preserved pineapple rings

Just because it’s autumn doesn’t mean you have to wait to have your favorite summertime fruits and vegetables. This article aims to take on the myth that fresh is always best when choosing fruits and vegetables.

Many people have heard this myth in the past; this can cause them to want to shun canned or frozen varieties. Avoiding these options, especially during the winter months in the Midwest, can significantly limit options and variety. Exploring the similarities and differences between fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables can help when deciding which choice is best for you and your family.

According to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services MyPlate nutrition guide, fruits and vegetables should make up the largest proportion of foods consumed each day. By filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at mealtimes, you maximize nutrient and fiber intake while filling up on these good-for-you foods. A recent study analyzed the nutritional value of all forms of fruits and vegetables and found that fresh, canned and frozen produce all contribute to a healthy diet. With this being said, all forms have positives and negatives associated with them.

​​Canned vegetables, fruits

​​Let’s begin with canned produce. Fruits and vegetables scheduled for canning are picked and processed on the same day. This reduces nutrient loss that can occur during shipping and preserves nutrients for longer storage. One drawback associated with canned produce is that it often has added sodium or sugar. When shopping for canned vegetables, look for varieties that are labeled “no added salt” or “low-sodium.”

​If you can’t find your favorite veggies in low- or no sodium-varieties, try draining and rinsing the product before cooking it in fresh water. This can reduce the sodium by 9 percent to 23 percent, depending on the vegetable. When purchasing canned fruits, look for options that are packed in water or juice. Try to avoid fruits packed in syrup. Be sure to consume canned produce immediately after opening for maximum flavor and nutritional value. Never store leftover fruits or veggies in the cans they were packed in.

Frozen produce

Frozen produce is similar to canned produce. When it is scheduled for freezing, frozen produce is picked and processed on the same day so that nutrient losses are kept to a minimum. Some vegetables require blanching, a process in which the vegetables are very briefly dipped in hot water to preserve color and texture.

Some minimal loss of vitamins may occur during this process. However, color, overall quality and nutrient retention are maximized. Frozen fruits and veggies have a shorter storage life than canned varieties so they should be consumed within 8 to 12 months of purchase. When choosing frozen vegetables, look for varieties with no added salt, sauces or cheese. The ideal frozen vegetable ingredient list should only include the vegetable that’s in the package. When shopping for frozen fruit, choose varieties that are unsweetened so that you can control the type and amount of sweetener you use when you’re ready to consume the fruit.

Produce begins to lose nutrients and quality as soon as it’s picked and can lose between 10 percent to 50 percent of less stable nutrients during the shipping and holding process.

preserved can of peaches​For both canned and frozen vegetables and fruits, keep in mind that they are picked at their peak of ripeness. This is often not the case for produce that is intended to be consumed in its fresh form.

Fresh fruits, vegetables

Time to talk about fresh produce! There’s nothing quite like a freshly picked, perfectly ripe peach or a tomato picked from the garden in summer. However, unless you grow your own garden or have access to farmer’s markets and other locally grown  produce, you may be consuming items that were picked days or weeks before being shipped over long distances.

The bottom line is, don’t assume that the “fresh” produce you just purchased at the grocery store is better than a canned or frozen variety. A great deal depends on when the produce was picked, if it was at its peak ripeness when it was picked, how far the produce has traveled  and how long it’s been hanging around the grocery store waiting to be purchased. All of this is important because, in the United States, the average family wastes about 20 percent of the vegetables and 15 percent of the fruits that we purchase, mostly in fresh form.

So, what can you do to reduce food waste?

Select fruits and veggies wisely; buy only what you need, store fresh produce properly and prepare fresh produce using methods that help retain the most nutritional value. To learn more about storing fresh produce, visit This website also provides a link to a free downloadable app called “Is My Food Safe?” which provides a complete guide to the shelf life of foods consumed at home.

What can you do to make sure your family is getting enough fruits and veggies while making the most your grocery dollars?

Consider purchasing a variety of all forms – canned, frozen and fresh. Also, purchase fresh produce that’s in season and consume it within a few days. Keep canned and frozen varieties on hand for times when schedules are hectic and preparation time is short. If you are in an Indiana 4-H club or are a 4-H club leader in Indiana, consider offering fruits and/or veggies as a snack during club meetings; discuss the reasons why all forms of produce can fit into a healthy diet.

Also, consider taking the 4th H for Health Challenge. This 6-week lesson plan helps youth focus on smart snacking, drinking more water and moving more. Because healthy behaviors are embedded in the 4-H mission, 4-H club meetings provide a perfect opportunity to teach the science behind healthy habits and role model healthy behaviors.

If you are interested in additional 4th H for Health resources, contact me at for more information. Visit our Indiana 4-H Facebook page (@Indiana4H) and tell us how you incorporate all forms of fruits and veggies into your busy schedule.

Don’t forget to “Pledge your health to better living” by trying a new fruit or vegetable and sharing it with your family and club! It will definitely be worth it!

Angie Frost is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension and registered dietitian. She leads a team of county Purdue Extension staff, and collaborates with campus specialists and faculty to provide opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about healthy living.

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming by creating technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities. She collaborates with Purdue Extension staff and faculty to develop new ideas for learning in 4-H for youth and adults.