Every day I encourage people to eat more vegetables, optimally filling half of your lunch and dinner plates with a variety of vegetables, plus including vegetables as part of snacks. According to the USDA, eating more vegetables helps decrease risk of heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Eating more vegetables, which tend to be lower in calories than many other foods, also helps maintain a healthy weight. Vegetables are a good source of potassium, which can decrease blood pressure levels, reduce risk of kidney stones, and decrease bone loss. Vegetables are important sourc es of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C, plus they are naturally low in fat and contain no cholesterol.

This time of year frozen vegetables can add variety, color and flavor to your meals without breaking your weekly food budget. Frozen vegetables are picked at peak ripeness, which is also the time when their nutrient content is highest. Food companies process the vegetables immediately after picking to stop decomposition from enzymes and prevent harmful bacteria growth. Quickly heating the vegetables before freezing causes the loss of some vitamin B and C, and the flash-freezing process locks in the remainder of the nutrients.

Steam or microwave frozen vegetables in a very small amount of water as quickly as possible to preserve even more of their nutrient value. According to the Green Giant consumer hotline, you don't have to cook or even heat frozen vegetables as long as you thaw them in the refrigerator to prevent growth of bacteria that could lead to foodborne illness.

I like to add thawed frozen peas, green beans, and carrots to pasta salad or to brighten up chicken salad. Or thaw a bag of your favorite mixed vegetables and toss with dark leafy greens such as Romaine lettuce and baby spinach for a delicious salad. Whichever you prefer, thawed or cooked, frozen vegetables can play a starring role in your daily food choices.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com. She prepares both frozen and fresh vegetables for her family's meals.