Food & Drink

Local options abound for eating healthy on the go

Photo courtesy of Sower’s Harvest Cafe
Photo courtesy of Sower’s Harvest Cafe

Year after year, Americans vow to eat healthier as part of their New Year’s resolutions. While you’ll have to rely on your own self-control to keep your hand out of the cookie jar at home this January, there are plenty of options around State College when it comes to eating healthy on the go.

At Café Verve, owner Heather Jones notes there are a lot of health benefits to a whole foods, plant-based diet. She founded Café Verve just a few years ago to better cater to the vegan and vegetarian crowd in State College, but the healthful foods on the menu please a variety of palates, with surprising replacements for your favorite sweet treats or succulent entrees.

“A lot of people who are transitioning to vegan or vegetarian really miss the texture of the meat. We have burgers, chick’n tenders and meatless crumbles that help serve as delicious substitutes when transitioning, making people miss meat less.... We recommend giving the mock meats a try....

“Also, we have vegan baked goods, so do not fret about a sweet tooth attack!” she says.

Café Verve’s January special menu items include the “Impossible Burger,” which pops up on the menu from time to time. “This plant burger has a scary realness to it between texture, taste and ‘bleeding.’ It’s definitely the best one on the market so far! We may be putting it on our main menu in the near future,” says Jones.

If your New Year’s resolution is to switch to a plant-based diet, versus just eating healthier, Jones recommends aiming for whole foods as much as possible, as there’s a surprising number of vegan processed junk foods, and to “stay excited and think about all the wonderful health benefits and fun and delicious things to try. Do not get stuck in the mindset of lack, going without, being deprived. That’s not healthy for anyone. Keep an open mind and a grateful heart.”

Elaine Meder-Wilgus, founder at Webster’s Bookstore Café, seconds the notion of keeping your foods “whole,” a tip that applies to any diet. “I always tell folks not to ‘fake the food, but to make your food’ by starting with whole foods to create meals. Use real ingredients, avoid processed foods and consider adding color and variety to your meals, instead of thinking of plant-based meals as just ‘faking’ your animal proteins with meat substitutes that are typically highly processed,” she says.

Webster’s Bookstore Café offers a wealth of whole foods on its menu. “We offer a varied menu featuring our vegan, gluten-free spreads that are also available for take-out in bulk quantities to enjoy at home, such as Sunflower Seed Pate and Yemaya’s Delight,” says Meder-Wilgus. “Additionally, we offer a Vegan Brunch Buffet every Sunday from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. that offers a bounty of plant-based foods, such as yamoodles (sweet potato noodles), tofu scramble, braised kale, oven roasted vegetables and many different soups, as well as baked goods.”

The weekly Vegan Brunch Buffet items differ from week to week, with a focus on the local harvest. “Our attention is resting on the beautiful winter squashes and potatoes that we can hold over these long winter months. We incorporate winter fruits and vegetables into our baked goods, pies and soups every day,” says Meder-Wilgus.

For those who look to eat “whole” and healthier, but aren’t ready to switch to an entirely plant-based diet, the dining options are hardly slim. At Sower’s Harvest Café, where the motto is “naturally healthy cuisine served with a heart of welcome,” the staff, led by owner Bryant Martin, serves up an array of menu items and options suitable for those aiming to eat healthier in the new year, including their veggie pesto omelets and veggie pesto paninis, garden and Greek salads and fruit smoothies. The seasonal special is the Festive Chicken Sandwich, still available in January, featuring spinach, cream cheese, pecans, Craisins and grilled chicken.