If you’re anything like the majority of Americans, you probably love eating out. In fact, the average American adult buys a meal or snack from a restaurant 5.8 times a week. There’s just something about a high-quality, delicious meal, conveniently delivered to your table. While enjoyable, eating out can take a toll on your bank account and your health. Chefs don’t always use the healthiest ingredients to achieve that wonderful flavor. Heavy whipping cream, loads of butter and oil are just a few of those tasty, yet not-so-healthy staples.
Allison Hendricks, a food educator at the Franklin Park Conservatory is no stranger to creating delicious, restaurant-quality meals. She’s worked everywhere from a cheese shop in Madison Wisconsin, to the renowned Floriole bakery in Chicago, but that hasn’t stopped her from incorporating nutrition into her work and her lifestyle.
In her nine months at the Conservatory, Hendricks has spear-headed an outreach program for the east side of Columbus, which is considered a food desert, or an area lacking access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. She’s also directed the Franklin Park Conservatory Farmer’s Market, and demonstrated the power of nutrition with pop-up cooking lessons. Her favorite part of the job, however is teaching the “Cooking for Beginners” classes, complete with plenty of wholesome ingredients.
“In the end I want [my students] to go in their kitchens and do what they learned from me. Cooking lasts your whole life. If I can teach one person to simply roast, they can use that moving forward.” It’s basic cooking skills like these that help people live healthier lifestyles, something near and dear to Allison’s heart.
Hendricks, a self-proclaimed “health-nut” with a Master’s degree in public health and a minor in nutrition from Indiana University says it’s easy to become engrossed in a healthy way of life. “I felt like I had to walk the walk,” said Hendricks, who used to deprive herself of tasty treats such as donuts and dessert when she was on a health kick. Today, her mindset has changed significantly. Her new mantra originated from a bumper sticker she saw on a car. “Seize the day,” it said. Think of the women on the Titanic who said no to dessert.”
Allison is now a huge proponent of the 80/20 rule. “I want to enjoy coffee made with full fat milk and I’m gonna love it. I fight for that 20 percent and I embrace it full-heartedly,” she says of her personal food choices. She takes the same approach when educating her students. Allison’s extensive restaurant experience paired with her focus in nutrition merges deliciousness with wholesome food. Here are some of her expert tips for creating restaurant quality meals without sacrificing nutrition.
1.) Look for produce that’s in season. Not only will it taste better but it’s also more cost effective. Check out this seasonal food guide!
2.) Buy select foods such as grains, rice and beans in bulk. It saves money and forces you to get creative with planning your meals. It’s a good way to learn what spices you like and to surrender to the simplicity of wholesome food.
3.) Make simple nutritional swaps when possible. If you regularly consume dark meat chicken, swap it out for leaner, white meat chicken rather than cutting it out completely. Switching to 1% milk as opposed to whole milk is another easy substitution.
4.) Utilize grocery store staff to answer questions. Many grocery store chains today train employees to float around and answer nutrition-related questions. Not sure which produce has the lowest sugar content? Ask a store representative!
5.) Shop the perimeter of the store. This helps you avoid boxed foods with high sodium content, preservatives, and detrimental ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
While Hendricks appreciates a nutritious, well-prepared meal, she also believes in the importance of sharing a meal amongst friends and family.
“I’ve always been anchored by family dinner,” she says. “When I was in high school, family dinner was very uncool, but looking back, I feel that eating together is greater than the sum of its parts. Inviting people over for dinner is more powerful. It’s a shared experience and I love the concept of ‘I made this with you in mind.’”
That’s why she chose to share a recipe from her mother: Fish en Papillote, or Fish in Parchment. This recipe is “merely a framework,” says Allison, who suggests adjusting the ingredients to your liking with your choice of fish, vegetables and seasonings. It’s a whole, balanced meal that comes out of the oven, wrapped in parchment paper and ready to eat within 20 minutes.
Fish en Papillote
4 4-oz. fish filets (sole, halibut, salmon), patted dry
2 carrots, julienned
1-2 zucchini, julienned
2 leeks, julienned OR 1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ C dry white wine
1.) Preheat oven to 375. °
2.) Place each fish filet in the center of a large square of parchment paper. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange lemon slices over filets.
3.) Divide vegetables evenly between parchment packets and arrange on top of fish.
4.) Drizzle ½ tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon white wine over each packet
5.) Fold parchment paper around the edges tightly into ¼” folds to create a half moon shape. Make sure to seal the packets well or accumulated steam will release during baking.
6.) Place packets on two baking sheets and bake until parchment puffs and fish is cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Let sit 2 minutes before serving.