After a recent trip to my local supermarket, I feel like I owe the frozen vegetable section an apology. Aside from the odd bag of frozen peas I grab now and again — one cup of which is usually intended for an Alfredo-y peas-and-ham pasta dish and the rest are left to develop tiny horrid frost beards until pressed into service as a first-aid device — I have ignored you.
Little did I know, I've been missing trendy time-savers like riced cauliflower ($3.99 for 10 ounces by Birds Eye, the company that pioneered frozen foods in the 1930s) and spiralized butternut squash by that other familiar name, Green Giant ($3.99 for 10 ounces).
In her seminal book What to Eat, New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle says, "I have a soft spot in my nutritionist's heart for frozen fruits and vegetables. They are vastly underrated. At best, they are picked at peak ripeness, flash frozen, and more or less ready to eat whenever you want them."
They are obvious time-savers (no washing or chopping) and have reputation for being cheaper than their fresh counterparts — but are they truly cheaper?
Sometimes it is easy to tell. For instance, at my local Ralph's (a Southern California Chain owned by Kroger's), a 12-ounce bag of artichoke hearts at $7 seems an obvious savings in time and money over buying a bunch of artichokes at $3 a pound just to chop out the hearts.
Often it comes down to usage: For a kale salad, obviously you'll go with the fresh sold in bunches that work out to about 6 cents an ounce and must be washed, leaves separated from tough stalks, and chopped. The frozen is more at 13 cents an ounce, but how easy would it be to drop those frosty bits into a kale and bean soup?
Putting these concerns aside, I compared prices and weights of other fresh-versus-frozen veggies at the same store and came out with five clear winners in the frozen section.
Everyone's favorite starter at Japanese restaurants boasts fiber, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium. My freezer section stocked three different types to choose from and prices ranged from 19 to 25 cents an ounce, while the fresh came in at 39 cents an ounce.
Broccoli is plentiful in many forms both fresh and frozen at Ralph's. While fresh comes in at about 11 cents an ounce, a 12-ounce store brand frozen bag was on sale for $1 or about 8 cents an ounce.
Is it my imagination or are roasted Brussels sprouts on every restaurant menu in America right now? Savvy home cooks are recommending tossing the frozen sprouts in olive oil and spices and putting them right into the roasting pan for best results. The frozen guys at my store were five cents cheaper per ounce than the fresh.
The vegetable that launched a thousand casseroles is still a bargain in the frozen section. And maybe those '50s housewives knew something: beans are loaded with fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folic acid, calcium, and magnesium. They were five cents cheaper per ounce than their fresh counterparts, saving you 80 cents a pound.
In my experience, a fresh pea in the supermarket is a rare thing. (Trader Joe's is the only place I see them regularly, usually priced at $3.49 for 10 ounces.) Ralph's did not have any the day I visited, making the frozen variety not only a bargain but also the only option. (Birds Eye Sweet Garden Peas were $2.19 for 13 ounces.) It might be time to make my daughter's favorite pasta again.
What vegetables do you buy frozen?