Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Fresh 20: A Review of the Vegetarian Plan

Page from The Fresh 20 cookbook
Disclaimer: I was provided with a 3 month membership in The Fresh 20 and a sneak peek at their cookbook for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated.  All opinions are my own.

Through MomsLA, I got a chance to try out The Fresh 20 meal planning service and see what I thought.  The Fresh 20 is based on the idea that you can plan out your entire week's worth of healthy dinners based around 20 fresh ingredients and some pantry staples.  You subscribe for $5 a month, and at the beginning of the week you get a meal plan, shopping list and prep guide.

My hesitations before beginning:

 Q: Would they have a vegetarian option?
A: Yes, and also a gluten-free plan or "classic".

Q: Would it be a bunch of prepared "add a can of soup mix to this" and "add this specific frozen dinner product to that" type cooking?
A: No, in fact it was a lot of whole ingredients and fresh herbs, no preservatives, I could control the amounts of salt.

Q: What if all the vegetarian recipes just substituted mushrooms or fake meat products?
A: No fake meat products, some recipes called for making my own out of organic tofu but nothing processed.  There was one recipe from one week that called for shitake mushrooms, but that seemed to be easily substituted out

Q: Would it be a lot of really exotic ingredients that would be hard to find that I would use only once and then would get stale in my kitchen?  (Like the toasted pumpkin seed oil I just had to have back in 2010 and haven't touched since, probably should toss that!)
A: No, the plan did a good job of using up most of what I bought from the shopping list.  The whole point of the plan is to get a list in advance for the whole week and use everything while cooking.  I mean, not *everything*, you might end up with a quarter of an onion not chopped or a smidge of leftover pesto (yummy on bread for a snack in my case), but most things.

My experience:
Last Wednesday I got the membership, logged in and saw the past 3 weeks of plans for vegetarian.  The first one I looked at did not excite me only because two of the recipes used corn tortillas and I just don't care for the taste of corn tortillas.  I wanted to really love the food so I picked another week (March 1).  I appreciated not being stuck with just 1 plan,  it was nice to have the previous few weeks to also choose from.

Armed with the list, I was off to Sprouts to shop!  The Fresh 20 estimated it would cost $58.50 for the ingredients.  Because I was also buying yogurts, breakfast foods and other things for the kids, I spent $70 on that trip.  I needed to buy a few of the pantry ingredients (grapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, cannelini beans) and there were only two list items Sprouts was out of: fresh thyme and whole wheat hamburger buns.

In case Lauren didn't like the food, I stocked up on some frozen dinners from Trader Joe's for her (pesto tortellini wins every time.)  I hadn't read through carefully before starting, and thought "I will just go home and start cooking dinner tonight at 5:00".  We like to eat by 6:00.  With two kids underfoot, there was no way I could do all of the prep work and get the first meal ready in under and hour!   I learned that it would be better to start the week's prep on a Saturday or Sunday.  It did *say* "make ahead" pesto, bread crumbs, cut vegetables".  So, the first night we all ended up having Lauren's week of frozen meals, and I delayed cooking until Thursday.

Thursday afternoon while William napped, I cut, chopped, squeezed, food processed and prepped my way through the list.  Feeling thoroughly prepared, I made the first night's meal, Pesto Tofu Burgers with Sweet Potato Nuggets.  Lauren wouldn't try anything, but William really liked the sweet potatoes. (While cutting the sweet potatoes, I was surprised that mine were white inside, I thought they should be orange!  In a panic, I called my dad to ask him.  He was surprisingly well-informed about sweet potatoes and told me they can come in other colors besides orange and off-white was one hue.  My dad knows everything!) The recipe called for cutting them up into bite-sized pieces, tossing with olive oil and coarse salt, and roasting.  Easy and tasted like sweet potato fries!

Another lesson learned-the tofu burgers tasted good but were falling apart like scrambled eggs.  I realize now that I did not properly press enough water out of the tofu in prep.  I shouldn't hurry through that step!  They still tasted good, though! Next time, I'll know.

Friday was supposed to be Day 2, but Lauren got strep throat and we spent a lot of the day at the doctor's office and pharmacy, so I could not bring myself to cook.  She ate nothing (too sick) and the rest of us had leftovers.

Saturday I made the Lemon Broccoli pilaf and this was surprisingly simple to make and good!  And a great way to use up some of the lemons from our tree.  I don't usually like rice pilaf, but I love crispy broccoli and chick peas, so yum!  The kids wouldn't try it so Ryan & I had lots of leftovers the next day.

Sunday: By then, most of the prep work had been done on the other days so it was a cinch to make the Spaghetti & Pesto Tofu Balls.  I liked this meal the best.  And it was easy to make "regular" spaghetti for Lauren since she did not like this version of pesto.  (She is a pesto snob and to her, pesto is *only* legit if it has pine nuts, garlic, basil, EVO and imported Parm and nothing else!)

Monday I promised Lauren her favorite Spinach Souffle (BTW, the plan assumes you will eat out or have other plans for 2 out of 7 dinners of the week), so I whipped that up from memory, and gave the plan a break.  (BTW, the plan assumes you will eat out or have other plans for 2 out of 7 dinners of the week. In my experience, you'll have leftovers to eat if you want.)

On Tuesday my parents were here and we ate out.  Last night we had leftovers and tonight I am going to make the Day 4 recipe (Herb Crusted Tofu) BUT I do have to go back to the store since the cauliflower I bought last Wednesday has gone bad by now.  The good news is it is in season and on sale.  The Fresh 20 creator tries to use seasonally fresh food in the recipes to make it easy and inexpensive to shop.

In conclusion: I really like the idea of the plan and the concept of the list and prep guide made planning ahead easy.  Next week, I think I will analyze which of the meals I could even cook entirely ahead, and then if I catch a chunk of time (nap, please William?!)  I could cook up a storm and reheat each night.  I'd also experiment with doing them out of order and substituting ingredients.  For this week I wanted to try exactly as written.

My one suggestion to The Fresh 20 is that it would be so helpful to include weights for those of us who cook with a scale.  "Three medium carrots chopped",  I did not have.  I had a bag of baby carrots.  So I had to put a bunch of baby carrots together to estimate how many might equal one medium sized carrot, weigh that and multiply by three, add that much more to the scale and then chop.  It worked but was a lot of extra steps.  Same with "1/4 of a medium sized onion".  If they included approx. weight for that measurement it would make it easier if I just had an entire chopped onion from the day before and could measure out.

Overall, I think The Fresh 20 plan is a great idea, and it costs very little money to subscribe, so I recommend my friends to give it a try!   It gave me some great new ideas, got me out of the pasta/pizza/quesedillas rut, and I got to experiment with new flavors.  For the roasted sweet potatoes idea alone, it would have been worth the cost.  =)

I also wanted to let you know that they are coming out with a cookbook on April 23 and you can pre-order it here.  They are running a great contest where you can win a stocked pantry, and that is here.

1 comment:

Pattie Cordova said...

Fresh 20 sounds like a great plan! I would love the Broccoli Lemon Pilaf too. I'm sure it's something my kids would just eat up.