Are frozen vegetables healthy? Picked at the peak of freshness, frozen versions deserve more room on your plate. (Well, after they’re cooked, of course.) Here’s what you need to know.
It’s dinnertime, and you look in your fridge. The bagged spinach looks suspicious (it’s a little bit slimy), the asparagus is wilted, and those mushrooms may be fungi—but they’re moldy, too. No thanks. Luckily, you have frozen veggies ready to step in. But are frozen vegetables healthy? In a word, yes. Absolutely.
What Are the Benefits of Frozen Vegetables?
Speeding past the freezer aisle at the grocery store? Not anymore. There are several benefits of frozen vegetables, according to experts, which include:
- Saves Resources:
“Frozen vegetables are often cheaper than fresh, easy-to-find veggies, can help you reduce waste, and save you time in the kitchen,” says Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Choose You Now Diet. They also last for a long time in your freezer, so if you often notice that by the time you go to eat your fresh produce it looks past its prime—and you have to throw it away—frozen is a good option for you.
- Shortens Prep Time
Frozen veggies come already washed, trimmed, and chopped, so all you need to do is take a serving or two out of the bag to cook them. You don’t have to worry about discarding stems, pods, or peels, either.
- Encourages You to Eat More Veggies
Considering the simple preparation, opting for frozen varieties can help you consume more vegetables. “One of the best things anyone can do for their health is to eat more produce,” says Hever. Only 10 percent of adults eat the recommended amounts of fruits (one-and-a-half to two cups) and vegetables (two to three cups) per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional research shows that frozen veggies can help make reaching this goal easier. “With frozen, there is no excuse not to eat your vegetables,” she says.
Does Freezing Vegetables Destroy Nutrients?
You may be wondering if the harsh, cold temperature of your freezer might zap away the nutrients in your vegetables. The answer? Quite the opposite. Since vegetables are flash frozen after harvest, they’re actually more likely to retain nutrients, says Hever. “You may be getting a more nutrient-dense version of the broccoli versus one that was picked and driven to a storage facility and then sat on a store shelf,” she says. Let’s not forget that even after you buy the veggie, you’ll also keep it in your fridge until it’s ready to go into that beef and broccoli stir-fry or zucchini pasta dish. That’s exactly why, despite the fact that buyers tend to believe fresh is better, there are perks to frozen veggies.
Frozen produce is often more nutritionally superior to fresh fare that’s been stored in the fridge, as produce tends to lose vitamins the longer it sits, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. This isn’t to say that fresh vegetables aren’t healthy There’s more than enough room for fresh and frozen vegetables in your diet. But research shows frozen vegetables have some serious benefits.
What to Look for When Buying Frozen Vegetables
Today, it’s easy to find a wide variety of frozen veggies—from peas and corn to okra, spinach, and green beans—in your grocer’s freezer aisle. With all the options, it can be difficult to know what the best frozen veggies to buy are. Below, Hever breaks down exactly what the best frozen vegetables are to buy.
- Plain Frozen Veggies
Ideally, you should buy plain frozen vegetables, recommends Hever. If you flip the package over, you should read the ingredient list and look for those that simply say “green beans” or “bell pepper strips.” (You get the idea—no extra additives.)
- Low Sodium and Saturated Fat
That doesn’t mean frozen veggies or medleys that contain sauces and seasonings are off-limits. But, you’ll want to read the nutrition facts and ingredients list to know exactly what you’re getting. Watch for sodium and saturated fat, as these can be high due to salt, butter, or creamy sauces for added taste and texture. What you buy, though, will depend on your health goals and what you ate the rest of the day.
- In-Season Picks
Finally, if you bought a bunch of vegetables and know you’re not going to use them up in time (or purposely picked up a bunch in-season because they were on sale), go ahead and freeze them with a few easy tips then cook them up with the methods below.
How to Cook Frozen Vegetables
Know that you can make your veggies taste unbelievably delicious even if you buy them plain. Take the tips below for jazzing them up and making them really flavorful and interesting on your own.
The most important rule for frozen veggies is that you must cook them, says Hever. “If you thaw them out, they lose their integrity and deliciousness,” she says. Below are the best ways to cook frozen veggies. Say goodbye to sad, soggy vegetables.
Ever asked yourself, “Are steamed frozen vegetables healthy?” The answer is yes. It’s one of the most effective ways to maintain the vegetables’ nutrients while also providing a crunchy texture and vibrant color. Throw frozen vegetables into a bamboo steamer basket or stainless steel steamer.
Can you roast frozen vegetables? Absolutely—your life will be forever changed once you realize that you can roast frozen veggies on a sheet pan and they’ll emerge just as caramelized as fresh ones. Wondering how to cook frozen vegetables in the oven? Toss the vegetables with olive oil (use minimum oil if your goal is to lose weight, advises Hever) and salt and pepper, and then place the frozen veggies in the oven. You’ll likely have to roast frozen veggies for a bit longer than fresh ones, so keep an eye on the oven. Word to the wise: Make sure to spread the frozen veggies out on the sheet pan. If it’s too crowded, they can emerge water-logged and limp.
If you’re wondering how to cook frozen vegetables without them getting soggy, sauteing is an excellent option. But it can be tricky to understand how to cook frozen vegetables on a stove. Using this method, add your frozen vegetables to a hot pan and cook until the desired doneness.
- Air Fry
The best-kept secret? Frozen veggies in the air fryer. It’s quick, easy, and delicious. Here’s how to cook frozen vegetables in the air fryer: Toss your favorite vegetables in olive oil and seasonings, and add them into the appliance. They’ll be crispy and crunchy in moments. Plus, they’re exponentially healthier than deep-fried vegetables.
Pro tip: Go ahead and substitute frozen vegetables for fresh ones in a variety of recipes, such as casseroles, soups, stews, and chilis, says Hever. This will speed up the cooking process and offer you a multitude of nutrients too.
If you’re roasting or sauteeing your frozen veggies, you don’t have to commit to eating them plain. Get creative with spices, such as:
- Lemon pepper
- Harissa (a hot chili paste)
- Hot sauce,
- Red chili flakes,
- Black pepper
- A seasoning blend (such as “everything but the bagel,” za’atar, herbs de province, tajin)
“You can mix and match seasonings to turn vegetables into something completely different,” says Hever. Even with frozen veggies, the bottom line is: Have fun and you’ll eat well.