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A Healthy Eating Challenge

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

If you haven't gone to check yet, I thought I'd let you know that Bento Yum is up and running. We hope to have the first sets for sale some time this week (Abigail sent me pics, they are so cute!) but they aren't quite ready yet. When they are, I'll make a post here to share a little info about the idea of packing bentos and to share some pics of the sets.

With that out of the way, I've found myself having some fun with a little personal food challenge that I've created for myself and thought I'd see if anyone else wanted to join me.

It's a simple one really.

Buy at least one brand new food every time I go grocery shopping.

See, the thing about eating healthy (or even eating unhealthy) is that it can get monotonous. It's so easy to fall into a pattern...you know...grilled chicken on Monday, soup and sandwich on Tuesday, meatloaf on Wednesday and so on.

Since bento packing is partly about fun, creative, colorful and healthy food, I've found myself hunting down some new things to pack. It's been about a month since I decided that we needed to expand our food horizons and that I'd start buying at least one brand new item every time I went shopping.

So far, here's what we've tried:

Kumquats (I LOVE these, Greg hates them)
Asian Pears (just bought it this week, haven't tasted yet)
Fresh Apricots (Perfect snack size to pack in Bento, Greg likes 'em)
Japanese Sushi Rice (haven't tried it yet)
Mahi Mahi (mmmmmmmmmm....)
Soy Vay Teriyaki Sauce (haven't tried it yet)
Sweet Potatoes (I know, can you believe I'd never bought them? Greg likes 'em)
CousCous (Think I'm going to make this tomorrow)
Asparagus (Nope, didn't like it)
Butternut Squash (Emmitt is all over this stuff)

There are quite a few veggies that I think we're going to try as well. I've never had eggplant, several types of greens, edameme, and a wide variety of mushrooms. I figure they're all worth trying at least once. I'd also like to try quite a few fruits that I've always skipped over. Those tend to be the more expensive ones though, so part of me hopes I won't like them.

How about you? How often do you challenge yourself to try a new food? Find anything amazing that you really like? Are you up for a once a month thread that talks about the new foods we've found and tried? Might be a nice way to change up the same boring meals.


  1. Blogger Sarahbear | 8:54 PM |  

    Asparagus is a delicate food. It's also really hard to cook. I can never get the fresh steaming recipe right but I do like them baked.

    I just drizzle a little oil on them and salt and pepper and bake em for a few minutes. They are really good that way.

    And sweet potato souffle is amazing if you can find a good recipe for it. I'm sure you can sub in some healthier options for the butter, maybe.

  2. Blogger Mommy's Getaway | 9:04 PM |  

    Oh, since you bought sweet potatoes for the first time...I have a recipe for some delicious baked fries. Cut up your potato(s) into whatever shapes you want. Put about 1 tblsp of olive oil in a large ziplock bag, also put in garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and grated mozzarella. Then put your potato slices in it and shake the bag until covered. Have your oven at 350 degrees and bake the potato slices for about 15 minutes. Enjoy!

    I haven't ever tried a kumquat - How do you eat them?

  3. Blogger tiny-dog | 9:16 PM |  

    I recently tried parsnips because they were in a recipe from an English baby food cookbook someone gave me. They are sort of like carrots mixed with peppermint oil. I'm down for trying some new stuff!

    By the way, good work on the Prolacta math. Ugh, the possibility of someone dishonestly profiting off of the hard work of pumping moms, after what I know about pumping, turns my stomach. I hope they have a response.

  4. Blogger MamaBean | 9:46 PM |  

    Wow, you've never had Asian pears? You are in for a treat. BUT, only if they are ripe. If they are mushy it will be a horrible experience. They should be crisp, like a perfectly crisp apple, and juicy enough to need a towel. Yum! We love them.

