I’m all for home cooking, but I’m also a realist. A 2012 survey reported that 60% of Canadians eat out once or more a week. When I ask, “What is the one thing you can do to eat better?” people sometimes joke, “Hire a chef!”
Well, it turns out there are lots of chefs in Calgary eager to prepare wholesome, just-like-home-cooked meals for you. But how heart-healthy are they, really, and how much will it cost?
This is the first of a series of monthly reviews I have planned for 2016. I’ll outsource some of my cooking and try at least three meals from each, looking in particular for foods that can boost your cardiovascular health: fruits and vegetables of course, but also legumes/pulses, fish, whole grains, and healthier fats.
Our Daily Brett
If you live in Marda Loop or Bankview, you may have passed by Our Daily Brett (ODB) on 14th Street SW and not even noticed it. I was given a gift card and it still didn’t register until I saw it in Impact Magazine’s Calgary’s Top 5 Healthy Restaurants.
Are they selling health or hype? As with most restaurants, it depends on what you buy. My bottom line: Definitely stop in for a salad. Consider the entrees and snacks, but skip the sandwiches and fancy juices.
They’ll Make a Salad-Lover Out of You
The salad selection changes regularly, but there are always great piles of colourful vegetables, whole grains like quinoa, seeds, avocado, as well as flavourful vinaigrettes and cheeses that will make you want to lick the plate.
One day I tried several choices from the salad bar. Fantastic. (They charge by weight if you do this).
Another day I took a boxed salad to go, to see how it stood up. Also excellent.
Like the salads, ODB’s entrees change regularly. Check the ingredients carefully, and you’ll find mostly made-from-scratch heart-health-promoting goodness. Just be on the lookout for refined grains and sodium bombs, which slip in occasionally. If you eat out once a week or less, and your home-cooked meals are really healthy, I wouldn’t worry about it. But if you’re relying on restaurant and takeout food for most of your meals, you might want to be choosy.
Here is an example of a choice that hits the Sweet Spot all around:
PESTO STEELHEAD TROUT
✓ Roasted Steelhead Trout – yay for fatty fish! It was beautifully done – not a bit overcooked.
✓ Basil Arugula Cashew Pesto – healthy fats, excellent flavour.
✓ Seared Brussels Sprouts – yay for veggies too! Bonus points because brussels sprouts are a good source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre. They were perfectly seared – the only way to eat brussels sprouts, if you ask me.
✓ Frisee + Red Kuri Squash Salad – more veggies! ODB is generous with the veggies.
✓ Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Creamy Herb Vinaigrette – pumpkin seeds are little nutrition powerhouses, plus more healthy fat.
Thumbs up all around for this meal. It was delicious. Still, I wouldn’t suggest making it a daily habit, because it’s probably high in sodium. Good restaurant food usually is. (Nutrition information is not available from ODB, as the menu items change so often.) However, between the lovely pesto, vinaigrette, and any salt that might have been added in cooking, it’s safe to assume we’re close to 2000mg, the recommended daily maximum.
As for the price, you might be able to make this for less than $17 at home, but it’s a fair price for a high-quality restaurant meal.
Here’s an example of a dish I might stay away from, except as an occasional treat:
CHICKEN + SHRIMP PAD THAI
✓Chicken Breast, Wild Prawns, Egg – lean protein
✗ Tamarind Pad Thai Sauce – usually loaded with sugar and sodium
✗ Rice Noodles – refined grain, no fibre
✓Bok Choy, Carrot – vegetables again
✓Crushed Peanuts – more protein, plus healthy fats and a little fibre
✓Scallion, Lime – great ways to add flavour with no sodium
This is probably delicious, but not quite as healthy as the trout.
In the Freezer
If the daily dinner item isn’t for you, check the freezer for simple dishes you can defrost and pair with a salad. We tried two: Tuscan Kale & Garbanzo Bean Soup and Bison Chili. I really wanted to like the soup, as we try to eat lots of pulses (aka legumes), but unfortunately, it was the weakest thing I tried at ODB – bland and watery.
The chili, on the other hand, was a big hit – brimming with just-spicy-enough flavour – even our 7-year old asked for seconds (rare). Bison is usually leaner than beef and a good source of iron and other nutrients. There aren’t many vegetables in it though, so definitely grab a salad to go with it. The chili and kale salad above served our family of four just nicely, for $33. Again, we’d pay more than that to go out for a good meal.
Fun (and mostly) Healthy Snacks
While you’re waiting to pay, you’ll be tempted by a case full of snacks and desserts. Again, check the ingredient lists. Mostly healthy, but don’t be fooled by coconut, touted without sufficient evidence as a miracle cure for everything from Alzheimers to belly fat, or maple syrup, which is sugar, any way you pour it. Nothing wrong with enjoying these (we did), but don’t go overboard because you believe they’re Paleo magic.
I would like to have a sandwich at ODB, but sadly, there is too much processed meat (bacon, prosciutto), as well as white bread and high-sodium ingredients (jerk marinade, pickles). Raising it locally does not make processed meat health food. Again, eating it from time to time is okay, but make a regular habit of it and you’ll raise your risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. And you’re eating here to be healthier, right?
Skip the Sugary Juices
Don’t get me started on the ridiculous fad that is cold-pressed juice. Suffice to say, read the label. Not the fancy-sounding ingredients list, but the line about sugar. Drink this whole bottle and you’ll get 38 grams or nearly 10 teaspoons of it – about the same as a Coke. For $12? Pass.
The Bottom Line
I’m not suggesting you eat out every day. Home cooking is still the way to go. But once or twice a week, if a healthy home-cooked meal is just not going to happen, skip the pizza and stop by Our Daily Brett. Have a salad and perhaps and entree, but skip the rest. Your heart will thank you!
Have you tried ODB? What do you think? Do you have a favourite heart-healthy way to Outsource Your Cooking in Calgary? Send me your suggestions.