Don’t Fear Frozen Vegetables
If you typically bypass the frozen veggie section at the supermarket, you’re missing out.
Sure, your intentions are good. When your goal is to seek out the highest quality produce you can find, sticking with the fresh stuff seems best. “A lot of people have this notion of, I’m a better person if I buy fresh vegetables,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color. Thinking that way is a mistake though, experts say.
Frozen veggies can often hold their own against the fresh stuff. And sometimes, they might even be the better choice. Here’s why you should give frozen vegetables a chance, and how they can help you reach your weight-loss goals.
Frozen veggies are just as good for you as fresh.
Both fresh and frozen vegetables start out in the field where they’re grown and harvested. But their paths diverge from there: Fresh veggies are packed on refrigerated trucks and transported — often from far distances — to your local grocery store. From there, they might sit on the shelf for hours, or even days, before you toss them in your cart and bring them home. And all that time, their nutritional quality is diminishing, says Georgie Fear, RD, CSSD, nutrition coach and author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.
That’s not the case with frozen veggies, which studies show can retain higher levels of some nutrients than fresh ones. They’re flash frozen within hours of being picked — and kept frozen during transport, at the market, and after you bring them home. The ultra-cold temperature prevents those all-important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from degrading. So when you eat them, they’re still as nutritious as the day they were picked, Largeman-Roth says.
They can help you with your weight-loss goals.
Why? Because compared with fresh veggies, they’re easy. “They’re there, and they’re basically prepared for you,” says Largeman-Roth. “Instead of chopping, peeling, or slicing, all you have to do is cook them on the stovetop or microwave.” That can be a godsend on nights when you don’t have much time (or energy) to cook—or if you do not have the room to chop and prepare—and are tempted to order takeout.
And because they last almost indefinitely, you can reach for them whenever your crisper is empty. “If you don’t have fresh vegetables on hand, you might think to yourself, well, I’m just having spaghetti,” Fear says. “But if you have frozen vegetables, you can add them in there and make a more well-rounded meal.” You can also use frozen veggies to supplement boxed or frozen entrées to make them more filling for relatively few extra calories.
Finally, they’re easy on your food budget. “Frozen veggies are often more affordable than fresh,” Fear says. So you can simply get more of them for less money.
How to Buy Frozen Vegetables
If you’re haunted by memories of Mom plunking down a bowl of limp, brownish green beans from the freezer, you might be skeptical that frozen vegetables can actually be delicious. But today’s flash freezing process ensures that veggies stay crisp, colorful, and flavorful, Largeman-Roth says. You just have to treat them right. Here’s how:
- Pick plain vegetables. Flavored sauces are often packed with added sodium and sugar, or even saturated fat that can detract from the benefits of having veggies in the first place. Instead, buy plain frozen vegetables and season them with herbs, spices, fresh citrus, or a drizzle of olive oil, Fear says.
- Let them do what they do best. Frozen vegetables tend to shine in things like soups, casseroles, sautés, stir-fries, or warmed up in the microwave as stand-alone sides. But when it comes to roasting or other dishes where you need a crisp, golden crust, you’re better off using fresh, says Largeman-Roth. Because frozen veggies have more surface moisture, they don’t caramelize well.
- Find your staples. Love how frozen broccoli or spinach turn out, but can’t get behind the texture of frozen Brussels sprouts or mushrooms? Not everyone is a fan of every type of frozen vegetable—and that’s OK. “It’s about discovering what you find enjoyable,” Fear says. Stock up on the veggies that taste good to you, and you’ll always have the makings of a healthy meal on hand.