A New Year’s Food Challenge: 52 Weeks, 52 New Foods
By Jennifer Tyler Lee
Healthy eating will top many New Year’s resolution lists this year. It will also be the one most likely to be broken. But one family discovered a fun way to get this resolution to stick, and uncovered a multitude of hidden Bay Area treasures along the way.
It was a penchant for pasta and peas that set our family on this path. Sitting at our dinner table was a classic lesson in negotiation tactics—a shining example of how to lose. “You need to finish your vegetables before you have dessert!” I bargained. Getting my kids, ages 3 and 6 at the time, to eat healthy was a terrible struggle. The diversity of dishes narrowed like a construction zone on El Camino, which meant even my husband and I weren’t eating very healthy.
So I did what any parent would do: I turned it into a game. More points for kale than kiwi, and bonus points for trying a new food, even just a “taster.” With this simple shift, I found my kids begging for broccoli, and trips to the local market turned into a scavenger hunt, with my pint-sized food adventurers bouncing from stall to stall looking for new foods to try to rack up points.
When it came time for New Year’s resolutions, it seemed only natural to take on one simple challenge, together as a family: 52 weeks, 52 new foods. Each week the kids would choose a new food to try, they would prepare the recipes for our weekly “new food” night, and we would chronicle the entire journey on my blog.
To succeed we needed a single, clear goal and an easy way to keep track of our progress. Putting the children in charge of this culinary adventure, I reasoned, would be the key to success. I knew from experience that when kids choose and prepare the foods they eat, they are much more likely to enjoy those foods—even better if they grow it themselves.
Our adventure took us to flourishing farm fields, roadside stands overflowing with seasonal produce, pop-up food truck caravans on the coast, student-grown school gardens and hidden local markets in the heart of the city. It sprouted a kid-sized version of a farm-to-table vegetable garden in our backyard. Brussels sprouts, fava beans, persimmons and pumpkins, among many others, made appearances at our family table. Together, we learned about where our food comes from, the artisans who work tirelessly to grow it and how the food choices we make impact our neighborhood and the bigger world around us.
We gathered treasured recipes and tips from local farmers, chefs, friends and family and together we planted, picked, cooked and tasted our way through the year.
Fifty-two weeks later, I am proud to say that we achieved our goal—the first time I can say that about one of these infamous resolutions. But it truly was the journey that was more important than the destination. Our new food adventure turned into so much more than simply getting my picky eaters to eat healthy. It challenged everyone in the family to try something new each week, it encouraged us to start a garden, it brought us together to cook and enjoy healthy food as a family and it connected us with new friends in our community. My formerly picky eaters now have a stable of recipes that they love to cook, and they are spreading the word by teaching their friends how to prepare simple, family-friendly dishes that are easy enough for a 5-year-old to make, through a series of garden cooking classes they are hosting at school.
As for this coming year, we plan to take our food adventures global by cooking and tasting new foods from around the world—Indian-inspired curries, Italian homemade sauces and pastas, and tapas plates with Spanish flair. With the incredible diversity nestled in the Bay Area, I am certain we will discover many resident experts and new local foods to try.
We are excited to continue our family food adventure, one week, one meal, at a time. Will you join us for the ride?
Jennifer Tyler Lee is a mom of two children and the creator of Crunch a Color—award-winning nutrition games that make healthy eating fun. Her easy recipes, quick tips and new food adventures are featured on her weekly recipe blog at www.CrunchAColor.com.