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Are Frozen Fruits and Veggies Healthy? An Interview with Liz Weiss, MS, RD

A three-part series that proves how frozen fruits and veggies are healthy, affordable and “green.”

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Let’s face it, there’s a stigma associated with frozen food. Frozen dinners, frozen desserts, and yes, even frozen fruits and vegetables just aren’t something that price-conscious, health-conscious, and earth-conscious moms rave about. But if you’re skipping the freezer aisle altogether, then you’re missing out, says award-winning broadcast journalist, nutrition expert and blogger, Liz Weiss, RD.

“Frozen fruits and vegetables got a bad rap years ago when freezing technology was in its infancy,” says Liz. “But things have changed a lot and there are plenty of reasons to shop the freezer aisle, especially if you’re a health conscious, price conscious, and earth conscious mom.”

Liz was kind enough to share her philosophy about buying frozen. You’ll be surprised by what she’s keeping in her freezer and why price, environment, and nutrition are among her top motivators for shopping frozen.

Why do you like using frozen?

What I love about frozen fruits and veggies is that they are always at the ready. If I’m making quesadillas and I need corn, I can always grab a cup and use only what I need. If I’m making a smoothie, I can grab a cup of frozen fresh Wild Blueberries. And when I seal the bag, I know those berries are going to last several months, not just a few days. Frozen fruits and veggies are a go-to ingredient for cooking and the perfect choice for a mom on the go.

How do frozen foods stack up in terms of price?

Prices vary and, as with any food you buy, you always want to look for what’s on sale, especially if you are a bargain shopper. But keep in mind that even if a frozen option is a few more pennies per pound, you’re still going to benefit from a lot less food waste. For example, frozen mangoes will be pitted, peeled and chopped, strawberries are going to be hulled and your green beans and spinach will be trimmed. So, there is often more value in the frozen choices.

With all of the advantages, why don’t more people buy frozen?

There is a stigma associated with frozen and canned foods, and a perception that frozen can’t be as nutritious. But this is not true.

What about nutritional values?

Consumers should not worry about the nutritional value of frozen fruits and vegetables. A recent study by the University of California-Davis looked at the nutrient content of eight commonly-purchased frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables (blueberries, strawberries, carrots, corn, broccoli, green beans, green peas and spinach.) The results show that the nutritional value of the frozen choices are generally equal to – and in some cases better than – the fresh choices.

So the nutritional benefits are comparable?

Yes. Many of our nation’s frozen foods are processed at the point – and peak – of harvest. When I visited the Wild Blueberry barrens in Maine last summer I saw it first-hand. There, the processing plants are situated right in the middle of the Wild Blueberry fields. Harvesters are collecting the ripe fruit, washing it, and freezing it within hours of harvest. Those berries don’t suffer the delay or the impact of a long transportation system.

Are there environmental factors to consider?

Yes there are. When you use frozen fruits and vegetables, you’re not going to waste as much food. A full 40 percent of the food in this country is wasted in the home kitchen. Much of that is because it spoils before it’s eaten. Buying frozen fruits and veggies allows you to use exactly what you need and store the remainder for later.

So buying frozen is more earth friendly?

Yes. One of the biggest emerging environmental issues is food waste. In a few years, our planet is going to be asked to produce enough food for 7.5 billion people. Yet, we know that consumers waste hundreds of millions of pounds of food annually. Simply put, if we waste less, we can feed more people and lower our family’s carbon footprint.

What’s in your freezer now?

Right now I have Wild Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, mango, and pineapple. In the veggie world I have petite frozen peas, frozen corn, edamame, spinach, and kale. I often have frozen mixed greens and even sweet potato fries. I keep a large variety because I love to cook and I want a good diversity of food on hand.

Can you share some ideas for dishes using frozen fruits and veggies?

Yes, there are tons of great ways to make use of frozen fruits and veggies, which is why I keep so many on hand. Here are some of my favorites:
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Smoothies—these are an obvious place for frozen fruits and veggies. At my house, we are huge smoothies fans and we probably drink smoothies 5 days a week. Frozen Wild Blueberries find there way into a lot of our smoothies, but other fruits and greens are also great. Check out Liz’s Blueberry Frosty and Wild Blueberry & Chia Seed Smoothie.

Quesadillas—these are a favorite and the varieties are endless – I use flour tortillas with veggie filling and cheese to “glue” it all together. I combine sautéed bell peppers with frozen spinach, frozen corn kernels with leftover chicken and stir in some BBQ sauce. Check out my Quick Quesadilla Pockets.

Lasagna or Ravioli—Frozen spinach is great for a quick lasagna or ravioli. This is a dish that kids love too. Check out a short video and recipe for my Super-Fast Spinach Lasagna.

Soups and Chili—I use frozen corn, edamame, and frozen green beans in all types of soups and chili. The frozen mixed veggies hold up really well too. See my recipe for Beef Vegetable Soup.

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Pasta Salads—I’m a big fan of pasta salads. I add shelled edamame, corn, or any number of frozen veggies to a pasta salad. Check out my recipe for Tortellini Lunchbox Salad

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Vegetables and Snacks — one of my favorite all time recipes is for Lightened Up Creamed Spinach and you can’t go wrong with this edamame snack.

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Liz Weiss is an award-winning broadcast journalist, cookbook author, and radio show host who started Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen, a leading blog for parents in search of better ways to feed their family a super-nutritious diet. She’s also the co-author of two great books: No Whine with Dinner: 150 Healthy, Kid-Tested Recipes from The Meal Makeover Moms and The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time and she recently released a mobile recipe app called, Meal Makeovers. You can read more about Liz at http://mealmakeovermoms.com/

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