It’s true that many frozen foods are ultra-processed foods; think high-sodium frozen pizza, burritos, and appetizers, or high-sugar sweets like ice cream, pies, or pastries. But that doesn’t mean all frozen food is bad for us, or that frozen whole and minimally processed foods are less healthy than their fresh counterparts. Here’s how shopping in the frozen aisle can make your life easier and healthier.

Frozen doesn’t mean less nutritious food

Frozen food can be a very nutritious option. Sure, it depends on the specific type of food and how it’s processed. Reading the ingredient labels on frozen food packages, avoiding harmful additives and excess added sugar and sodium, and looking for minimally processed options are still important. 

One thing you don’t have to worry about is whether your frozen corn has fewer vitamins and minerals than fresh corn: Fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak ripeness, which preserves their nutritional content. That means that the freezing process can help retain essential vitamins and minerals. If your fresh ears of corn have been in the fridge for a while, your frozen corn is likely more nutritious. Same goes for strawberries, green beans, broccoli, carrots, pineapple, and your other favorite fruits and veggies.

Frozen food can improve your family’s health

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that frozen foods can be an affordable way to consume more fruits and vegetables. For example, frozen berries are just as nutritious and much more affordable than fresh berries. In addition, frozen foods help you eliminate unnecessary food waste! And because frozen foods last longer, you won't blow your grocery budget on foods that spoil before you can eat them. 

Learn more: Simple, inexpensive ways to eat more fruit and veggies

White plate with frozen food strawberries, brussels sprouts, green beans
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Frozen food is convenient and improves food access

Frozen foods also provide convenience. After all, when was the last time you steamed a fresh artichoke? We thought so. Frozen hearts to the rescue. Just defrost in the microwave or thaw overnight in the fridge. And with frozen, you dodge the added sodium in canned ’chokes. 

Preparation time is also a consideration when you have an active lifestyle. After all, with busy lives and busy families, time is a luxury for many. Many frozen vegetables and fruits, like frozen greens and frozen cherries, have already been washed, cleaned, stemmed, chopped, etc., saving valuable time in meal preparation. 

Not only is it faster and simpler to prepare frozen greens than it is to clean, chop, and cook fresh greens, but it’s also a lot easier to find a store that carries frozen veggies and fruits than it is to find a similarly stocked produce section. And not everyone lives near a grocery store that can stock a ton of fresh foods—76 American counties have no full-service grocery stores at all. But chances are good that you can find some winning items in the frozen food section of many stores that sell food.

And since frozen foods are more readily available in stores that sell food and offer year-round availability, you can access produce that may not be in season. For example, unless it's springtime, frozen peas are as close to fresh taste and texture as you’re going to get. They also have a longer shelf life and can be stored for extended periods, which reduces food waste. That’s good for the Earth and your budget!

How to choose the most nutritious frozen foods

We want to make it easy to choose wisely. Here are some things to think about when shopping the frozen food aisle:

Frozen fruits and vegetables

Since these are often frozen at their peak ripeness, their nutritional content is locked in, meaning they’re just as nutritious as fresh produce. So, they can be a convenient and very nutritious option, providing the same vitamins and minerals as fresh produce. 

And the best part? You don’t have to stock up on fresh produce to meet your daily serving guidelines. Frozen produce can be stored long-term and is perfect for bulking up less substantial meals. Just be sure to check labels or look for fruits and vegetables with no added sauce since sauces might contain too much sodium, added sugar, saturated fats, or additives. "Frozen fruits and vegetables are a healthful and economical alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid frozen vegetables with added sauces and frozen fruits with added sugars," advises Kimberly Snodgrass, RDN, LD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson.

Learn more at Nutrition Action: Where else can you look for top-notch fruit when fresh is in short supply?

packed frozen cut fish in freezer in food department of supermarket
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Frozen seafood and lean proteins

Frozen fish and lean proteins can be a good source of nutrients. Just like with fruits and vegetables, freezing can help preserve the nutritional value of proteins. In fact, the quality of frozen fish is often as good as or better than fresh. Look for individually vacuum-packed portions that are frozen solid with no ice crystals. Check the ingredients list on frozen shrimp and scallops to avoid high-sodium additives like sodium tripolyphosphate.

Learn more at Nutrition Action: How to keep your food safe at the supermarket

Frozen meals

Some frozen meals are designed to be balanced and nutritious, offering a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables. However, others may be high in sodium or added sugars, so reading the Nutrition Facts label is essential. 

Learn more at Nutrition Action: The best entrees in the freezer case

How to spice up a meal with frozen fruits, vegetables, and proteins

Try out a few of these ideas: 
•    Add half a cup of thawed frozen spinach or thawed frozen peas to your favorite pasta.
•    Add slightly thawed frozen blueberries, bananas, cherries, or strawberries to your oatmeal.
•    Add frozen grilled chicken strips to your favorite stir-fry.
•    Stir a thawed bag of corn into a batch of simmering chili.
•    Scatter some thawed, thinly sliced pineapple chunks over a pizza before baking.
•    Add a few thawed frozen berries to your yogurt.
•    Stir-fry a cup or two of frozen corn, peas, or riced cauliflower in your vegetable fried rice.
•    Add thawed frozen bananas or mango to some vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert.
•    Heat frozen grilled chicken breasts and add to salads, soups, or casseroles.
•    Be creative; the options are endless!

