, you will get the best taste if you freeze your own ripe chunks)
Recommended fruits to purchase fresh only:
- Bananas (they get too soggy when thawed for most peoples taste)
- Pears (same as above)
- Apples (same as above)
- Kiwi (I’ve honestly never frozen a kiwi so I could be wrong here!)
There are many fruits not listed here, but these are the most commonly accessible fruits at most grocery stores. Remember, you want to “eat the rainbow” by choosing a variety of colors in your produce each week. It is unlikely you can eat the color of the rainbow daily, but I like to tell my clients to look at their intake in a broader 7-10 day window and try to work in color variety there. Indeed, as we evolved we often only had access to certain foods at certain times of the year, and our color intake varied widely throughout the year. Just do your best to vary your intake.
When it comes to variety in a toddlers diet, you may run into some challenges. The most important thing to remember is that eating the healthy plant-foods in the first place is the main objective. So, if your kiddo only wants bananas and oranges, then let them eat them and eat them often! I never recommend limiting servings of fruits or vegetables as it is extremely hard to over eat them and kids, unless unwell, will never starve themselves and tend to only eat what they actually need to. It is us adults that struggle to maintain balance. Infants tend to be more accepting of foods and this overnight approach to fruit salad is a great way to ensure you start their day out right! Just stick to easy to consume fruits, with the rule being it should be something you could smash with your tongue against the roof of your mouth to avoid any choking hazards. So no thick skins, seeds, or chew portions. If you are worried, just place an immersion blender into the jar and quickly give it a puree.
And the same goes for our kiddos in terms of accessibility: making healthy foods more visible will reduce their desire for less nutritious foods over more nutritious options.