The new USDA Daily Plate model recommends filling our plates half full with fruits and vegetables (per Fruits & Veggies More Matters.org). I think this is a terrific guideline, however, cost and seasonal availability can make achieving this goal a difficult task. One of my favorite tips to work more produce into the average diet is with frozen vegetables.
In college I had the opportunity to visit a frozen corn processing plant in the heart of our state’s agricultural region. It was an eye opening experience to see how corn gets from the farm to the frozen food isle of the local grocery store. Before visiting I had mentally lumped frozen and canned vegetables into the same category - ‘not fresh produce.’ From the very beginning of the field trip I realized my error in judgement. The farms supplying the plant are practically within spitting distance of the main buildings (no actual spitting, it was very clean). Driving between the fields we could see the harvesting equipment working to pick the ears. Trucks ready to take the fresh corn were queued up at the ends of the rows. Outside of the plant we could see where the trucks delivered the hours old ears to be processed for freezing. The interior of the plant was spacious and clean and workers were focused on getting the newly delivered corn through the production line with practiced efficiency.
As we proceeded around the large room I thought it smelled good, like perfectly peak of season corn. The machines moved quickly and the people working on the lines watched closely to keep any undesirable product from mixing in with the fresh produce. Nothing was added to the corn it was simply washed, the kernels removed, and then frozen all within a few hours of arriving at the plant. When we finally reached the freezers it was clear to me that the corn, all packaged up and ready to be shipped all over the world, was preserved at the best possible freshness. None of the corn had been out of the fields more than twenty four hours before arriving in the, warehouse sized, subzero freezers.
I keep our home freezer stocked with an array of commercially frozen vegetables. In my kitchen I add frozen vegetables to pretty much any dish. Frequently I’ll toss a cup or two of frozen vegetables in with pasta while it is boiling. I might combine veggies with some rice or couscous, a can of soup to make it more filling, frozen lean entrees, and the list goes on and on. One thing I do avoid is cooking the vegetables in their plastic packaging. Even the “steam in the bag” varieties I transfer to a microwave or oven safe container before heating. – We can tackle environmental nutrition another day.
Though I prefer to start with fresh seasonal produce, it is not always a convient or economical option. When produce is in season we rely less on the freezer but I still keep some on hand for a quick and easy addition to a recipe. I am looking forward to freezing fresh vegetables as they become available in the coming year, hopefully some from our own garden. After witnessing the processing with my own eyes I have no hesitations about using commercially frozen produce to keep our family eating vegetables. Choosing frozen produce may also be an easy way to have more organic foods available because it can be picked up year round and stored longer than fresh varieties.
I found an interesting article on EatingWell.com, it talks a bit more about the nutritional impact of freezing and if it is a good option. Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables: Are we Giving up Nutrition for Convenience? by Rachael Moeller Gorman November/December 2007