Loving Frozen Fruits & Veggies

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

By Stephanie Perruzza, MS, RD, Contributing Blogger

March is National Frozen Food Month. Although you may be thinking the frozen food aisle is a haven for high-calorie meals and prepared party sides, it’s also a wonderful place to find healthy, wholesome, and fresh ingredients—especially fruits and veggies.

Unthawing the Frozen Truth
Frozen produce has been misunderstood as being less nutritious and wholesome than produce that’s fresh.  However, it has many advantages:

  1. Convenience: Frozen foods are very simple to prepare. Their availability makes them convenient for quick meal planning.
  2. Smart Shopping: Save cash by purchasing frozen when fresh fruits or veggies aren’t in season. Buying frozen year round also allows for more variety.
  3. Frozen=Fresh: After a fruit or vegetable is harvested, the vitamins and nutrients begin to breakdown.  Most frozen produce companies freeze their harvests immediately to maximize nutritional value.
  4. Shelf life: Frozen foods can be stored much longer (usually about 8 months unopened, but always check packaging) and will maintain nutritional value.  If you end up buying fresh from the market, you can freeze it yourself and store for later!

Purchasing: The Cold Facts
Be a smart shopper and avoid ‘brain freeze’ when in the frozen food aisle.

  • Avoid vegetables with added cream, cheese or butter sauces which can be high in sodium and fat.
  • Avoid fruits with added sugars and heavy syrups, which are loaded with excess sugar and calories.
  • Look for plain fruits and vegetables listed as the only ingredient in re-sealable bags for easy storage.
  • Look for the USDA grade “U.S. Fancy” on packaging for better quality frozen vegetables.
  • Avoid items with large lumpy chunks of ice, which can suggest they’ve been thawed and refrozen. This can affect both nutrient quality and safety of the food.

Now Let’s Shop!
This month, why not add the coolest ingredient to your freezer?!  Here are 5 of my favorite picks to use in recipes:

  1. Unsweetened blueberries: To add great flavor and sweetness, mix into pancakes or waffles or top on oatmeal.
  2. Mango: I often enjoy them solo as a snack or as my favorite ingredient for Greek yogurt smoothies.
  3. Artichoke hearts: Works great on top of salads or mixed into brown rice or whole wheat pasta dishes.
  4. Spinach: My preferred addition to casseroles, lasagnas or creamy dips.
  5. Butternut squash: Try them pureed into a creamy soup or mixed into risotto.

Chef’s Tip: Believe it or not, many fruits and vegetables don’t need to be thawed before cooking or using in recipes.  If you do wish to thaw, place in fridge (allow 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the produce) to do so slowly and safely.

SO TELL ME: How will you enjoy frozen fruits or veggies this month?

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