As the summer season winds down and local fruits and vegetables become more limited, you may find yourself steering away from the fresh produce section and visiting the frozen aisle instead to find perfectly packaged products that will fit your needs. Maybe you’re wondering if frozen fruits and vegetables are actually a good substitute for fresh. Lucky for you the answer is “yes”!
Freezing, which can be referred to as “nature’s preservative,” maintains the quality of produce and causes minimal loss of nutrients. Depending on where produce is sourced from, it may actually be higher quality than fresh produce because it’s frozen at the peak of ripeness rather than transported or stored. Recently, researchers at the University of California studied the differences in nutrient content in sweet corn, broccoli, spinach, carrots, peas, green beans, strawberries and blueberries, and found no significant difference in nutrient composition. Authors of a study, published in 2015 (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry), found similar results when they compared the micronutrient content of the same fresh and frozen produce.
In addition to these nutrition benefits, frozen produce also offers the convenience of always being “on hand.” This easy availability increases the likelihood that your plate will include veggies on even the busiest night. In fact, new research from Experimental Biology, a multidisciplinary organization of scientists that recently examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (from 2011 – 2014), reveals that frozen fruit and vegetable eaters (from ages 2 –99 years) consume more produce overall (roughly ¼ cup more veggies and ½ cup more fruit per day) than those who didn’t eat frozen produce.
There are some things to consider in the frozen produce section. Limit or avoid frozen options that include sauces or seasonings, which could be high in sodium or other negative attributes. As costs may vary in this section, I suggest considering the store brand, which is generally the least expensive option. Last, consider how you will use the product and pick a package size that makes the most sense to avoid opening and then poorly storing a partially used bag.
Please keep in mind that freezing your own produce, grains or leftovers is also healthy and beneficial. Not only does it let you freeze scrumptious summer berries to enjoy in the winter, it also reduces waste by helping you throw away less. Cooking grains in big batches and freezing, turns your own freezer into a “convenience section,” and enables you to defrost, quickly reheat, and enjoy those grains without waiting for them to cook. Your personal “convenience section” can also include washed, sliced and ready to eat fruits, vegetables, and even herbs. Of course, it’s important to remember that foods can be frozen for a few months not years. The USDA offers a great online resource for knowing how long you can store your favorite foods in the freezer. Just search: FoodSafety.Gov/Keep/Charts/StorageTimes.
The bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with visiting the frozen food aisle or freezing your own produce (and other foods for future use). With the right labeling (name, date, defrost instructions on leftovers) and safe storing, the freezer can be your “in house” convenience section and the place you turn to on a busy night or when your plans to make it to the store fall through.
As your local Hannaford Dietitian, I’m pleased to be sharing my advice and simple tips. Please visit www.hannaford.com/dietitians for my in-store schedule of classes, demonstrations, and store tours or call 845-855-0553 for more information.
Spinach & Artichoke Dip (3 Guiding Stars)
Pick up frozen chopped spinach to bring this “better for you” game day dip together. Substitute non-fat, plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream to boost the protein. Please visit www.guidingstars.com for more on the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program.
14 oz. Artichoke hearts, canned, drained and chopped
10 oz. Frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1-1/2 c. non-fat sour cream
1/2 c. Red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 c. Parmesan or Asiago cheese
2 Green onions, thinly sliced
1 T. Dried onion flakes or onion powder
1/2 t. Garlic powder
1/8 t. Hot pepper sauce
In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until the onion flakes have softened.