Summer Freshness

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Story by Dave Eckert    |    Intro photo courtesy of Minglewood

When I was younger, much younger, I was warned of “The Freshman 10,” where first-year students away from home cooking for the first time would often gain ten pounds eating the starch-based cuisine at their university cafeteria. I was able to avoid that, but what I didn’t see coming later (much) in life was the “Covid 20,” where depression, isolation, and a general lack of motivation for healthier eating and living could lead to an even larger weight gain! While I still haven’t found a way to shed my personal “Covid 20,” I come to you today with some delicious ideas on how you can battle those extra pounds.

Healthier eating isn’t just about vegetarian options, but also about staying away from processed, fried, fatty, and sugar-based items. Lord knows, I’m no saint, but it was fun discovering some fresh, local, and yes, vegetarian and plant-based dining options across the metro. 

Let’s start with Cafe Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Executive Chef Rick Mullins. “We’re getting close to an almost all-local experience. I think in the winter, we’re at about 70-percent local, and in the spring and summer, it’s almost all local. That’s a huge part of how we can offer healthier items,” Mullins shared.

Photo courtesy of Minglewood

I had an all-vegetarian meal during a recent visit, starting with a super-tasty ancho chili/rosemary broth, and finishing with an even tastier (in my opinion) wild mushroom fried rice dish, which sported local greens and was topped by a fried egg (always a personal favorite). “I don’t ever start out thinking I’m going to create a vegetarian dish. It just comes down to what I have available to me that’s local, fresh, and delicious. Often that leads to vegetarian dishes. But it’s organic, not contrived,” Mullins said. I’d add one other word. Delicious.

Derek Losson, the man behind the excellent eatery Minglewood in Overland Park’s Strang Hall, added a bunch of fresh new items on his Southern-Midwestern menu, including grilled trout and a grilled peach salad with feta cheese, that are clearly on the healthier side. Losson says he tries to keep Minglewood’s dishes lighter, fresher, and healthier when he can. “That’s especially true in the warmer weather where people are looking to eat lighter. I think and work seasonally with the ingredients I can access,” Losson stated.

No one is ever going to confuse Minglewood with a vegan restaurant, but everything on the menu is made fresh in a scratch kitchen-a much healthier approach to dining in general. “We’re very family-friendly. We have a kid’s menu available. In fact, all six restaurants at Strang Hall offer that, so even if you have picky eaters, you can find something fast, fresh, and delicious for them to eat,” Losson summarized.

Photo courtesy of Whole Harvest

At the Cajun seafood-themed restaurant Hook & Reel, you will find all sorts of seafood, and therefore, potentially healthy dining options. General Manager Jeff Warren says it comes down to preparation. “Everything can be done on a healthy or unhealthy basis depending on how much butter you use. Simple boiled seafood with vegetables is always the best way to be healthy, Warren told me.

Warren says they also like to lighten things up during the summer. “We offer more seasonal fresh-caught items, but we always offer the best products year-round to ensure consistency of experience,” Warren said.

Finally, a way to lighten up your dining options at home with a local business designed to bring plant-based items to your doorstep-Whole Harvest. CEO Mark Gossman says all items are 100-percent whole food, gluten-free, dairy-free, low sodium, with zero added sugar, and no processed oils used in their preparation. “Whole Harvest is a healthy option for people looking to get more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into their diet without the hassle of meal prepping or being stuck eating salads all the time.”

Photo courtesy of Whole Harvest

Gossman says Whole Harvest was inspired by research done, and shared, by a friend who underwent some major medical issues followed by substantial lifestyle changes. Gossman says he found himself in a similar situation. “The incident really made me think about what I was eating. At the age of 50, I decided I’d better start paying attention. So in 2020, I made the decision to focus on eating less meat, dairy, and eggs, and more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Within the first 30 days of my new diet, I lost 15 pounds, lowered my cholesterol by 40 points, and had more energy and mental clarity than ever before. Later that year, Whole Harvest was born,” Gossman recalled. Now, a short two years later, there are plans for expansion with the opening of the first Whole Harvest restaurant in Overland Park around the first of the year. 

There, that wasn’t so painful, was it? Cheers!

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