It’s a conversation that I have often with my friends and co-workers. Everyone has very strong opinions about whether or not one should eat canned foods. I have friends who only eat fresh foods. I have friends who eat mostly canned food. I know people who are somewhere in the middle. A couple of years ago, I had a vigorous discussion with a friend of mine about the evils of canned food. At least, it was her opinion that canned foods are evil. My opinion was that if you didn’t have access to fresh vegetables or fruit, or if you couldn’t afford them, canned products were acceptable as a source of fruits and vegetables. We continued to disagree, but she did a little research and finally agreed that canned food could be an acceptable part of a healthy diet.
There are studies which indicate the fresh produce may lose more nutrients before they get to the consumer than fruits and vegetables which are canned shortly after harvest. The same is true of frozen fruit and vegetables. These are frozen shortly after harvest and often maintain a higher nutrient content than fresh produce which may travel for more than a week after harvest before arriving in the produce section of your grocery store. Fresh produce may lose up to half of the nutrients within one to two weeks even if it’s refrigerated. This means that eating canned or frozen foods isn’t sacrificing nutrition. For many people, the economical advantages of canned and frozen vegetables may actually allow for a more balanced diet when fresh produce is not in season or affordable.
This brings us back to our initial question. When choosing between canned or frozen vegetables, which is the better value. I frequently find canned vegetables on sale for two cans for a dollar or fifty cents for a 14.5 to 15 ounce can. I frequently find frozen vegetables on sale for between .88 and .99 for a one pound package. I routinely find cut green beans, corn, peas, and mixed vegetables for sale at these prices. A 15 ounce can of peas lists the serving size as 1/2 cup and indicates that there are 3 1/2 servings per 15 ounce can. The 16 ounce bag of frozen peas indicates that a serving is 2/3 of a cup and there are 5 servings in the bag. I checked the nutrition and calories, and I was surprised to find that the same number of calories was present in each serving in spite of the serving of frozen peas being larger than the serving of canned peas. Using my lowest purchase price, the cost per serving is 14.3 cents per serving for canned vegetables and 17.6 cents per serving for frozen vegetables. Three cents per serving isn’t a lot of money, but it can add up. Over the course of a few weeks, those cents can become several dollars. In my market area, canned vegetables win as the most economical choice.
Canned fruit is always less expensive than frozen fruit, but in season, I can often find good deals on fresh fruit which I can preserve for myself by either freezing or home canning. When I run out of home preserved fruit, or when I can’t find any affordable fresh, canned fruit is always the most economical choice.
In my house, we don’t always choose the cheapest choice when it comes to vegetables. There are several vegetables that we don’t enjoy as much in their canned form. We really don’t like canned broccoli. Peas are something that we prefer to eat either fresh or frozen. In the case of peas, it’s not the taste of canned peas. We prefer the texture of frozen to canned. The canned vegetables that we regularly eat are beans, tomatoes, beets, diced green chilies, and corn. On occasion, we use canned mixed vegetables and peas. All other vegetables are purchased frozen or fresh. We also purchase some of the vegetables we buy in cans in their frozen form.
Canned foods are very versatile. They are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and they don’t take up freezer space. This is particularly important if you only have a small over the fridge freezer. If you only shop once, or twice, per month, using canned fruits and vegetables may be the only way you can ensure that you get the required number of servings of fruits and vegetables. Eating canned might not be as exciting as a diet of fresh foods, but canned food can be a part of a well balanced diet.
We are fortunate that we have a weekly farmer’s market in our area that runs year round. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of living in Southern California. There are fewer produce vendors during the winter months, but we can still find greens, citrus, and root vegetables that were harvested a day or two before. Because of this farmer’s market, I’m always able to supplement my canned and frozen fruits and vegetables with some fresh, seasonal, items.
Because canned foods are more economical for me, doesn’t mean that they are more economical in your market. If you pay 99 cents for a can of peas, your cost per serving is 28.3 cents per serving. If a one pound bag of frozen peas costs 1.19, the cost per serving is 23.8 cents. In that case, the frozen vegetables are the best value. I encourage you to do your shopping with a calculator in hand. Fortunately, smart phones often come with a free calculator installed. Bus Boy and Food Critic hate to go to the store with me because I am constantly stopping, pulling out my phone, and calculating the cost per ounce or serving. I do this so I can be certain that I am getting the best value for my money.
I encourage you do the same. Calculate the cost per serving. If you’ve never tried canned fruit and vegetables, give them a try. You may discover some that you like.