Confession: I used to turn my nose up at frozen vegetables. Growing up in California, I was spoiled with an abundance of local produce and considered anything from the freezer section to be inferior, both in taste and nutrition.
I’ve since been schooled and frozen vegetables now make a regular appearance in my cooking. I still prefer fresh-from-the-farmstand corn in the peak of summer, but I also consider frozen corn (and a whole lot of other vegetables) to be freezer essentials.
Whether frozen vegetables are new to you or you’ve been enjoying them all your life, they are an excellent option for doing what we all need to be doing: eating more vegetables!
We Need to Eat More Vegetables
There’s no denying the fact that few of us get enough vegetables in our diet. The USDA Dietary Guidelines advise adults to eat between two to four cups a day, depending on age and calorie needs.
Only one in 10 are doing that, explains Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, President & CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, who also points to research that shows those who include all veggies in all forms, from fresh to frozen to canned, tend to eat more vegetables overall. Having them in the freezer offers a convenient way to sneak in more servings, whether blended into a breakfast smoothie or added to a dinner casserole.
Frozen Vegetables Are Nutrient-Rich
While fresh produce is held up as the gold standard for nutrition, frozen vegetables stack up quite favorably. Vegetables are typically flash-frozen within hours of harvesting, says Reinhardt Kapsak, which locks in key nutrients. Although some nutrients can be lost in processing, studies show the loss to be minimal.
Besides, the same thing can happen with fresh vegetables, particularly when shipped long distances from farm to market. Studies from the Universities of Georgia and UC Davis show that frozen vegetables are as nutritious, as measured by vitamin, as well as minerals, fiber, and phenol content.
Sometimes Frozen Vegetables Are Even Better Than Fresh!
What might surprise folks is that in some cases, frozen vegetables are richer in certain nutrients than fresh! In a study conducted by UC Davis, the vitamin C levels of frozen corn, green beans, and blueberries was significantly higher than fresh.
This is echoed by Reinhardt Kapsak who says, “Over the course of time, living plants experience natural nutrient loss after being removed from their tree, vine, or soil. Vitamin content, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, riboflavin; mineral content, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron; fiber and health-promoting plant compounds called phenols, have been observed in higher amounts in some commonly consumed frozen fruits and vegetables compared to fresh-stored options.”
In addition to the nutrition benefits, frozen vegetables have plenty of other upsides as well.
They’re convenient. It’s hard to argue with the convenience of frozen vegetables. Everything is washed, peeled, cut, and ready to cook.
They’re affordable. Does all that convenience come at a price? Not according to an analysis by Michigan State University, which found frozen tends to be price competitive relative to fresh.
They have a long shelf life. One of the biggest benefits of frozen is that it lasts a long time. A head of fresh spinach may last a week if you’re lucky. When frozen? Up to a year. That likely means less food waste as well.
They’re readily available. Opting for frozen means you can get your favorite vegetables year-round. So, if you want to make corn chowder in January, the frozen food case has you covered. In addition, frozen vegetables can be a reliable option for communities that don’t have quality produce at their local market.
How to Cook Frozen Vegetables
The possibilities for cooking frozen vegetables are as varied as fresh, but some techniques work better than others. Here are some tips:
Roast. Roasting is an excellent method for cooking frozen vegetables. The key is to take them straight from freezer to oven and crank up the heat. Registered dietitian and chef Abbie Gellman recommends tossing your broccoli, carrots, or other vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasting them in a single layer on a sheet pan at 425 degrees until golden brown.
Sauté. Sautéing has a similar upside to roasting: vegetables can be cooked in a bit of oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, herbs and spices. Try, for example, sautéing mixed frozen vegetables in olive oil, then add cooked pasta and your favorite jarred sauce for a simple supper.
Steam. Steaming preserves color, flavor, and nutrients and is a quick way to get a side dish on the table. It’s a method I use to make easy veggie quesadillas. Steam whatever frozen veggies you fancy on the stovetop or microwave, then add to a tortilla topped with melted cheese and salsa.
Boil. Boiling is generally considered one of the less desirable cooking methods for frozen vegetables. That’s because key nutrients can leach into the cooking water, and boiled vegetables can easily go soggy. The exception is when those vegetables are boiled into a soup or stew and the cooking liquid is eaten as part of the dish. I routinely add frozen butternut squash to boost the veggies and flavor in my homemade chili, for example.
Raw. Some frozen vegetables are quite tasty without any cooking at all, most notably corn and peas. They can be thawed and tossed straight into salads and other no-cook dishes. Other vegetables, such as frozen cauliflower and spinach, are terrific to blend into smoothies, no defrosting required.
So next time you’re at the market, take a stroll down the frozen food aisle. See what grabs your eye: a bag of frozen artichokes to toss into a frittata, peas to whirl into a soup, or frozen spinach for a breakfast smoothie. It’s all good. It’s all good for you. Just keep eating your veggies.