    Japanese sushi rice will just taste like regular rice unless you doctor it up. Here's my favorite recipe:
    For every cup of raw, uncooked rice, mix the following in a small saucepan:
    - 2 Tbsp sugar
    - 3 Tbsp rice vinegar (NOT rice wine!)
    - 1/2 tsp salt

    Mix all three ingredients together in a saucepan and heat on medium/low heat until salt and sugar is dissolved, then let it cool. When the rice is done cooking, poor the mixture onto the rice and "fold" the rice in on itself until it's well mixed. Now it's perfect for making sushi or what have you! We like just to scoop it up with strips of nori (seaweed), make rice balls, etc. You can also brown a little ground pork or turkey, top with stirfried veggies (or not) and a little sauce (try the Oy Vey, it's good) and make "asian tacos" (for lack of a better description) with the rice, wrapped up in seaweed. It's a really fun "finger food" for dinner!

    CousCous is like a grain, best served as the bed of something else. For simplicity sometimes I'll top it with stewed tomatoes that have been doctored with a little red wine and italian seasoning. Makes a great side dish.

    Beware of eggplant unless you have a really good recipe or you'll be turned off of it forever.

    Edamame is fabulous and makes a great snack. I love to throw it in a pan with chopped garlic, olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt. Yummy.

    How about beets? I didn't try them until grad school and now we can't get enough of them. Our favorite way to eat them is cut into chunks, then steamed until fork tender, then sprinkle with a little tamari or soy. If they are sweet then the salt of the soy sauce is a perfect match. And the kids get a kick out of having pink pee in the morning!

  5. Blogger Amy | 10:42 PM |  

    Asparagus is tricky. If it's cooked right, I love it. Otherwise, it's either mushy or stringy. And, take it from somebody who learned about edamame the hard way--you don't eat the pods!

  6. Anonymous Mary Jo | 3:52 AM |  

    OOH, some yummy stuff is waiting for you to try it! Asian pears are FABULOUS! And couscous is a nice rice substitute . . . but cook it in broth instead of water because it gives it a much better flavor.

    Don't know if you like yogurt, but my new fav is Fage 0% greek strained yogurt. It's thick, thicker even than custard style yogurts. It is plain, which I suppose could be a good or bad thing, but I like mine with a little sweetner and some fruit.

    I try to try something new every week or so, though money is tight, so it doesn't happen as often as I'd like. But I'd love an occasional thread on the subject . . . especially if recpies are included!

  7. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:07 AM |  

    Mmm... I haven't had beets in AGES! Must buy some beets! (Especially since if I buy fresh, I can use my veggie cutters to turn them into awesome shapes before cooking them. :)

    Thanks for the Sushi Rice recipe. Greg loves his sticky rice with sugar and I have the onigiri molds to turn them into fun shapes, just haven't had a chance to do it yet. Maybe over the weekend we'll give it a try and pair it with chicken and veggie stir fry in the Soy Vey sauce.

    The Asian Pear is currently "crisp." I think I'll eat it for lunch today. Glad you posted because I was trying to figure out how to know when it was ripe.

    Oh and to anyone that hasn't tried kumquats but likes sour things, get thee to the produce aisle! Seriously, they could replace candy, they're so YUM!

    I'm reminded that I also bought Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Bisque for Greg's lunch. He said it's good, but it needs some meat in it, lol. I think next go-round I'll put some bacon in it for him.

  8. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:17 AM |  

    Ohhhhhhhhh...I think we may be eating sweet potato fries this week. :) I've had them once in a restaurant, but I'd love to try a baked version at home.

    Kumquats? You wash them off and eat them whole. The peel is amazingly sweet and the inside pulp is "smack-you-in-the-face" sour. The combination is like a sour patch kid that's healthy for you. :)

  9. Blogger Diane | 8:06 AM |  

    I was going to suggest edamame, but I see you mentioned you would like to try it. Funny, I just took pictures of some for my blog entry today. They're actually pretty fun to snack on. We get them frozen in the pod. You boil them for 4 - 5 minutes and pop them out of the pod to eat them. The first couple you eat, you think, "Well, this isn't much." Eat a few more. Weird, but they get better and you can't stop!

  10. Blogger The Lactivist | 8:24 AM |  

    Two things on edameme...

