Healthy Eating 101: Exploring and Experimenting

Break out of your current food patterns and try a new fruit, vegetable, or pantry staple.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Maybe after food journaling and a pantry audit, you may have noticed you gravitate towards the same foods. While there’s nothing wrong with routine, it could be fun to try new healthy foods. It’s also better to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables so you can get as many different nutrients as possible. If you’re looking to break out of your routine, or just try some new things, here are a few tips to get new produce or a new pantry staple in your rotation.

Try a New Environment

Where do you get most of your food? A particular grocery store or farmer’s market? Do you find yourself going to the same aisles and getting the same thing from week to week? Mix it up and go to a new place. This can be small, like going to a new aisle or section of the grocery store, to something bigger like going to a different grocery store or farmer's market in your area. Check Local Harvest to see when and where the closest farmer's market is to you. If you already go to a farmer’s market, try different stalls that carry different foods than your weekly haul. Or, try a completely different farmer’s market! Sellers vary from market to market, pushing you out of your comfort zone and into some new foods.

If any of this seems a bit overwhelming or you’d rather have someone else do the picking for you, consider a CSA box. CSA stands for community supported agriculture and the food comes directly from one farm or a network of farms. They’ll give you a selection of produce that’s in season for their farm.

New things come each week, making it much easier to experiment. There is a possibility you could be receiving a certain food for weeks (like zucchini in the summer) because it’s in its prime at the farm you support. Several CSAs let you limit what comes in your box so you can cut down when you get tired of certain produce.

Branching Out with Produce

Once you’ve chosen where to get some new produce, look around to see what’s in season. At a farmer's market, that particular produce will be in several different stalls in large quantities. At a grocery store, the produce will be called out by signs or put on sale to attract attention. Look around for new produce, ask the people working there what the particular food is like, what that variety tastes like, what they think is the best. If you’re at a farmer’s market, look for samples or ask if you can try some to see if you like it.

Playing with Your Produce

To ease into it, start with one new fruit and one new vegetable for the week. Once you get home, there are several options on how to eat and cook with you new food.

  • Fruit: Try it raw first. If you like it by itself, try it on top of yogurt, maybe drizzled with a little bit of honey, throw it into your smoothie, stir it in with your morning oatmeal, dip it in your favorite nut butter, or chop it up and toss in your salad. You could even roast it and enjoy it for a dessert!
  • Vegetables: With your new vegetable, try it raw if you can. Some vegetables are more palatable cooked, but a bite of a new vegetable raw won’t hurt. You can also sauté it with some olive or coconut oil, throw it in a soup or stew, toss it in a salad or roast it.

Roasting your vegetables is one of the easiest ways to cook and enjoy your vegetables. Cut them evenly, arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, lightly drizzle some oil and spices on it, and roast in an oven set to 375 for at least 15 minutes, increasing the time by 2-5 increments until fork tender/not burned.

Mixing it Up in the Pantry

Your produce isn’t the only place that needs up livening up. Are you eating the same grains or beans week in and week out? Eating a variety of whole grains and legumes is also a great way to get a mix of vitamins and minerals too. Whole grains and legumes have different tastes and textures that can make your meal more interesting.

This experimentation will mostly take place in a grocery store. Some farmer's markets have vendors that offer dried legumes or specific grains, but they're not as common as produce vendors. In the store, you again have several options of how far you'd like to go. You can start looking at other things on different shelves or aisles in the current store you shop at, or you can try a completely different store. Like with the produce, start with one new bean and/or grain a week or every few weeks.

Bulk Bins: Your Secret Weapon

If your store has a bulk bin section, you've hit the experimentation jackpot! The bulk section is a great place to find a big variety of grains and legumes you may not see on the shelves. Also, if you're just looking to try something out and aren't ready to commit to anything larger than 7 ounces to a pound, the bulk bins are the place to go.

In this section of the store, you have the power to choose how much you want to try.

Playing with Your Pantry Staples

Even without the bulk bin section, there are plenty of options for you to try when it comes to finding new grains and beans

  • Beans: For beans, start with the canned versions first so you're not stuck with a big bag of beans you'll never use. Though they can seem similar in weight, dried beans can yield up to 6 cups once cooked, and that's a lot of food! Decide on buying the dry variety after you've tried it and liked it.  Add the cooked beans into whatever you normally added your previous beans to: salads, casseroles, burritos, grain bowls, soups, turn them into patties, bean dip, and so on.
  • Grains: The options are endless with grains. There are so many different kinds, you could be trying them for years! Start with some new whole grains. Read the label to see if the grain you’re considering is enriched or not. Use enriched grains sparingly compared to whole grains. If you make a lot of rice, consider brown rice if you don’t already buy that, or try a short grain instead of a long grain rice.

If you’re looking for a quicker cooking whole grain, consider amaranth, bulgur, buckwheat groats, millet, teff, or quinoa. Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, and steel cut oats take a little longer, and farro, rye berries, spelt, wheat berries, and wild rice will take the longest.

You can also cook several of these grains in a rice cooker. Check the internet or your rice cooker’s manual for the grain to water ratios. This can keep your rice cooker in use (if you decide on a non-rice grain) and cut down on the amount of stove time you’ll need for a dish.

Once you’ve selected your new grain, enjoy them cooked plain, toss them together with vegetables, in a salad, with your new beans, form them into patties, add them uncooked to a soup, or toast them up for some extra crunch. Depending on how you season these grains, you can even enjoy them for breakfast!

Diving Deeper

The cookbooks and the internet can also give you great ideas on what to do with your new produce or pantry staples—what it can do, how to cook it, what seasonings make it’s flavor pop. Don’t be afraid to try a new technique or flavoring. Some of the best culinary moments start with a “what if.”

If you liked the new produce or pantry staple you chose for the week, consider adding it into your shopping rotation every week or every other week. If you didn’t like them, pick new foods to try the next week. As you keep trying new things, you’ll start to see what flavors you gravitate towards and open yourself to some delicious new meals.

Healthy Eating 101 continues with healthy snacking options that will keep you from the candy dish or vending machine.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Second Photo Credit: Layland Masuda/; Third Photo Credit: Peter Bernik/; Fourth Photo Credit: Peungdao/; Fifth Photo Credit: JFunk/

Aug 1, 2015


Sep 2, 2015

There is the convenience of tinned beans being ready to use versus soaking dried beans for some periods. I guess it depends on how organised you are about menu planning!