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Tuesday
Apr272010

Do the Zoo

Since my son Jake came along, my hubby and I have been immersed in kid stuff we never realized existed, like the baby-mecca Atrium Mall for strolling and kid-friendly eateries, BJs for diapers, Children's Orchard for used kid clothing and toys, and searches for Lightening McQueen kids beds. Jake is also why, even though we've been in Boston for over 10 years, we finally decided to visit Franklin Park Zoo. Plus we wanted to appreciate Earth Day last week (and I happened to nab free zoo tickets from my workplace!). This place is an inner-city gem. I've been to big national zoos where I had a front row view of chubby panda bears gnawing on bamboo and emperor penguins lined up in a row, so I wasn't expecting much from this smaller zoo. But I was really impressed with the comfortable tree-lined walking paths and animals that actually looked well-fed and not bored to death. Most of the animals sauntered close to the observation glass or even roamed freely along our walking paths, as if posing for the endless camera flashbulbs: 

 

 

I was even impressed by their Giddy-Up Grill that served healthful kid-friendly snacks like Yoplait yogurt, fruit cups, pudding, plain milk, string cheese and granola bars. For myself, I found a vegetable spinach wrap stuffed full with roasted eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, red pepper, hummus and tomato for only $6.50. A basic sandwich but with very fresh vegetables and overall tasting so good that the clerk surprised me when she said the wraps were made in their own kitchen. Not something I'd expect from a high-volume park.    

 Yummy zoo food: roasted veggie wrap

If you happen to fall in love with one of the numerous fuzzy (or slimy!) cuties here, consider "Zoodopting" an animal to help with the high cost of their food and care. You get a certificate of adoption, a stuffed toy of your adopted animal, and a fact sheet. It's a great learning experience for kids and helps increase their awareness of the larger world around them. Visit Zoodoption for info.

Tuesday
Apr202010

Bean Appétit!

That's the title of a great new cookbook that lures kids into the kitchen. The cover declares "hip, healthy, and fun"— perfect words to inspire busy families to enjoy eating and cooking together. Bean Appétit was written by the creators of Bean Sprouts, a successful healthy café and cooking school in Wisconsin that teaches kids how to whip up yummy recipes, which are shared in this cookbook. I can't rave enough...it's food, it's education, it's art! Not just a collection of kid-friendly recipes, every colorful page displays funky graphics or photographs ofTurkey Dragonfly Sandwich creative meals like Stick Stacks (kebobs of mini pancakes and fruit) and Bug Bites (a turkey sandwich with fruit slices fashioned to look like a dragonfly). There are recurring sections such as "Table Talk" that asks thought-provoking questions like "If you had to name your pet after a cereal, what name would you choose?" or "Refined Bean" that reveals sometimes surprising table manners from around the globe. One cute segment lists tasty variations on making your own trail mixes with just three ingredients: my fave was Elefunky Monkey with peanuts, banana chips, and carob chips. Actually I could ramble on describing the endless imaginative ideas in this book but you really have to read them yourself to fully appreciate. I tested a simple pesto recipe with spinach, lowfat cream cheese, olive oil and garlic powder and added it to Jake's favorite pasta wheels...voilà! Super easy to make and looked as cool as the photo in the book, as you can see in my version here: 

  

The Bean Appétit cookbook is available on the Bean Sprouts website or at a discounted rate on Amazon.com.

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