The coconut challenge grocery basket

Making a game of buying—and trying—new foods

It all started with a coconut.

I was at the grocery store with a cart full of healthy, budget-friendly foods, foods chosen because I’d realized that if I didn’t want to eat away my savings and retirement, I’d better start learning to cook. Really cook.

A typical college dinner for me was microwaveable mac n’ cheese. Breakfasts featured just-add-water oatmeal. Besides milk and eggs, it was on rare occasions that my fridge housed items with expiration dates.

But college life is behind me; and, fortunately, so is college cooking. So instead of throwing a box of instant pancake mix into my cart, I headed straight for the grown-up aisles: meat, dairy, and produce.

It had been several months since I’d decided to claw my way out of culinary laziness, but I’d somehow managed to slip into a new rut, purchasing the same nutritious, perishable items each week and eating entirely too much marinated portabella, Greek yogurt parfait, and baked fish.

“I might be saving money,” I thought to myself, “but if I kept eating the same meals each week, my palate will die of boredom.”

Yet, upon seeing that coconut in all of its hairy glory, an idea awakened in me: Wouldn’t it be fun to make shopping, and thus cooking, a challenging game? Each time I went grocery shopping, I would purchase at least one new item and force myself to find a use for it.

So I selected the hairiest coconut I could find and eagerly took a power drill to it that evening, extracting the refreshing liquid inside. Admittedly, the “meat” of it was a little tougher to procure, but after I watched a tutorial on YouTube, the coconut was no match for me. I sliced it into chunks and snacked on it for the next few days.

Since then, I’ve bought foods like black rice, oysters, cabbage, and steel-cut oats. Almond milk has now become a staple in my fridge.

With thousands of items stocked at the typical grocery store, it’ll be quite some time before I branch out to chicken liver or canned sardines, but I do have cactus and rhubarb on my list.

And speaking of rhubarb, it just so happens that I’m invited to a potluck this Friday. Perhaps I’ll make that strawberry rhubarb pie I’ve been thinking about . . . then again, I might just pick up a bottle of wine.

Rachel’s Challenge

The next time you go grocery shopping, challenge yourself to select a food you’ve never before purchased and find a way to prepare it.

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