We’re officially midwinter and I miss the produce bins at the grocery store during midsummer that overflow with fruits and
vegetables at the peak of ripeness. Right now the produce section looks more like a compost pile than anything else. If I
have to put one more anemic tomato in my grocery cart, I think I’ll scream.
I can’t just stop eating fruits and vegetables for the winter, so I’ve turned to frozen for the time being. But
when it comes to fresh vs. frozen, are we giving up nutrition for convenience
? As it turns
out, maybe not (especially when it comes to “out of season” produce).
Frozen vegetables may be even more healthful than some of the fresh produce sold in supermarkets. Why? Fruits and vegetables
chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness when they are most nutrient-packed. While the first step of
freezing vegetables—blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading
enzymes—causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the subsequent
flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.
On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables shipped around the country are typically picked before they are ripe, which
gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but
these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. In
addition, during shipping fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients,
especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamin.
Another benefit of frozen vegetables? They can be the secret to an
: most of them come already chopped, cutting down on prep time. Plus they taste great when
they’re all sauced up and cooked. When buying frozen produce, choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which
designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the
lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do
inevitably degrade. Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.
So while I’m still reminiscing about the summer, for now you can find me in the freezer section.
Here are a few recipes that make the most of healthful frozen fruits and vegetables:
Ravioli with Bell
Freezer staples—frozen bell peppers with onions and individually quick-frozen spinach—give a simple
tomato-based pasta sauce complexity and a big boost of nutrients.
Minestrone with Endive &
Considering that this minestrone soup incorporates mostly frozen vegetables, it is remarkably savory and
aromatic. Look for frozen soup or stew vegetables with potatoes, carrots, celery and onion in the mix to give the soup the
best flavor. Although pepperoni isn’t traditionally part of minestrone soup, you’ll find it’s a great shortcut to add spicy,
This creamy tortellini and vegetable pasta is a real crowd pleaser. To make it even quicker, use frozen chopped vegetables
instead of fresh. Serve with: A green salad and whole-grain baguette.