Thinking Healthy with a Dose of Flavor

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Story by Dave Eckert…. Instagram @eatsanddrinkswithdave

As we approach a full year of life under the impact of Covid-19, I thought it would be worthwhile to take stock of where we all are in terms of our diets and dining habits. I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of cooking, and I LOVE to cook. Carry out meals are always an option, and it’s important to support local restaurants now more than ever, but I’m also tired of contributing to the piling of plastic into landfills. Also, I want healthier options, and they’re not always so easy to find. But as we start the New Year, I’ve gathered some ideas on how to eat lighter and healthier while backing local establishments at the same time. Call it my New Year’s resolution.


Megan Kendall, owner of The Homesteader Café, shared these thoughts. “I feel it’s easier to eat lighter and healthier right now because we have more time to think about what we’re are putting into our bodies. We’re less likely to be looking for something quick and fast when running around to the next event or kid’s practice. We have the time to truly nourish our body, and not just feed it,” Kendall reflected.

The Homesteader is only doing brunch right now, and Kendall’s putting an emphasis on healthier options. “Our Winter Spinach Salad is full of flavor having roasted squash, candied pecans, radish, dried cranberries and a poached egg. Or our Sweet Potato Hash, with the flavors that spice it all with peppers and onions and two over easy eggs, it is one of our signature dishes. Just because you are eating healthy does not mean you have to cut back on flavor,” Kendall said. “I personally have been working hard on eating healthy, yet only succeeding somewhat. I have been trying to cook more at home and make better choices when eating out, yet stress eating sometimes happens and fries or chocolate is needed.”

Food Story Photography/Kansas City Originals

Malisa Monyakula of Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop notes that there are both low carb and plant-based options available and has these thoughts about nutrition, eating, and the pandemic. “I believe life is all about balance. I don’t believe in denying yourself certain foods, but a person should balance their intake of different food types. In Thailand, we eat fruit at the end of almost every meal. This can satisfy a sweet tooth and help with digestion.” Monyakula says year-round fresh fruit can be a challenge in the Midwest, but dried, or even canned, fruit (in water) make good substitutes.

Shaun Brady runs the three Conroy’s Public House restaurants in Johnson County. The Irish-themed menus featuring the best fish and chips and shepherd’s pie in town aren’t necessarily top of the mind for healthy dining. But the restaurants all feature scratch kitchens utilizing only the best, freshest ingredients, which makes them inherently healthier than many other choices. And Brady points out there are some heathier choices for dine-in or carry-out. “We’ve got a collection of salads, which are always a great option. I also look for fresh seafood whenever I can find it to run it as a special, so we always try to have options for those looking to eat healthier, especially now during the pandemic,” Brady said.

Chef Michael Slavin, Vice President of Culinary & Menu Innovation for the Houlihan’s Restaurant Group weighed in on the offerings of Bristol Seafood Restaurant, which is offering nearly everything off its in-room dining menu for carryout. Slavin says guests could start with the light and guilt-free goat cheese bruschetta, dig into some Blue Hill Bay mussels, then maybe add in some Joyce Farms mesquite grilled chicken. And he left us with these words of advice. “Eat less more often. Don’t sacrifice    flavor for fewer calories as you can enjoy both. Take a little time to present the carry-out food with pride as it adds to a more positive dining experience,” Slavin stated.

Finally, I reached out to Chef Sheila Lucero, the Culinary Director for Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar restaurants in Colorado and Kansas City. Sourcing sustainable seafood choices on a weekly, if not daily, basis, you’d be hard-pressed to find healthier dining options. Lucero gave me three of her favorites: oysters on the half shell, Gulf grouper, and Hawaiian bigeye tuna. “Considered a superfood, oysters are a fantastic source of essential vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds. The grouper is cooked “en papillote,” or in parchment paper, with mushrooms, haricots verts, roasted tomato, southern butter, and baby red potatoes-a light preparation of a terrific, healthy fish. The tuna, meantime, is charred rare and served with glazed carrots, snap peas, ginger fried rice, and ponzu sauce. This is a super lean source of protein and a great pick,” Lucero shared.



Pacific Oyster Ceviche

Serves 4 

  • 12 West Coast oysters, medium size
  • ¼ cup lime juice, fresh squeezed
  • ¼ cup orange juice, fresh squeezed
  • 2 TBS. lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  • ¼ cup shallot, finely sliced
  • ¼ cup Persian cucumber, small diced
  • 6 each cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ each serrano chile, thinly sliced in rings
  • 2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBS. basil, chiffonade
  • 1 TBS. cilantro, chopped fine
  • Kosher salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 4 tostada shells, broken in half

Wash oysters well prior to shucking. Shuck oysters, and place oysters into a fine mesh strainer. Discard shells. Place oysters in a plastic or ceramic bowl, add shallot and pour citrus juices over the top. Let oysters marinate for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Check seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Serve with tostada shells

Spicy Beef Jantaboon

Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop

Jantaboon Sauce:
  • Nampla
  • Kikkoman
  • Sugar
  • Michui Rice Wine
  • Gailan
  • Blanch

Combine equal parts: Nampla, Kikkoman, sugar, and Michui Rice Wine and set aside. In a saucepan: bring water to a boil, add 2 cups Gailan and blanch,  strain, and rinse with cold water immediately (you do not want to over-cook)

For the beef:
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 oz flank steak
  • Jalapeños or fresh Thai chilis
  • Gailan
  • 1 oz kikoman
  • Sugar
  • Bean sprouts
  • Long scallions
  • Peanuts

In a wok or skillet, heat canola oil and minced garlic, add flank steak. Add jalapenos or fresh Thai chilis to taste. Toss until steak is cooked. Add gailan, kikoman, sugar to taste, bean sprouts, long scallions and peanuts. Turn off heat and add Jantaboon sauce, toss and serve with chopped cilantro.

Sweet Potato Hash with Eggs and Cheese

The Homesteader Cafe

  • 1 tea – Chili Powder
  • 1 tea – Cumin
  • 1 tea – Black Pepper
  • 1 tea – Salt
  • 1 tea- Ground Coriander
  • 2 tea – paprika
  • Sweet Potato Seasoning from above
  • 2 TBS Vegetable oil 
  • 2/3 cup Red Bell Pepper diced
  • 2/3 cup Red onion diced
  • 1/3 of a Jalapeno diced
  • 3 cups cubed Sweet potatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 4 oz shredded gouda
  • 8 eggs

Preheat oven to 425. Take seasoning, oil, potatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and jalapenos toss together until all seasonings are mixed well. Put on sheet tray and bake for 35-45  min.  Make sure your sweet potatoes are soft and cooked through. Take the eggs and cook to your liking (we like them over easy). Separate the sweet potato mixture among 4 plates.  Add 1 ounce of gouda on top of each. Top with 2 eggs on each.  Enjoy!

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