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Sunday
Nov172013

'Just Add Cooking' Delivers Dinner in a Box

I have a binder full of beautiful healthful recipes that I absolutely intend to cook...someday. Unfortunately my inspirations far outweigh my actions. Quick and easy end up deciding what appears on my dinner table during the week, much of that being microwaved frozen vegetables, whole wheat pasta or couscous, and beans or veggie burgers. So of course I gladly accepted a sample box of three dinners from a new Boston company, Just Add Cooking. It was established in 2012 by two Swedish-born dads who value unfussy, quick home-cooked meals. The idea stemmed from a service that is already very popular in Sweden: Boxes delivered to your home that contain easy recipes along with all the premeasured ingredients you will need to make the recipes. 

To begin, you go to their website to see if your zip code falls within the delivery area. If so, you create an account and choose a plan (3, 4, or 5 meal box; the prices range from $107-$139). Each recipe feeds four people. They deliver once a week on Sundays between 2-6pm. You don't have to be home for the delivery; you'll receive a text when it's dropped off. You can choose from 5-7 recipes each week for your box, with three vegetarian options. Check out their recipe page for beautiful photos of each dish as well as the full recipe so you can see if the ingredients fit your family's dietary needs. You can cancel a week's order if you don't need it, or cancel your subscription entirely at any time through your profile page. The website is very user-friendly.

I chose sausage and broccoli rabe over pasta, haddock in white wine curry, and a chicken cassoulet with chorizo and pancetta. I don't eat a lot of meat and these recipes also used cream and butter, but they actually seemed the "lightest" of the choices and I figured I could modify the ingredients if needed. My box arrived a little early at 1:50pm on a Sunday. The ingredients were covered with cooling packs.

Also inside was an envelope with the three recipes, each just one page long including a photo of the finished meal. The directions are organized in rows, with priority of steps running left to right. For example, you are told to cook the pasta and as that boils you will chop the vegetables.

The ingredients were perfectly premeasured, from the meats to vinegars to herbs and spices. So no waste! The quality of the ingredients, especially the meats/fish looked very fresh and high quality. The website states that they seek out fresh, local and in-season ingredients.

Below is the sausage pasta dish. It looked the easiest with only seven ingredients. I followed all directions exactly as listed and I have to admit that I was impressed by a couple of things. One is that from prep to serving the pasta in bowls, it took me exactly 30 minutes as stated on the recipe. The other is that the flavor of the dish was pretty awesome. The ingredients didn't look that special but the meal was hearty and yet not heavy. I've never cooked broccoli rabe before and it tasted so yummy. I'll definitely be buying it in the store. My husband loved it too!

If I had to make one request, it would be for a wider selection of healthful recipes with more vegetables, beans and grains and less butter and cream. But the quality and taste of the recipes I made were excellent and they do seem to be adding new healthier recipes every few weeks. I think the price of these boxes for convenience and quality is reasonable, considering that the cost of take-out for a family of four would cost as much or more. 

Just Add Cooking is now offering a special promotion in which they will donate $5 to the Greater Boston Food Bank's Holiday Food Drive for each box delivered in November. FitMamaEats readers can also receive a $20 discount—just mention the code FITMAMA at checkout. Try it out during the busy holiday season!

Disclosure: I received a 3-meal box for my honest review of this program.

Sunday
Nov032013

Plant-Happy Eats at Newton's Walnut Grille

Photo courtesy of YelpI'm always excited when I hear about a new vegetarian restaurant. Maybe it's because I haven't yet found one that I absolutely love. A client tipped me off to Walnut Grille, which opened in Newton Highlands in March this year. The mixed reviews on Yelp didn't deter me from heading straight over with my family. We arrived at noon on a Saturday and it wasn't crowded. What first struck me was the odd decor. After viewing online the innovative menu, I was expecting to see either an earthy decor with a lot of browns and deep greens, or ultra modern with black, white and neutrals. I was greeted by green, but a lime green, as well as sparkly silver chandeliers with purple crystals and silver-trimmed booth chairs. It also smelled of incense. The waitress greeted us quickly and was friendly. I noticed that there were several families with young children, so it appeared a kid-friendly place.

Jake enjoying his milk while I dive into my first-ever "green" shakeThe majority of the menu is vegan and has a nice selection of soups, salads and appetizers that are out of the ordinary such as the Ocean Salad with hijiki (brown sea vegetable), jicama and soba noodles, and Gobi Manchurian, cauliflower coated with chickpea flour and cooked in a spicy sweet tomato sauce. I stayed basic, figuring that if their simple menu items tasted great, I'd venture back for the more exciting options. I ordered the Beluga Lentil Soup, All Greens Juice (organic cucumber, celery, spinach, kale and parsley), and PLT made with portabella mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, tempeh bacon and vegan Thousand Island dressing on crusty whole wheat bread. My son ordered cheese pizza from the kids menu, and my husband ordered the Buckwheat Pancakes made with sweet potatoes and dates, served with fresh fruit and vegan whipped cream. 

