One of the most gratifying things about being a food blogger is hearing from a reader that my blog helped solve a problem. Whether it's that someone needed the perfect dish to bring to a party and found the winning recipe on my site, or a reader who previously felt he or she didn't have the skills or money necessary to cook well at home, and then found recipes on BrokeAss Gourmet to overcome that, I get all warm and fuzzy when I hear I was able to make a difference in someone's culinary life.
In that spirit, I'm excited to introduce to you a new feature here on BrokeAss Gourmet: #DearBrokeAss, wherein I attempt to help solve your food and cooking dilemmas. Read on for some of the queries I received this week.
I'm trying to follow the Paleo diet but I keep struggling with lunch options. Sandwiches, burritos and wraps are so easy to make in the morning when I'm rushing out the door, whereas paleo bag lunch options seem daunting. What is an easy-to-make, Paleo lunch option that I can pack for work?
- Jeremy in San Francisco
I totally relate. The truth is, if you're on any diet that minimizes refined carbohydrates, your grab-and-go options become seriously diminished. Cut out all grains, as on the Paleo diet, and you're looking at even fewer options. But don't worry, there is hope.
One of my favorite low-carb, grain-free substitutes for bread or tortillas is nori seaweed, the kind used to make sushi. It can be found in nearly all grocery stores, usually near the soy sauce.
I fill it with all kinds of things, like cooked fish, leftover grilled chicken or beef, vegetables and avocado. It's especially good rolled around kimchee, beef and avocado.
You might also consider roasting a whole chicken on Sunday night and taking pieces of it, along with a container of mixed greens to work for healthy, tasty low-carb salads throughout the week. The key here is just a little bit of planning and shopping at the beginning of the week. Get that done, and then you'll be set for a week of easy, healthy, good-tasting lunches.
Green smoothies cost like $10 at my local juice shop, so I tried making one at home and it was bitter and super chunky! Eating your smoothie is no fun, and eating a not-good-tasting one is even less cool. What gives? How can I make healthy green smoothies that taste good and are actually smooth?
- Helen in Brooklyn
I love green smoothies! Such a delicious way to get lots of healthy greens into your diet, especially if the rest of the day's eating has been less than stellar. But yeah, $10 is pretty steep for a beverage, especially considering you can make it at home for a lot less.
The key to combatting the bitter flavor is to balance out bitter greens like chard or kale with a little bit of sweet fruit. I like blueberries and banana (the latter of which helps yield a creamy smoothie texture as well).
And for a really smooth smoothie, you're going to need to let your blender work hard. I start by combining about 2 cups of roughly chopped kale or chard (leaving the stems on is fine) and 1 cup liquid (I like almond or coconut milks, but juice, water, soy or regular milk will work too) and let it blend for at least 30 seconds.
Then I add my fruits one at a time, and blend thoroughly to ensure a super creamy consistency. I also taste as I go, and adjust the texture using more liquid as needed. You might also consider getting a cool to-go cup (I like this one, from Aladdin) since smoothies are so great for taking on the run.
My husband and I are mediocre cooks at best. This wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that our two children are extremely picky eaters, and we are losing our minds attempting to get them to eat any vegetables other than mashed potatoes. Any tips for convincing our 4 and 6 year-old kids that there is good food beyond boxed mac and cheese? Family dinners at our house are starting to get ugly.
- Jessica in Minneapolis
Ugh, how challenging. I'm sorry you're dealing with that! But alas, as you probably know, it's fairly typical for children to be picky and vegetable-averse. Most of them eventually grow out of it.
Meanwhile, it sounds like your problem needs 2 solutions for 2 separate but related issues: one for the immediate (how can you get vegetables into your kids' diet without a fight tonight?) and one for the future (how can you help your kids become people who elect to eat vegetables for the rest of their lives?).
My first piece of advice is to look at foods they already eat that you might be able to sneak vegetables into. You mentioned they love mac and cheese, so perhaps your plan of attack for dinner tonight should be homemade mac and cheese made with whole wheat pasta and some unsweetened, pureed pumpkin added to the cheese sauce. They'll never know it's there, and pumpkin is a great source of Vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber.
From there, try making pizza at home with lycopene-rich tomato sauce and veggie toppings.
My second piece of advice is to include them, as much as possible, in your family's food preparation process. Take them to the grocery store and let them pick out a few foods (including vegetables) for you to eat together. Include them in your menu-planning. Let them help you measure, stir and taste as you cook. Often, when they helped make the meal, even the most stubborn of children will willingly try a taste. It may be a slow-going process, but it's a worthwhile one. Good luck!
Got tips to add? Share 'em in the comments!