    1.) I find it hysterical that people are talking about "this new vegetable that you have to try." What a brilliant marketing idea for the soy council (or whoever they are) to start marketing soy beans under a name that no one in the U.S. had heard of. :)

    2.) My father-in-law is a farmer. Soy and corn. Please, go out and buy as many soy products as possible. :)

    Wonder if I could convince him to let me pick some fresh soybeans. :) I mean he lets them dry before harvesting them because his soy gets processed and used rather than being sold fresh...but who says I can't sneak into the field and get some? ;)

  11. Blogger Amber | 8:27 AM |  

    I am so buying kumquats for my step daughter. She just got braces and is forbidden to eat any sour patch kids/gummy candies-which she loves. What a healthy substitute for her favorite taste-sour! I would love a post on new foods. I love to try new foods. My son will eat anything I give him, the rest of the family is more picky. Recipes would be great so that I can learn new ways to sneak in the healthy stuff.

  12. Blogger Heather | 8:41 AM |  

    I grate up raw turnips in salads. They taste kind of like radishes. Also: dark greens can be good, especially in soups. Try swiss chard, sauteed in olive oil, w/ a bit of balsalmic vinegar.

  13. Blogger Ahmie | 9:21 AM |  

    I agree with the others on giving asparagus another chance - one thing not mentioned thus far, the diameter of the asparagus also affects it - I like mine about as thick as a regular pencil, the thicker ones are too tough. The thing about the thin ones is they BARELY need to be cooked - think blanching, not boiling/steaming so much. And for an extra "new food" treat (at least I'm betting it is for you), try drizzling them with a litle Oyster Sauce from your local Asian market. I call it "Chinese Fries" when we have it that way. Oh, and I personally much prefer the tips to the stems (holds more oyster sauce in the tips ;) ). Remember, kids aren't the only ones that sometimes need to be exposed to a new food several different times (and in several different ways) before they like them.

    New fruit experience I DON'T recommend - Durian fruit (size of a smaller watermelon, spikey flesh). The stuff smells like pee from a seriously dehydrated cat when you cut it. My hubby's parents love the stuff but they can't even convince their sons to try it. Every time my MIL eyes one while we're at an Asian grocery store together I shoot her a death glare and point at my big round tummy - that's not coming ANYWHERE NEAR THE HOUSE while I'm still dealing with pregnancy nose! It was bad enough with lactating nose! ARG!

    I have a serious aversion to beets from when I was a child - my evil stepmother (not kidding, the family calls her "the psycho", but only quietly when she can't hear them) force-fed canned beets to me, which I immediately vomited (and then got hit with the paddle for that). Don't think I can overcome that, no matter how wonderful you folks say they are. Been enough of a struggle to try turnips since they remind me of them in shape. Beets will stay in the "when I feel adventurous about natural dyes" category, I'm pretty sure!

    If you're looking for new toppings and such, and like somewhat spicy, try the Chinese garlic chili sauce... there's one brand our family greatly prefers over others, I can look up the brand for you (just have to go downstairs to the kitchen). Comes in a ~10oz jar, I can't eat fried rice without it anymore!

  14. Blogger Cairo Mama | 9:26 AM |  

    Eggplant and asparagus are great on the grill. I went to the store today to try and find a new vegetable for the bonus challenge on the Woman Challenge and the only thing there I haven't had before besides hybrid cauliflowers (like purple cauliflower and broccoflower) was yucca. I am going to make mashed yucc with garlic.

  15. Blogger Mommy's Getaway | 10:03 AM |  

    RE: the baked fries...I am sorry, I put mozzarella instead of parmesan. Use Parmesan (though I am sure mozzarella would still be quite tasty, I haven't tried it).

    And I will definitely pick out a couple of kumquats to try out on my next shopping trip!

  16. Blogger Jenn | 10:42 AM |  

    We love the soy-vey island terriaki sauce with pineapple juice - it gets used as a dipping sauce all the time. As for asparagus, make sure to remove the woody part of the stem - take out one, bend it in half until it breaks and the use it as a guide to cut the rest, cutting about 1/2 inch below the break. I cut it into 2" sections and boil for 3 minutes, drain and toss with a little bit of olive oil, lemmon juice and salt and pepper, one of my favorites!

