Chill out: Veggies from the freezer are fast, easy and convenient.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
You're running around your kitchen trying to throw dinner together on a busy weeknight, coordinating what's simmering on the stove with washing the fruit and remembering when to pick up the kids from soccer practice. Suddenly, you realize you've forgotten the vegetables!
No worries. Just pop open your freezer and see which vegetable goes best with your entree. Six minutes later, your micro-steamed veggies are ready to take their proud place on the dinner table.
This scenario happens more often than I want to admit at my house. Frozen veggies come in handy year-round, but I especially rely on them during the winter months, when it's slim pickings in the produce section. Industry statistics show that frozen vegetable sales peak from November and April, with the highest sales coming during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.
In winter, it may not be the quality of the fresh produce that scares us off as much as the price. Frozen vegetable prices, though, are fairly stable throughout the year. And it's tough to beat the convenience of keeping several bags of frozen vegetables sitting in the freezer, with not a worry in the world about having to use them before they turn brown.
Nutritionally speaking, frozen veggies are similar to -- and sometimes better than -- fresh ones. This makes sense, considering that these veggies are usually flash-frozen (which suspends their "aging" and nutrient losses) immediately after being harvested. Frozen veggies were often picked in the peak of their season, too.
I ran a nutritional comparison on both fresh and frozen broccoli florets (uncooked), and the frozen broccoli contained a bit more vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C, and folic acid. A recent government study found no change in amounts of folic acid found in veggies after 12 months of freezing. So don't let nutrition stop you from buying frozen!
Elaine's Personal Picks
Let's face it, certain vegetables manage the stress of being frozen rather than heated better than others. Take peas, for instance. I'm not a "pea person"; my mom forced me to eat peas when I was really young and I think I will be forever influenced by this dinner trauma. But still, I have them around for adding to soups, fried rice, and casseroles. And what would I do without frozen chopped spinach for some of my all-time favorite dishes, like spinach garlic dip and spinach lasagna?
My personal picks for finest frozen veggies are:
- Corn (I like the petite white corn)
- Broccoli florets
- Shelled green soybeans (edamame)
- Frozen spinach
- Petite peas
If you like to walk on the wild side, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's carry more unusual choices, like frozen diced butternut squash, shiitake mushrooms, artichoke hearts, a blend of red and green bell pepper strips, and Normandy Blend vegetables (carrots with green and yellow beans).
But the options don't stop there. In fact, of our 20 most frequently consumed raw vegetables, half are available frozen! Here's a list of those 20 popular veggies from the U.S. government's Federal Register; those available frozen in supermarkets are followed by an "F":
1. Asparagus (F)
2. Bell pepper (F)
3. Broccoli (F)
4. Carrots (F)
5. Cauliflower (F)
8. Green snap beans (F)
9. Green cabbage
10. Green onions
11. Iceberg lettuce
12. Leaf lettuce
13. Mushrooms (F)
14. Onion (F)
15. Potatoes (F)
17. Summer squash
18. Sweet corn (F)
19. Sweet potatoes
'Halfway Homemade' Recipes With Frozen Veggies
If you'd like to venture beyond the standard microwave veggies, here are a couple of 'halfway homemade' recipes spotlighting frozen vegetables.
Easy Mu Shu
I literally pulled this dish together in 10 minutes!
1 tablespoon canola oil
16-ounce bag Asian stir-fry veggies (available at Whole Foods and other stores)
2 teaspoons minced bottled garlic
2 cups meat or substitute of your choice (try frozen, cooked, tail-off shrimp that's been thawed; shredded roasted chicken or pork; or diced tofu)
3 cups shredded Chinese or Napa cabbage, packed (or substitute regular cabbage)
2 large eggs, beaten with 2 teaspoons water (you may use 1/4 cup egg substitute in place of one of the eggs)
3 tablespoons bottled hoisin sauce (available in most supermarkets)
6 flour tortillas
- Start heating the canola oil in the middle of a nonstick wok or large nonstick frying pan or skillet. Add the bag of vegetables and the garlic; stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
- Add the meat or tofu and the cabbage; stir-fry for about 2 more minutes. Push the vegetable mixture around the sides of the wok or pan to make a 4-inch wide opening in the center.
- Pour the beaten eggs into the opening and let cook there for a minute. While you're waiting, grind some black pepper lightly over the top. Start tossing the mixture together to finish cooking the eggs (about 1 minute more). Drizzle the hoisin sauce over the top of the mixture and toss to blend well.
- Soften tortillas by heating briefly in the microwave. Place some of the vegetable mixture into center of each tortilla and roll up like a burrito. Repeat with remaining tortillas and vegetable mixture.
Yield: 6 servings
Per serving (with shrimp): 283 calories, 18.5 g protein, 35.5 g carbohydrate, 7.8 g fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 163 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 460 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.
Quick Spinach Italiano
You can whip up this side dish in about 5 minutes.
1 pound frozen spinach leaves (cut, not chopped, works best), partially thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese (available in bags and tubs)
- Add olive oil to large, nonstick frying pan or skillet and heat oil until hot, but not smoking, over medium heat. Add garlic; saute for 30 seconds or so.
- Stir in the spinach leaves; saute for a few minutes or until spinach is tender.
- Add pepper to taste. Sprinkle Parmesan over the top and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Per serving: 79 calories, 4 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 98 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 59%.
Originally published January 2006.
Medically Updated January 2007.
SOURCES: Federal Register, March 20, 2002. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 97: 587-595. Weekly Frozen Vegetable Category Sales, Information Resources Inc., 2006.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2006 Elaine Magee.
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