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Tuesday
Apr132010

Hooray for Sorta Homemade

There are lots of cookbooks for easy recipes. The fewer ingredients and steps while retaining the flavor, the better! But what if the ingredients in the recipe were already fully prepped so that you could skip the washing, chopping, and trimming and get right to the fun part: cooking! That concept is exactly what Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley offers. Sue Schochet, a former executive in corporate America, started this unique "meal assembly" business in 2007. She had always enjoyed healthful cooking, but like most working folks, didn't have time to cook every day. Which meant a lot of fast food or takeout prepared foods from the supermarket. She found that even healthful-looking takeout meals weren't always what they appeared. She left the corporate world with a mission to help busy people improve their diets and get more hands-on with their food. 

Healthy Habits Kitchen gives you a jump-start by providing:

  • Inside the meal kitA meal "kit" based on a healthful recipe, tested and tweaked by Sue
  • The freshest meats, vegetables, grains and sauces—all preportioned and packaged
  • Nutritional breakdown per serving for calories, fat, protein and sodium
  • An analysis for overall nutritional balance by a registered dietitian

 

The packaged meals come refrigerated or frozen with cooking instructions. Most kits are ready in less than 20 minutes using the stovetop or oven (no microwaving allowed here!). They list accurate nutrition information and the average cost per serving ranges from $7.50 to $10.00. I base this on the "hearty portion" size (e.g., a small kit would contain two "hearty portions" as opposed to a "healthy portion," which would provide three servings per kit). I doubt the "healthy portion" would satisfy most appetites.

There are many things I applaud about this business. The prepped but raw food can help people who are intimidated by recipes but who desire to cook. The high quality ingredients and unfussy instructions can help build confidence in novices so that they might eventually crack open a cookbook. The ingredients lists are short and recognizable (no fillers and artificial stuff). Sue also keeps Healthy Habits Kitchen very community focused such as frequenting farmers markets to take advantage of locally grown produce; partnering with local charities like the Ellie Fund, which provides free meals and support services to women undergoing breast cancer treatment; and hosting periodic workshops by reputable speakers that empower people to live healthy lifestyles.

Orzo, Garbanzo Beans, Lemon, Feta and Dill

Of course, the most important factor of a food business is taste. I sampled two entrees: Fruited Curry Chicken, and the vegetarian Orzo with Garbanzo Beans, Lemon, Feta and Dill. After cooking, both emitted wonderful aromas but admittedly tasted slightly lacking; maybe it was the salt I longed for (and I rarely even cook with salt let alone add salt at the table) or a slight richness. I liked how the orzo dish was light but very nourishing and I felt quite full after eating it. It had a nice zing with the feta and lemon. I sneaked the salt shaker with the curry chicken but otherwise the flavors were comforting with big chunks of Bell & Evans chicken and the unexpected but perfect addition of apricots and prunes. My husband, who usually scowls at takeout labeled "healthy" even though he eats a good diet, described it as the type of food he'd cook for himself but not restaurant quality (keeping in mind that "restaurant quality" flavor is often enhanced with butter, cream, and lots of salt!). Overall this is a reasonably priced service for busy people who need that extra inspiration to eat and cook healthfully every day. 

*Get $5.00 off a first purchase by using the promo code NUTRITION at check out!

Fruited Curry Chicken with Jasmine Rice

Tuesday
Apr062010

Cowboy Calzones

Did you know that homemade calzones are as easy to make as pizza? Roll out dough, stuff, fold, bake! You can make perfectly sized portions and fill them with whatever suits your craving. Have a variety of cooked lean meats, cheeses, and veggies ready and let your family personalize their own creations. Leftovers make a scrumptious, portable no-leak sandwich for the office. Try this downright delicious recipe by a mildly successful blogger named Ree Lol modified by Christina to cut out some of the fat—yeeha!

Tuesday
Mar302010

My Hero Naked Chef

What could possibly tear me away from Celebrity Apprentice? Flipping channels during a commercial and catching Jamie Oliver (aka The Naked Chef) stare down the piercing glares of five cafeteria workers. In his new show, Food Revolution, Oliver's mission is to save the children in a West Virginian town from a life of health problems where almost half of the adults are obese and deep fryers are the prized cooking appliance. Oliver is known for cooking with raw, fresh ingredients. He admits to not even using supermarkets, instead seeking out specialist growers, organic suppliers, and farmers. The title Naked Chef doesn't refer to his fashion preference, but to the simplicity of his cooking style.

Oliver's cooking shows have always intimidated me because of the all-fresh ingredients. I wouldn't call his cooking style "simple"; the rustic nature of his ingredients suggests simple or basic living, but the actual recipes are the kind you have to read through a few times before understanding. The fact that he never uses supermarkets automatically means that he and I are from different planets. His food philosophy is more an inspiration, like Martha Stewart evokes, offering a lifestyle that I can take an idea or two from rather than trying to emulate completely.

That said, I declare Oliver as my hero because he's taking a stand on a gargantuan problem, even if he's a one-man army. He has the tough challenge of meeting USDA's strict menu Oliver deconstructing a raw chickenguidelines while coming within budget for a fresh-food menu, and teaching the town's kids and adults some basic cooking skills. He could lose the demeaning quips like asking one of the lead cafeteria cooks how long she'd been a "lunch lady." But I saw his concern where most of the school's food staples were not just processed but loaded with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A daily diet so processed that many of the kids couldn't tell a fresh tomato from a potato. Food processing, which includes freezing, canning, and salting—anything that prolongs the shelf life of fresh food or alters it to reduce harmful bacteria or increase convenience—doesn't have to be unhealthy unless it's also full of saturated fat, salt, and artificial enhancers. Flash-frozen produce and pasteurized milk are examples of healthful processed foods.

I didn't mind the pizza slices on the kids' breakfast trays but I did cringe as they ate that along with sugared cereals floating in pink (strawberry) milk. School food needs tweaking to offer more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthier vending machine choices. I don't believe schools' menus of overly processed foods are just from budget contraints but that more creative thinking and use of local resources are needed. Schools should set a high standard of offering nutritious foods. I will continue to tune in, eagerly hoping that Oliver's "seed of change" will take place.

You can view missed episodes online at Hulu and ABC.