A variety of unwrapped frozen meals
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How to spot the less-healthy frozen options

Like any food, there are healthy options and unhealthy frozen meal options. But don’t be discouraged. Want to know what to avoid when shopping for frozen foods? Here are a few things to be aware of:

High levels of sodium

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed, but not finalized, voluntary sodium-reduction guidance for the food industry. Some frozen meals are high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and other health issues when consumed in excess. Though many frozen fruits and vegetables have no added salt, many frozen meals, like frozen pizza, do add salt. And in the U.S., we love our pizza so much that one out of eight of us has it on any given day. This makes pizza the second leading contributor of sodium in the U.S. diet, just behind bread. 

Learn more at Nutrition Action: How to buy—or make—a better pizza

Added sugars

Some frozen foods, especially desserts and processed snacks, may contain added sugars, which can contribute to health problems when consumed in large quantities. Choose foods with low or no added sugars, or with safer sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract. 

Learn more at Nutrition Action: 6 frozen treats that beat ice cream

Unhealthy fats

Certain frozen foods, such as those containing cheese, cream, or red and processed meats, may be high in unhealthy fats like saturated fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease and other health issues. Try to stick with meals with around 3 grams of saturated fat or less.

Learn more at Nutrition Action: Finding the best frozen bowls

Potentially harmful additives

Some frozen foods contain additives that can be harmful when consumed regularly. Try to avoid meals that list ingredients like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and synthetic food dyes.

Learn more at Chemical Cuisine, our food additive safety ratings database

How to store frozen foods

The USDA emphasizes that the packaging type can determine frozen food quality. If you open a package of frozen vegetables or remove frozen meals from their original packaging, you can refreeze them as long as you wrap these packages as you would any food for storage. 

If any original packaging tears or opens while frozen, it's still safe to eat. But to preserve taste and quality, wrap them properly or store them in an airtight container or bag. Be sure to do this quickly since slow freezing creates large, disruptive ice crystals (i.e., freezer burn), while rapid freezing prevents large ice crystals from forming throughout the product. To freeze foods quickly, try not to stack foods that are not yet entirely frozen. Instead, spread them out in one layer until they're frozen solid; then, you can stack them to save space.

If you thaw food and change your mind, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking. It may change in taste because of the moisture loss from thawing, but it won't make you sick.

Frozen mixed berries
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How long is the food in your freezer safe to eat?

If you’ve ever peeked in your freezer and wondered if that bag of peas is still safe to eat, you’re not alone! According to the USDA, thousands of consumers call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline to ask about the safety of foods in their freezers. But freezing protects food because storing foods at zero degrees deactivates microbes such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness. That’s why these foods remain safe to eat after long periods of time. 

Food stored consistently at 0°F will always be safe. The length of storage will impact food quality—some foods will lose moisture faster than others—but the food’s safety is not affected. And on the topic of moisture: Freezer burn doesn't render food unsafe; it simply results in dry areas. This manifests as leathery, grayish-brown spots when air contacts the food's surface. Trim away freezer-burned sections either before or following cooking. If food is severely freezer-burned, it might need to be discarded due to quality concerns, says the USDA.

So you can feel confident about the frozen foods already sitting in your freezer. But keep in mind that once you thaw frozen food, microbes can regain activity and multiply, posing a risk of foodborne illness. In other words, treat thawed food just like any perishable food.

Bottom line: Frozen foods can be healthy, nutritious, and accessible

When chosen wisely, frozen foods provide tasty, affordable, convenient, and nutritious options. And remember, you don’t have to be perfect! Quickly scan the nutritional content to avoid frozen meals filled with sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat, and make the best choice that aligns with your family's dietary preferences and health goals. Happy trails in the frozen food section!

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As a nonprofit organization that takes no donations from industry or government, CSPI relies on the support of donors to continue our work in securing a safe, nutritious, and transparent food system. 

Please support CSPI today, and consider contributing monthly. Thank you.


M.M. Bailey (she/her) is a writer who lives in the DC metro area. Her writing has been featured in Fall for the Book’s October 2021 podcast series and can be found in Fractured Lit, This is What America Looks Like, Furious Gravity, and Grace In Love, among others. Her special interests have focused on cultural representations of gender and race, as well as the role of visual narratives in social justice and reform.

Support CSPI today

As a nonprofit organization that takes no donations from industry or government, CSPI relies on the support of donors to continue our work in securing a safe, nutritious, and transparent food system. Every donation—no matter how small—helps CSPI continue improving food access, removing harmful additives, strengthening food safety, conducting and reviewing research, and reforming food labeling. 

Please support CSPI today, and consider contributing monthly. Thank you.


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