  17. Blogger Melissa | 12:38 PM |  

    Ok, I am going to try the sweet potato fries from upthread, but I usually slice them and sprinkle cinnimon (I have lost the ability to spell today) on them and back them for 15-20 minutes. Easy Peasy!

    Star fruit and Ugli frut are also quite tasty.

  18. Anonymous megan | 5:43 PM |  

    Both of my older sons LOVE butternut squash and so does my husband. I like it too, but they can't get enough of it!!! I am waiting to see what my 4-month-old boy thinks of it.

    I found out a cool trick from a friend of mine to make cooking a whole butternut squash a lot easier.

    Just oil it up with olive oil and throw it in the oven raw and whole at about 350/400. Let the skin get all brown and flakey - you will smell it, but it will take about 1hr - 45 mins - and then, take it out and let it cool and cut it.

    Scoop out the seeds when it has already been cooked (SO MUCH EASIER) than trying to do it when it is raw.

    Add some butter and brown sugar and enjoy!

  19. Blogger sara | 8:12 PM |  

    I've tried lots of new things recently thanks to the recipes on foodandwine.com! some of them are just really exotic.

    My new favorite is grilled portabellos - drizzle the cap with olive oil and put it in the toaster or broil for a few minutes.

    I also tried a recipe for
    "spring pea falafels" (from food and wine) - they came out a lot better than I was expecting, and were served with the greek yogurt someone mentioned above. Yum.

  20. Blogger MamaBean | 9:16 AM |  

    One note on asparagus (and you really should try it again Jen!). Instead of cutting the ends off you want to snap them off but don't do it at the center as different size stalks will have different places where the good stuff starts. My rule of thumb is just to grab the stalk at the end and bend it. Wherever it snaps off is where the tender/woody interface is.

    I love to cut them up in bite size lengths and pan fry it in garlic and olive oil, or asian style with a little Soy Vey or oyster sauce (go light), or hoisin (my favorite as it is salty and sweet at the same time). You don't have to cook them long. I like them still bright green and crunchy but not raw. Once they are mushy they are good only for cream of asparagus soup or baby food! :-)

  21. Blogger The Lactivist | 12:30 PM |  

    Ok, Asparagus gets another try. ;)

    More new foods...

    Lobster meat. (cold packed...used it in a salad for Greg...he liked it, I say "yuck.")

    Babybel Cheese (mmmmmmmmm!)

    Meijer brand Organic Peanut Butter (ew! Give me my Jif back!)

    Oh, ate the Asian pear yesterday, very YUM! I think it would go very well with cheese.

  22. Blogger Anna | 7:48 PM |  

    Couscous is one of my all-time favorite side dishes because you can do just about anything to it. One of my favorites (sorry, I don't measure anything):

    Drizzle some olive oil in a pan that's been warmed to medium heat. Throw in chopped onions and saute until they just start to turn clear. Add chopped almonds. Season with salt, pepper, a bit of nutmeg and whatever else floats your boat. Add crushed or chopped garlic and chopped mushrooms. Pour in about 1/4 cup white wine just before the garlic starts to brown. Let the alcohol cook off, then add chicken or vegetable stock (or broth, but stock's better) per the package instructions for the amount of couscous you're making. Bring it to a boil, add the couscous and remove it from the heat. While you're waiting for the couscous to cook, chop up some tomato and fresh basil or parsley. Toss those in before serving.

    Ok, that was a little long, but I promise it's yummy!

    Best way to eat eggplant is the way my Nana used to make it: slice it thin, lay it out on paper towels and sprinkle the slices with salt. After about 30 minutes, brush with olive oil and garlic and sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese. Remove from paper towels and put 'em under the broiler until they start to brown. YUM!! The thing to remember about eggplant is that it contains *a lot* of water. You either have to allow for that in whatever you're cooking, or do the slice-salt-let sit on paper towels method to draw some of the water out before you cook it.

    If you're interested in natural peanut butter, you should check out Naturally More. So far I've only found it at walmart (the devil store, I know), but it's WONDERFUL. It's fortified with flaxseed and other good stuff, so it's actually healthier than other natural peanut butters, and certainly healthier than regular.

    Ok - I'll stop now. Have I mentioned that I really like food?

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