11 Foods You Should Always Buy Frozen
When it comes to choosing between fresh, sun-ripened fruit from the farmers' market or its ice-cold counterpart from the freezer aisle, we wouldn't blame you for going with option one. But finding truly fresh fruits and vegetables–and enjoying them before they spoil–isn't always easy. That's why having a stash of frozen fruits and vegetables on hand is a game changer for your health, time, and wallet.
Why frozen produce can be just as good—or better—than fresh
It's a common misconception that frozen produce isn't as nutritious as fresh. "If you're going to a generic supermarket, most of the fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce section have been out of the ground for quite some time," says Chef Jonathan Poyourow, MA, RD, LD, CSCS, associate professor of culinary nutrition at Johnson & Wales University. "So even though you're picking up broccoli or asparagus that looks nice and fresh, depending on the season and where it's coming from, it is going to lose some critical nutritional value over time."
"This is just one reason why it's great to shop locally," says Michelle Shapiro, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City. "Fruits and vegetables slowly begin to lose some of their nutritional value after harvesting, so frozen can be a great option if you live far from a market or tend to leave fresh produce on your counter for long periods of time."
The process for freezing fruits and vegetables is called flash freezing, which locks nutrients in the produce. According to a 2017 study, the vitamin content of frozen and fresh vegetables are generally equal.
How to decide between fresh and frozen produce
When considering whether to buy fresh or frozen produce, you can think about four main factors:
- Accessibility: "You may not have access to a local farmers' market or the freshest produce at your grocery store, and that's okay," Shapiro says. "Check out the frozen aisle to receive all the benefits that you would from fresh produce in a package that's more accessible to you."
- Seasonality: Produce that isn't in season must travel long distances to get to your kitchen. "My daughter loves raspberries and strawberries, but if I'm looking to buy those in wintertime, most are being shipped from warmer climates up here to New England," Poyourow says. "In this case, it's not going to be at its peak nutritional value, so I would absolutely go frozen."
- Convenience: On the days you're strapped for time, rinsing, peeling, and chopping vegetables might be out of the question. "In these instances, having a bag of chopped veggies in your freezer can be a great way to add some fiber and antioxidants to your meal without an extra trip to the grocery store," Shapiro says.
- Price: "Frozen produce is typically less expensive due to its longer shelf-life," Shapiro says. "This is a great option for when you're on a tight budget or looking to buy organic without spending too much more."
So, which frozen fruits and vegetables should you load up on the next time you're at the grocery store? Our experts share their top picks:
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are packed with fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. "Add frozen berries to hot oatmeal or pancake, waffle, or muffin batter for some added flavor, color, and nutrients," Shapiro suggests. "They even pair well straight out of the freezer in a yogurt bowl or blended into a smoothie." Here are six more reasons to keep frozen fruit in your freezer.
Any produce that will take a lot of time to prep in its fresh state is a great candidate for buying frozen, Poyourow says. Artichoke hearts, which are rich in calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron, are a stellar example. "Once defrosted, I like to slice artichoke hearts up and add them to a summer salad of baby spinach, avocado slices, cherry tomatoes, and lemon herb vinaigrette."
Brussels Sprouts or Mini Potatoes
The trick with these veggies is getting the texture right, Shapiro says. "Once defrosted, these have a mushier consistency than their fresh counterparts, which makes for a great start to a crispy smashed side dish. Defrost in the bag, then mash each piece with the back of a glass until flat. Coat with oil and spices, then roast in the oven or air fryer for a crispy snack or side."
Whether refrigerated or frozen, grapes make a delicious and healthy snack (they're rich in vitamins B and K, potassium, and antioxidants). Shapiro recommends them for a quick bite when you're in the mood for something cool and sweet. Here's how to freeze grapes at home.
Zoodles are a gluten-free, low-carb option for "pasta" night, and they're packed with fiber and vitamins A, B, and C. But zoodle machines can be tricky contraptions to master, and with frozen, you'll always get a good-looking batch. After thawing, Poyourow likes to sauté them with shrimp in either a pesto or scampi sauce.
Another veggie that's a workout to prepare when fresh (the peeling alone!), butternut squash is convenient when frozen, and it's packed with vitamins A and C, potassium, and magnesium. "I love to microwave butternut squash and then roast it off in the oven, or after microwaving, I whip it up to make butternut squash mashed 'potatoes,'" Poyourow says.
"Especially when avocado prices jump, grabbing a bag from the frozen aisle can be a great opportunity to enjoy these healthy omega-3 fats at a lower cost," Shapiro says. "Throw some into a smoothie to increase absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, or blend with cocoa powder and milk of choice for a creamy chocolate dessert."
Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Carrots
"You can toss these right from the freezer onto a lined baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees until golden brown," Shapiro says. "Drizzle with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and you have a quick and easy side dish for a convenient dinner."
The bottom line? "Any way you can increase your intake of fruits and vegetables is better than the alternative of not consuming them at all," Shapiro says. "If you find buying frozen helps you consume more of these nutrient-dense foods, stock up as much as you can."