Take a peek in my fridge at any time of the year and, I'm proud to say, you'll see loads of frozen fruits and veggies. Not only do they save me time and money when fresh produce is scarce in the winter, but they're also incredibly healthy. A lot of people think fresh is best, but believe it or not, frozen produce is even more nutrient packed. That's because the moment produce is picked, it starts to lose nutrients, but freezing slows that loss. A 2007 study found that the vitamin C content of fresh broccoli plummeted 56 percent in 7 days, but dipped just 10 percent in a year's time when frozen at -4°F (-20°C). In addition, the levels of disease-fighting antioxidants called anthocyanins and some minerals, including potassium (which helps control blood pressure), actually increased after freezing.
According to the CDC, you should be eating about 2 cups of fruit and 2 ? cups of veggies each day (1 cup is about the size of a baseball). Fortunately, hitting the mark is easier than you may think. Just 12 frozen baby carrots equal a cup, and with no washing or chopping required, your veggies are ready in no time. From freezer to fork, most veggie side dishes take less than 10 minutes. Here's how to select and prepare 'em:
Pick US Grade A
For quality, generic is just as good as name brands, if you choose US Grade A (also known as Fancy) varieties. This ranking means the produce was carefully selected for color and tenderness and is free from blemishes. It'll be more flavorful, compared with Grade B (also called Extra Standard), which is slightly more mature, or C (Standard), which is not uniform in color or flavor.
Grade C veggies are the least expensive, and though they still provide nutrients, they can be stringy, tough, even bitter. It's best to use them in recipes that don't feature them prominently, such as soups, stews, and casseroles. Grades usually appear on the back of the package, inside a symbol that looks like a shield.
Skip Added Sauces
When sauces and seasonings are included, fat, sodium, and sugar levels typically skyrocket. The healthiest choices are bags and boxes with zero additives. That means selecting products with only vegetables listed in the ingredients. Many shoppers think frozen goods are heavily processed. They can be, but not in this case. Freezing itself is enough to preserve produce without the addition of salts (which can raise blood pressure) or sugars (which spike blood sugar).