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Cooking up a healthy solution

Eating well: Registered dietician combines passion for nutrition and wellness with a love of cooking

Although she’s a licensed dietician, Amy Ansaldo sometimes found it challenging to find healthy food to have for lunch at work. It’s a problem that was shared by several of her friends, many of whom work in health care jobs. So about a year and a half back, Ansaldo and a few others started getting together on Sundays to cook together and talk about food.

“I was trying to get my friends to be eating better food at work,” said Ansaldo, who lives in Lyndeborough, on Friday. “People don’t have time to plan ahead, so they don’t eat well.”

Ansaldo’s been cooking all her life. Her father, Sam Dyer of Jaffrey, is an enthusiastic chef who got her started when she was young. And in her studies at Keene State to become a dietician, she not only learned a lot about healthy ingredients, but also got practice in how to make them tasty.

“I always tell people, don’t trust any dietician who can’t cook,” Ansaldo said.

At the Sunday sessions with friends, Ansaldo started by teaching about spices and unusual food products and how to make recipe modifications to create healthier meals.

The get-togethers soon shifted to focus on meal preparation for an entire week, with people bringing their own packaging and putting together a variety of meals that could easily be packed and refrigerated.

The meals were such a hit that Ansaldo’s now starting a new venture. Called Fresca’s Fare, it’s named in honor of her daughter, Francesca, and billed as “home cooking for the health conscious.”

Every Sunday, Ansaldo heads to the Monadnock Fusion Kitchen at Noone Falls in Peterborough, where she rents time in the commercial kitchen to put together large batches of five different lunchtime entrees and package them in individual, portion-controlled servings for her customers.

Then on Monday mornings, she makes the rounds, filling a huge cooler that fits in the back of her SUV and delivering the week’s lunches, first to Keene, then back to Peterborough, then over to Bedford and Manchester.

“My goal is to have everything delivered by 1 p.m.,” she said. “It’s a lot of work. I’m doing all the cooking myself and the deliveries. But it’s my contribution. I really want to promote healthy choices and portion control.”

Ansaldo has worked as a dietician at Pheasant Wood Nursing Home in Peterborough and still does per-diem work, mainly at the Elliot Hospital in Manchester. With the new business, she’s trying to create recipes that will be different from the convenience foods that so many people rely on for a quick, but less than nutritious, lunch.

A glance at a typical week’s menu gives an indication of the variety of Ansaldo’s meals — edamame quinoa salad on Monday, followed by turkey gyro with cole slaw, eggplant Parmesan al Fresca, sweet corn and pepper soup with tortilla strips, and blackened salmon Caesar salad.

Monday offerings are always meatless, with a recipe that uses plant-based protein sources. Tuesdays feature poultry, Thursdays are soup days and fish or seafood are planned for Fridays.

“I’m trying to push people outside their box a little bit,” she said. “Lunch can be boring. I’m trying to bring some flair.”

It seems to be working. Ansaldo took the Memorial Day weekend off, and she said she heard about it from her regulars.

“One of them told me, ‘I just stared into my fridge and didn’t know what to do.’”

Ansaldo’s also trying to make the meals affordable. Five lunches cost $38 a week with delivery or $33 per week if the meals are picked up.

Most of her customers are women, but Ansaldo’s also thinking about adding servings for men. Her husband works in construction, she said, and she believes there may be a market for larger “hungry guy” portions. She’s also considering offering nutrition and cooking classes.

But for now, her main focus is getting all the meals prepared each Sunday and delivered every Monday. It’s a one-woman show at the moment, but Ansaldo’s hoping she’ll soon be needing some helpers.

“We’re just getting started, and we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

Ansaldo can be contacted at www.frescasfare.com or 562-6092.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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