Canned? Fresh? Frozen? WHICH ONE?!

by Kristen Engler

As parents, you have certainly been handed a challenge: how to feed your children fruits and vegetables so they can maintain a healthy lifestyle AND how to find a way to give them food they enjoy.  I understand that oftentimes it seems that succeeding in one of these areas means failing in the other.  So how can you ever reach that hallowed win-win situation?  Especially if you add in time (or lack thereof) as a factor!

Because of these three conditions, parents often turn to giving their children frozen or canned fruits and vegetables because these minimize preparation time. Canned fruits are typically packaged in fruit syrup, which kids love because of the sugary taste.  Giving them these canned fruits can minimize the time spent trying to convince them to eat fruit in general. However, are frozen and canned fruits and vegetables actually as nutritive as their fresh counterparts? Many parents worry where the truth lies in this mystery.

The answer to this question actually isn’t an easy one, and parents may be pleased to hear that each preparation type has its benefits. Before I researched this topic, I was convinced that fresh was the best and only way to go since it is the most natural.  Though it is recommended to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen and canned varieties can hold more nutrients, if prepared at the right time. Sometimes, fresh fruits and vegetables can lose their nutrients if they are shipped long distances because the packaging and shipping process increases the time between harvest and consumption.  Frozen fruits and vegetables, however, can hold all of those nutrients in if they are frozen immediately after harvest. In the freezing process, vegetables are first blanched (partially cooked in hot water) and are immediately blast-chilled. The blast-chilling process allows many of the nutrients that leached out during blanching to be trapped. Essentially, it is more beneficial and less expensive to purchase frozen fruits and vegetables that are out of season because the fresh versions are less nutritious once they are shipped.

Canned fruits and vegetables too can hold nutrients very well if packaged immediately after harvest. According to a study published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, some nutrients in canned products remain stable once sealed because the lack of oxygen limits oxidation.  Therefore, the nutrients are better protected during storage and transport. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that canned vegetables can be packaged with extra sodium and canned fruits can be submerged in sugary syrups. To avoid excessive and unnecessary ingredient intake, purchase low-sodium or low-sugar canned products. Look for canned fruits that are canned in their own juices because there are fewer calories and less sugar is present. If your child really enjoys the taste of canned fruit because of the sugary syrup, try watering the syrup down, so that they can still taste the sweetness, but aren’t consuming as much sugar.  You can even utilize the syrup to your advantage and put it in a fruit-filled smoothie for another tasty and nutritious snack your child will love!

The research that I have come across while trying to answer this puzzling question has also pointed me to one helpful conclusion: mix it up! The information above points out that the time between harvest and packaging plays a large role in nutrient retention.  It’s pretty challenging to be sure, for example, whether or not the can of pears you just opened were canned immediately after harvest.  If an excessive amount of time had passed before those pears were canned, there’s a good chance they are not as nutritious as a fresh pear could be.  However, a fresh pear may have been picked before it was ripe, and therefore did not have enough time to develop all of its vitamins and minerals. Possibly a frozen pear would be the better choice. With all of this in mind, experts recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways.  By mixing up the type of fruit you give your child, you are giving them the best opportunity to be exposed to all types of nutrients. So next time you feel unsure about opening that can of peaches or ripping open that bag of frozen green beans, remember variety is the spice of life!

Below, I’ve listed a recipe that utilizes fresh fruits in a colorful way and teaches children about the colors of the rainbow.  This is one way to utilize fresh produce to your advantage when trying to satisfy your picky eater! You can even mix the varieties of fruit you use to maximize nutrient content


Fruit Rainbow Wraps
makes 2 mini wraps, vegan

1 whole wheat wrap (lavash wrap)
3 Tbsp vegan cream cheese
2 cups chopped fruit, rainbow colors
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)


1) Slice your wrap into two rectangle pieces.
2) Spread 1 1/2 Tbsp of vegan cream cheese on each wrap

3) Sprinkle a bit of salt and/or pepper on the cheese (optional). Drizzle a bit of maple syrup over your cheese or fruit/veggies (also optional) Set aside.
4) Chop all your fruit into small flat cubes, about the size of a large raisin. Place all the fruit in a large bowl or arrange by color on a plate.
5) Toss or spritz fruit with lemon juice to preserve colors and prevent oxidation.
6) Set up the workspace and instruct the kids on what to do-build a rainbow out of the fruit.
7) Before rolling the wrap, you can spread the fruit around a bit if needed. Then Roll it up!

Fruit Rainbows. If you want you do a fruit-flavored rainbow you have a plethora of fruit options. Here are a few ideas.
Red: apple, cherry, berries, red pear, papaya, pomegranate seeds, peach (skin-out), nectarine
Orange: citrus, mango, peach, apricot
Yellow: banana, pineapple, apple,
Green: kiwi, apple, green grapes
Blue: blueberries, blackberry
Purple: purple grapes, plum, fig




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