Our family has quadrupled the amount and variety of vegetables we are eating—even the kids—and it’s because of a new menu-planning service I was finally enticed to join.
Cook the Seasons (CTS) by Nourish Evolution seems different from all the others in two main ways. First, it is based primarily on produce that is currently in season. But, if you’re like me and have an extreme carnivore for a spouse, you can also add as much protein as you want.
Second, it uses “core” recipes, each with a variety of “reinvention” recipes that stem from the core recipes. I thought that this might either 1) save time, keeping me from having to make a new meal from scratch each day, or 2) at least breathe some new variety into our dinner options—we have always relied on leftovers for busy nights of the week, anyway.
I also liked that the weekly menu plans are fully customizable, in a Pinterest-like format, based on the vegetables I want to use and the recipes that look appealing to me.
CTS founder Lia Huber’s memoir, Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith and Enduring Love, chronicles how her philosophy of food changed after she experienced a brush with cancer and a lupus diagnosis. Huber has been a food writer and recipe developer for 20 years, and based on her food descriptions in Nourished, I figured I would like her recipes.
Her sense of adventure also inspires me—anyone who decides to drive a car from San Francisco to Costa Rica is a cool person, in my book.
My first week using CTS, I printed off the grocery list and started putting items in my cart. My kids’ eyes grew big as I put ten heads of broccoli, two of the most massive heads of cauliflower I ever saw, and a big bunch of radishes in our cart. I hoped we would not be wasting this food.
Not only were these things not wasted, but I also regretted not buying more cauliflower because we licked the bowl clean on both the core and reinvention cauliflower recipes.
The second week using CTS, I had to hunt down someone in the produce department to show me where the rainbow chard was. I had never bought rainbow chard. But that day, I cleaned out all six bunches of rainbow chard the store had on its shelf. I also bought two large Costco-sized bags of Brussels sprouts and numerous herbs. All of this food was consumed by my family of six, in the period of a week.
Here’s a breakdown of what I think are the pros and cons of CTS.
So Many Vegetables—It feels great to be eating so many more vegetables that actually taste good. When I look in my shopping cart, and on my plate, it’s full of a variety of in-season vegetables. That is a good feeling.
Sense of Enjoyment—We are enjoying so many delicious new flavors each day. In the past, I would roast broccoli, with maybe some lemon pepper, but never think to add garlicky bread crumbs, and then serve it the next day over brown rice mixed with lime, cumin, and green onion. Also, unexpectedly, I have really enjoyed handling all of these vegetables with their different colors and textures, as an outlet for creativity. There has been a lot of satisfaction in preparing and serving the food from CTS.
Flexible Planning Calendar—CTS can be used for only a select handful of meals each week, or all the meals. So, if I have a hankering to make a family favorite, or we are busy and eating away from home a few nights, I can modify my planning to accommodate exactly what we need for that week.
Time in Kitchen—I think there is probably a learning curve to making this veggie-centric way of cooking more efficient, and I have not mastered this yet. Although I save time in planning, and when putting my grocery list together, my prep time in the kitchen has not been less. It might even be slightly more, with all of the vegetables to chop and process. Even though I think the benefits are worth it, I want to be forthright: CTS has not been a time-saving tool so far.
Cost—The cost is a little steeper than some of the other menu planning programs I have seen. It’s a $55 fee per season (three months at a time). I used a coupon and got it for $40, which I justified when I realized that simply taking our family of six to Cracker Barrel for breakfast costs a lot more than that. But I understand that, for folks on a tight budget, it’s a lot to pay.
While writing this blog article, I took a break to make dinner. My kids helped me chop Brussels sprouts. After we put them in the oven, I poured some balsamic vinegar in a saucepan to boil and reduce. After five minutes, my pickiest eater said, “That vinegar smells amazing, mom.”
At the table, she had a second helping of the Brussels sprouts.
Who would have thought?!
Photo Credit: IStock. Following image courtesy of author.