Last week several people told me they can't afford to eat vegetables this time of year because they're just too expensive. Many people assume that only fresh vegetables provide the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals our bodies need for good health, but canned and frozen vegetables contribute significant amounts of nutrients.

The National Institutes of Health notes that vegetables frozen or canned right after picking are almost as nutritious as fresh vegetables. Since very few local fresh vegetables are available this time of year, relying on frozen or canned vegetables makes both financial and nutrition sense.

Transporting and storing fresh vegetables can lead to losses of almost half of their original vitamin content.

Some vitamins are lost during canning and freezing, but because canned or frozen vegetables can be safely stored for longer periods of time, their overall nutrition content remains high. Minerals and fiber in vegetables is not changed with canning, freezing, or cooking.

All types of vegetables count toward your daily recommended intake: 1-2 cups for children and at least 3 cups for adults. Just-picked, fresh vegetables from your garden or the local farmer's market are wonderful when they're available, but during the cold New England winter months stock your shelves and freezer with canned or frozen vegetables for greater variety and excellent nutrition.

Tips to choose the healthiest vegetables:

Choose vegetables canned without added salt.

Look for plain frozen vegetables, and avoid ones with added butter or seasonings.

Remember that frozen and canned vegetables are pre-cooked. Cook quickly in the microwave or steam until heated through to preserve nutrients.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com. She likes to quickly microwave frozen broccoli and toss with a splash of olive oil and toasted walnuts.