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Article updated: 3/7/2013 10:05 AM

Frozen spinach helps build a healthy menu

By Deborah Pankey

With the constant attention on eating local and home preserving, many people have been avoiding the freezer aisles at the grocery store. But there, among the bags of tater tots, boxes of jelly-filled breakfast pastries and tubs of premium ice cream lies a nutritional power house -- frozen spinach.

"Nutritionally speaking, there is little difference between the farmers market bounty and the humble brick from the freezer case," Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote in the Dec. 3, 2012, issue of Time.

As Oz (yes, TV's Dr. Oz) points out, the fiber and nutrients in frozen and canned foods usually stay as high as in fresh produce and, in some cases, the heat treatment some vegetables get before being frozen actually makes nutrients more available to the body.

Elmhurst dietitian David Grotto includes spinach in his 2013 book "The Best Things You Can Eat" (Lifelong Books), pointing to spinach as an excellent source of calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, riboflavin and vitamins A, B6, C, E and K. It's also a good source of fiber, phosphorus, thiamine and zinc.

Reading that sure got me to reconsider that boring old block of chopped frozen spinach, which at $1.59 for a 10-ounce package is a bargain. That wasn't even a sale price, and it still came in at less than 50 cents a serving.

So I've been looking for ways to add it to meals, not only to boost my family's nutrient intake but to stretch the budget as well.

Grotto's a proponent of puréeing frozen spinach and adding it in smoothies and even taco meat and meatloaf. I skipped the puréeing part and mixed a thawed brick with ground beef and Italian sausage to make meatballs ... though I might try his way next time so my picky eater won't gag at the green streaks in his meatballs.

In talking with co-workers and Facebook friends, I found that people had all sorts of ways to use frozen spinach. One suggested adding a chunk of (thawed) frozen chopped spinach to a pot of simmering pasta sauce; another shared a mouthwatering recipe for a cheesy holiday side dish. Find the recipe for Serbian Spinach at dailyherald.com/entlife/food.

Friends also suggested stirring it into ricotta cheese along with some minced garlic, salt and pepper for a filling for lasagna or stuffed shells.

Other ideas that came in include mixing frozen spinach with cream cheese, a dash of red pepper flakes and mayo for a wrap/sandwich spread, stirring it into scrambled eggs or even a savory strata. Try scattering some onto pizza or stuffing it into calzones.

Suddenly frozen spinach doesn't seem so boring after all.

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