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When to Buy Fresh vs. Frozen Produce

Stocking your freezer with a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables can speed up meal prep and is an easy way to incorporate more plants into your diet.

As a Chef, I feel strongly that cooking seasonally results in the most flavorful, healthy results. But as a working parent and realist, I do lean on my freezer all the time to support the fresh products in my meal plan.

While frozen produce has comparable nutritional value to their fresh counterparts, I’m partial to some more than others. I gravitate toward fruits and vegetables that save prepping and cook time (spinach, I’m looking at you), while retaining their flavor and crisp-tender texture in the icebox. Here’s a list of my frozen faves and a few that I give a hard pass.

Friends of the Freezer

Spinach

Open my freezer drawer at any given time, and there will be several bags of frozen spinach. It cuts out the tedium of sauteing the greens then squeezing out all the liquid, one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. This freezer staple goes to work all day, showing up in my morning Pineapple Green Smoothie, defrosted and blended into this Creamy Spinach Dip, or stirred into the filling for these house favorite Chicken Florentine Roll-Ups for dinner.

Berries and Pineapples

The morning smoothie is an institution in our house, and all of the fruit comes from our freezer (bananas included) – no ice needed. If you’re not a smoothie person, frozen berries easily stir into muffin and scone batters without streaking and pineapples can be defrosted to use in this Grilled Shrimp & Pineapple Salsa recipe.

Peas

Frozen peas are an “oh no, I don’t have any vegetables for dinner” savior. Add them to boiling pasta water for Spaghetti Carbonara, or toss them into this Asian-inspired Pea, Cashew & Tofu Stir-Fry. Add a fresh sweet pop straight out of the freezer in this healthy version of Seven-Layer Salad.

Edamame

Whether you want them shelled or in their pods, you can find edamame in the freezer aisle. Pack shelled edamame in a lunch sprinkled with coarse salt straight from the freezer (bonus: it helps keep other items cold) or blended into a ginger-tahini dip to snack on with crunchy fresh veggies. At dinnertime, shelled edamame adds plant-based protein to the succotash in this easy shrimp one-pot meal or stir-fried next to zucchini in this Edamame & Salmon Stir-Fry with Miso Butter.

Best When Fresh

Cruciferous Vegetables

Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts don’t make the transition from frozen to cooked without losing their crispness. And since this family of vegetables is readily available year-round, stick to fresh when you can. If you’re tight on time, look for pre-cut to sauté, roast, or steam them right out of the fridge.

Carrots

Crinkle cut rounds of frozen carrots don’t do the fresh variety any justice. Carrots are the backbone of so many recipes — it just makes sense to start with the real thing. Shred a few into a Lemony Carrot Slaw or these Morning Glory Muffins, roast alongside a Whole Lemon-Herb Chicken or simmer in a hearty white bean soup.

Peppers

Frozen pepper strips are usually packaged in a catch-all stir fry medley, limiting how they can be used in recipes. Whole peppers can be stuffed with chili and baked in this recipe, and diced peppers add sweetness to this Beef & Bean Chili Verde. And like the other vegetables on this list, the taste and texture are compromised.

Onions

There’s a big, wide world of onions and none of them take to being frozen. They lose all crispness, and much of their savory flavor defrosts out. Shallots, cipollinis, white, red, yellow, and sweet onions keep for weeks in the pantry, so stock up! In fact, the only alliums that need space in the fridge are scallions and leeks.

Fresh or Frozen, More is Better

Regardless of how a piece of produce holds up in the freezer, the fact we all can benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables. Frozen or fresh, they’re both beneficial, and each serve an important purpose in healthy home cooking.

Get plenty of produce in your diet by mixing fresh and frozen fruits and veggies depending on the season, price, what’s available near you and what you’re cooking!

Shopping Tip:

Worried about losing nutrients and integrity in those frozen fruits and veggies? These days, most produce is flash frozen immediately after harvest, locking in nutrients and flavor. Look for IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) on the packaging to ensure optimal quality.

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