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Chill out: Veggies from the freezer are fast, easy and convenient

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?

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