Food for thought: Fairfield County stores offer trendy health food options

Foods with new flavors and healthy substitutions are appearing on market shelves, restaurant menus, and in convenience stores. All you have to do is walk down the natural or organic aisles of your local supermarket to determine the latest healthy food trends.

Plant-based products have been slipped into everything from drinks to desserts, and unless you know they’re there, they can be hard to detect. An example is Peekaboo organic ice cream which includes hidden veggies like beets, cauliflower, carrots, and spinach in every bite.

Many people are changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based foods. Despite this trend, others continue to eat smaller portions of meat and chicken.

Organic and gluten-free foods are becoming more mainstream. Soy milk is being replaced by almond or coconut milk, while oat milk is the rage for coffee lovers. Soy is also being swapped for grains, mung beans, hemp seed, and golden chloretta, a type of algae that can mimic the textures of yogurt and other dairy products.

The tempting array of prepared foods at Nature’s Temptations in Ridgefield delights the eye and palate. One trend, according to the store’s executive chef, Liz Gagnon, is that people are getting away from cooking with vegetable oils such as canola and olive, and replacing them with coconut oil, especially when preparing beans, legumes, and nuts.

“Most of the food we prepare is free of all allergens such as gluten, and anything with oats is popular.” She emphasizes that everything is made from scratch with fresh, organic and clean ingredients. “Nothing comes from a can,” she says. All of their offerings are not plant-based, however, as judged from the popularity of their pulled pork. Gagnon suggests people mix up their palates, with plant-based, and meat and chicken. “Everything in moderation.”

New to Nature’s Temptations are 300 calorie grab-and-go spa salads and nourishing bowls to follow a workout. “These,” she says, “sell out by mid-afternoon.”

“Vegan foods are quite popular,” says Daniel Grzegowski, deli manager at the Common Bond Health Food Market in Shelton. He mentions avocado toast as a deli favorite, “but we’ve bumped it up a bit by adding flaxseeds, sprouts, and cherry tomatoes. For those who love the taste of bacon,” he says, “smoked tempeh bacon tastes like the real thing,” and, he adds, “everyone loves chicken cutlets.”

“People may be going vegan,” says the co-owner of The Organic Market in Playhouse Square in Westport, “but one of our best sellers at the hot buffet are chicken kabobs. We make about six trays every day and they are sold out, as are our bean burritos.” When asked about other favorites she mentions the popularity of the market’s soups and her chicken salad. She emphasizes that all the meats are organic and grass-fed. “Ninety percent of what we sell is plant-based and gluten-free. We make everything from scratch and never use milk or butter.”

Veggie foods are the snack trend. Puffed foods with ingredients like chickpeas, beets, quinoa, kale, spinach, and cauliflower are new as are burger puffs, popped lotus seeds coated with flavors, and snack balls made with dates, nuts, peanut butter, and coconut. One young mother claims, “because they’re so healthy I tell my kids, it’s okay to eat the whole bag.”

Snack foods aren’t restricted to shelves. Look in the refrigerated sections for single-serve packages of hard-boiled eggs with savory toppings, pickled vegetables, fresh fruits, and veggie nutrition bars.

Coconut is another new trend: coconut water, coconut flakes, snacks, and baked goods with coconut, as well as ice cream made with coconut milk.

Continuing in 2020 will be plant-based carbohydrate substitutes that use broccoli or cauliflower in pizza crusts, tortillas, and chicken tenders.

Perhaps the new “IT” cuisine will come from West Africa. Ancient cereal grains like sorghum, fonio, teff, and millet along with superfoods like miring, tamarind and Moringa, a plant known for its health benefits, will be found in more dishes and on grocery shelves. These foods are said to boost health and longevity.

Butters and spreads have expanded. Look for chickpea or macadamia butter, watermelon seed butter, and creamy vegan spreads made from nuts and seeds.

New to the market is banana flour and those made from fruits and vegetables such as cauliflower and beets. If you’re not already, become a label reader on these packaged foods.

For the meat lovers, beef burgers can still be found, but they’re often mixed with plant-based ingredients such as chickpeas, black beans, pea protein, and quinoa.

Sugars made from monk fruit, pomegranate, coconut, sweet potato, sorghum, and dates will add a touch of sweetness to dessert recipes, meat glazes, and marinades.

Kombucha, a fizzy fermented tea is a popular alternative to alcohol or soda, as are drinks like Zero beer.

Kids' favorites are not to be ignored. Non-breaded salmon fish sticks, pasta made from alternative flours, and organic chicken nuggets are favorites.