The supermarket can paralyze your mind. Too many decisions come into play within the aisles. Paper or plastic? Self-checkout or cashier? No-frills generic or brand name? Fresh or frozen?
In the latter quandary, fresh produce is seemingly the safer bet, but don’t ice out frozen fruits and vegetables just yet. Studies by IFR Extra have shown that produce can lose up to 45% of its essential nutrients during the journey from farm to table—a period that can last as long as 16 days. These berries, melons, tomatoes, and greens can be exposed to pesticides, extreme heat, and light during transport, further compromising their freshness and nutritional value. By contrast, most frozen fruits and vegetables are promptly blanched, boiled, or steamed and then frozen within hours of being picked, a process that helps lock in both fresh taste and nutritional value. Frozen produce is also available year-round and in most cases is cheaper than fresh. It’s high time, then, to stock your freezer with these underappreciated nutritional powerhouses.
“Food is safe in the freezer almost indefinitely, but its quality will decrease over time,” says Kathy Bernard, technical information specialist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. A few ballpark figures to keep in mind: Frozen hamburgers should be used within three to four months, cooked leftovers are good up to six months, and frozen steaks and whole chicken or turkey can last up to a year. Food hoarders, rejoice!
4 of 15
What About Defrosting?
You have three safe options for thawing food: in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave. “It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator,” Bernard says. Just chuck the frozen food in and wait until it’s soft. “Small items usually thaw overnight; larger foods may require a day or two. And especially large items like turkeys may take longer, approximately one day for every five pounds of weight,” she says. “If you don’t like to use the microwave for faster thawing, your best bet is the cold-water method.” Place food in a leakproof plastic bag and float it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold, and after thawing, cook immediately. If you’re defrosting food in the microwave, cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving, Bernard says.
5 of 15
1) Corn on the Cob
At just 59 calories per ear, corn is packed with fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins. It’s a great source of carotenoids like lutein that protect your eyes from macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in adults. Add corn kernels to your salad, soup, or black-bean salsa. Sauté with finely chopped jalapeño, cilantro, and a sprinkle of cotija cheese for Mexican esquites (that’s “toasted corn” to you, gringo). Or enjoy the whole ear. Just skip the butter.
6 of 15
Broccoli helps lower cholesterol and detoxifies the body. It’s also a good source of fiber to aid in digestion, kaempferol to fight inflammation, and vitamins A and K to ward off vitamin D deficiency. Toss florets with whole-wheat pasta or orzo; use them in omelets; or stir-fry with thinly sliced sirloin, chopped garlic, and low-sodium soy sauce for a quick dinner.
7 of 15
3) Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts help lower cholesterol, protect your DNA, and have anti-cancer benefits. Throw them on a sheet pan with a little olive oil and chopped garlic and roast at 400°F for 35 to 40 minutes.
8 of 15
It’s hard to believe how much cancer-fighting power is packed into such a small superfruit. Keep them on hand to boost the flavor and nutrients in your protein shakes, or add frozen blueberries to hot oatmeal.
9 of 15
5) Winter Squash
Winter squash is like a multivitamin on your plate, protecting you from a host of ills. Top pureed winter squash with cinnamon and maple syrup for a cold-weather treat. Or for a more savory soup, blend squash, low-sodium broth, and sautéed onion and garlic. Add nonfat Greek yogurt for a creamier variation.
10 of 15
Packed with cancer-reducing antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, spinach is also a good source of iron. You can add chopped spinach to lasagna, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, or any sauce or soup for added flavor and nutrients
11 of 15
Research links cherries’ red color—provided by the fruit’s powerful anthocyanins—to a reduction in inflammation, total cholesterol, and belly fat. Defrost some cherries and put them on top of plain Greek yogurt.
12 of 15
8) Green Beans
Rich in eye-protecting phytonutrients, green beans also help your bones stay strong, thanks to their high concentration of silicon. Use them in a classic Niçoise salad made with omega-3-packed tuna and potatoes, or sauté with sliced garlic, cherry tomatoes, and red-pepper flakes for a spicy low-cal side.
13 of 15
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that’s great for your vision, and heart-healthy antioxidants. Throw frozen carrots into stews and soups—do so earlier in the cooking process if you prefer them more tender or toward the end for a little more crunch.
14 of 15
These fruits are high in calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Add sliced peaches to cottage cheese for a high-protein, low-carb post-workout snack; bake with cinnamon and a touch of agave; top with low-fat frozen yogurt.
15 of 15
This cruciferous vegetable helps reduce the risk of cancer, particularly prostate, bladder, andcolon cancers. Chop in the food processor, then microwave in a covered dish for an alternative to rice; or puree with fennel seeds to make a dip or soup.