I’m studying health in a graduate program where we work on campus one week of the semester – “in residency” – and then the rest of the time from home. In mid-February, I was in residency at Goddard College’s bucolic campus in the heart of Vermont.
Suffice it to say that they eat differently up there at Goddard, especially compared with my culinary experience in undergraduate school. No greasy pizza, no fried potatoes or piles of pasta, and thank goodness, no “mystery meat.”
Most dishes were smart, simple preparations of meats, whole grains, and whole, fresh vegetables.
My lunch one day was a tender miso-ginger infused baked cod with a shredded-carrot-topped kale salad. Dinner one night: curried tofu and chickpeas and carrots, a gorgeous green salad with beets and apple slices, and chunks of honeydew and cantaloupe mixed with cilantro and feta.
I’d never tried curried tofu, nor a melon-feta salad. And while there were some standbys that I recognized (grilled chicken breast, roasted carrots), I took advantage of the variety and stepped out of my culinary comfort zone to try something different, like sauteed rainbow Swiss chard and roasted Brussels sprouts with my quinoa and chicken.
Each dish opened my eyes (and other senses too) and made me eager to taste new flavors and combinations of foods. And boy did I taste. I filled my plates and left each meal full and satisfied (topped off by decadent desserts). I had enough energy for late-night studying and early-morning workshops, and when I came home at the end of the week, my scale showed that this way of clean eating agreed with me.
Paul Somerset, the campus’s affable and colorful executive chef, said that being an adventurous eater was just as important as watching your calorie and fat intake. “Being adventurous is about eating what’s available – what’s local and what’s in season,” he said in an interview during my residency. And in the dead of winter, “what’s available now is a lot of root vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, beets.
“So the question is,” he continued, “how can I cook beets every single night and make it interesting?” One answer: a bright-red beet“hummus” made with lemon juice, olive oil and parsley.
Being adventurous is also about tweaking your favorite recipes to make them better for you, Chef Paul said, noting that just about everybody seems to be following a diet trend from vegetarian to raw to gluten-free.
“The good thing about that is that it has people asking about their food and connecting what they eat to their bodies. They’re asking, 'What is it? Where does it come from? How is it prepared? Do I enjoy it? Am I healthy?'”
Some of Chef Paul’s tips to mix up your menu:
- Try healthy substitutions in traditional recipes … like using coconut or almond oil in your collard greens. “It’s not fatback,” he said, “but it’s an oil that’s good for you.”
- Go “gluten-light:” Instead of gluten-free bread, he suggested, “avoid bread altogether in favor of whole grains and rice.”
- Balance it out: “Have a slab of ribs with your special barbecue sauce, but made with less sugar … and then go heavy on veggies the next day.”
- Embracing new foods doesn’t always mean to give up or change up less-than-healthy favorites beyond recognition. Some dishes you can’t mess with, like fried macaroni and cheese. “If you’re gonna have it, then it’s gonna be the real deal – not light cheese or anything like that," he said, and quickly added: “But you can’t have that often. Only like once a year, because that shit will kill you.”
Chef Paul sent me home with a few of his great recipes. Try them and let me know what you think!