I've made fruit smoothies with greens at home but I'd never tasted an all-greens drink. It was blended to order and my first thought was earthy. I immediately detected cucumber and celery. The juice wasn't sweet or chilled, so it wasn't too pleasant going down, but I guess I got what I ordered! The lentil soup was fine but not very special. The ingredients tasted homemade but I'd wished there were more lentils or that it had deeper flavors.  
 

My PLT plate looked delicious so I dug in. Maybe a little too quickly because I'd eaten most of the sandwich before realizing that I forgot to look for the tempeh bacon. The sandwich was loaded with shaved juicy mushrooms and the dressing was pleasant and tangy but I couldn't recall other flavors or textures resembling soy bacon. The sweet potato fries were perfect, my favorite part of the whole meal. They're not usually cut that thick but were enjoyable because they tasted freshly made.

My husband's pancakes were large and covered with chunks of fresh fruit. He said they tasted ok, nothing special. I stole a bite and thought the buckwheat made them a bit heavy and dense. I couldn't detect any sweet potatoes in the batter and wondered if they were even in there.

My son's pizza was generous for a kid size. Unfortunately he took one bite and wouldn't eat the rest. It had a really thick layer of cheese so it was very oily and rich, but the strange part was the sauce. Actually I didn't see a sauce, but there was a very tangy flavor under the cheese like balsamic vinegar. It was also loaded with garlic. I've learned that the one taste kids don't typically enjoy is tart! It was just too strong-tasting for my son to appreciate. I took the leftovers home for myself to eat later but it was too greasy and odd tasting even for me so I threw it out.

I so wanted to love this place and give a raving review but with each menu item I kept saying "it's ok, it's fine." Most of the food lacked any memorable flavors, except ironically the kids pizza, which should have tasted the simplest. I would be interested to visit again and try the dinner specials because I'm a fan of all their ingredients—seasonal vegetables, fruits, grains and plant proteins—there must be one thing on that menu that I will love! Walnut Grille is open weekdays 11am-10pm and weekends 9am-Sat 10pm/Sun 9pm with brunch on weekends. There's plenty of free parking in a shared lot behind the restaurant. If you've eaten here and recommend a certain dish, please let me know!

Monday
Oct282013

Getting Kids Excited to Move at the Healthy Kids Summit

I was bummed to miss a great event that happened last Tuesday, the 5th Annual Healthy Kids Summit that took place at Gillette Stadium. It was hosted by the New England Patriots and Stop & Shop Supermarket as part of the NFL’s Hometown Huddle, a partnership between the United Way and NFL that involves NFL teams across the country with hands-on community service projects. The Healthy Kids Summit's mission is to equip parents, caregivers and youth with the knowledge and skills needed for kids to live fit and make healthy choices. More than 400 kids and adults attended this fun, action-packed day that included health and fitness trivia led by a panel of local health experts, followed by on-field skills and drills led by members of the New England Patriotssee below!

All pics courtesy of Stop & Shop

Quarterback Ryan Mallet

Offensive Guard Joe AndruzziDefensive Back Devin McCourty

 

Julie Menounos, MS, RD, nutritionist for Stop & Shop and one of the health panelists (pictured above, 2nd adult from left admist the sea of kids!), offers her best tips to help kids eat healthier:

#1 Eat breakfast every day. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom and on the playground with better concentration, problem-solving skills, and eye-hand coordination. For a quick breakfast burrito, spread peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla wrap, insert a banana, and roll up. Wash down with a cup of milk for a balanced breakfast. Click here for more yummy breakfast ideas.

#2 Offer at least one fruit or vegetable at meals and snacks. MyPlate recommends filling half of our plate with fruit or non-starchy vegetables (most veggies except for peas, corn and potatoes). Mix fruit and vegetables into family favorites: add fruit into breakfast cereals and shredded veggies into pasta. Remember, it takes 10-15 exposures of a new food for your child to develop a taste for it so don't give up!

#3 Cut back on sugary drinks by offering water or milk at meals. The healthiest beverages are water, milk, or one 4-ounce serving of 100% fruit juice daily. If looking for a bubbly beverage alternative, try flavored seltzer water or mix a splash of your child's favorite 100% fruit juice into plain seltzer water.

#4 Show your kids how to check the "serving size" on the Nutrition Facts Label. It’s never too early to start reading food labels. Teach your child to check the serving size before eating a packaged food (think cereal, crackers, soup). Many packages often contain more than one serving so you have to multiply the numbers for calories, sodium and sugar by the number of servings you eat.

#5 Be a good role model. If you want your child to eat veggies, then you have to eat them too. Children are very receptive to verbal and nonverbal expressions. So if you stick your tongue out at broccoli, it's likely that your child will too. You don't have to be perfect all the time, but if your child sees you eating right and exercising, it sends the message that good health is important to your family. Developing healthy habits early makes it that much easier to stay healthy as an adult.