2017-02-10 / Local

Eating healthy on a deadline

Spice shop setting up health food 'hubs' at co-ops

Oh! Veggies founder Terry McDonnell chops up fresh produce at his store on Monday, Feb. 6 in Windsor. — TORY JONESOh! Veggies founder Terry McDonnell chops up fresh produce at his store on Monday, Feb. 6 in Windsor. — TORY JONESWINDSOR — A series of comical trips to a co-op grocery store looking for ingredients such as galangal — and wandering the stores with up to five employees — was the tipping point that led Oh! Veggies founder Terry McDonnell to create his own line of simple seasonings, sauces and recipes.

New as of December 2016, McDonnell has teamed up with two local co-ops, one in Hanover and one in Lebanon, to bring his seasonings, sauces and recipes to customers in “hubs” that sit in the produce department of each store.

A few years ago, McDonnell’s doctor told him his A1C levels were too high, indicating prediabetes. The doctor’s advice: “You need to eat less pizza and less ice cream,” McDonnell said in an interview on Monday, Feb. 6 at his store.

“It got me going on this journey to better health,” said McDonnell, a husband and father of five. “And that means better food.”

McDonnell was born in New Jersey, but has called Norwich, Vermont home for the past 20 years. McDonnell said that his experiences as a parent, including trying to balance a desire to eat healthy with a busy parenting and work life, is what led to his creation of the Oh! Veggies line, and the opening of his store in May 2016.  

The challenge was that, as busy parents, “we needed to make supper in 20 minutes,” he said.

While the food industry has plenty of make-it-quick options, they tend to be processed, he said.

The innovation with his products are simple recipes and ingredient list, with simple preparation and cooking instructions, he said.

In 2014, just before McDonnell began his Oh! Veggies journey, he was looking for simple ingredients that could be combined quickly to make healthy meals for his family. He went to a nearby co-op to search for the items on his recipe shopping list.

“It was comical,” he said, sometimes requiring the help of several staffers, looking for ingredients that people had never heard of. “It was like an SNL skit.”

So he teamed up with a nutritionist and natural food chef to create his own collection of 30 simple recipes, sauces and seasonings that, combined, make it possible to cook healthy, delicious meals that can be prepared and ready in 20 minutes, he said.

The sauces and seasonings he came up with are meant to quickly solve the “flavor challenge” for some things that are not naturally succulent, such as some vegetables, he said.

In other words, they help veggies taste good, McDonnell said.

McDonnell said the two co-ops have been extremely open to working with him to include the “hubs” in their produce sections. In the future, he hopes to also include these hubs in larger, local grocery stores’ produce sections, making it easier for consumers to toss the recipe cards and seasonings into a basket with wholesome ingredients nearby, he said.

“It’s really easy to eat this way,” he said.

The Oh! Veggies website has recipes for plant-based and other healthy meals including soups, salads, fajitas and fritters. They include a wide variety, such as Corn Scallion Fritters, West African Sauce, Sesame Cucumber Avocado Salad, Black Bean, Spinach and Fried Egg Bowl, and Suspiciously Delicious Cabbage.

By combining simple recipes and ingredients, Oh! Veggies aims to change how people shop for healthy dinners, McDonnell said. The new hubs will help with that mission, because they will offer all the recipe cards, sauces and seasonings needed for the simple recipes, he said.

McDonnell is also the founder of the Windsor Artisans Park, a tourist destination. The park features small businesses that offer locally-crafted cheeses, preserves, beer, spirits, and other Vermont foods and goods, along with a glass factory, pottery shop, river outfitter and sculpture garden.

Since the inception of the company and opening of the Oh! Veggies store, he has had visitors from all over the world, including those who make the Artisans Park a destination while vacationing in the area, McDonnell said.

Also new to the store, McDonnell will begin offering a series of classes year-round. They will include cooking classes, sessions on cleanse and detox, and educational classes, starting Feb. 28. Class registration details will be posted soon on the website, he said.

The Oh! Veggies storefront is open seasonally from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.

For recipes and videos, or for more information on classes, visit www.ohveggies.net.


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