Vegetables are an important part of your diet, and there are ways to eat them without even noticing.
I grabbed my fork and took a big bite of homemade lasagna that my wife had prepared for the family one recent evening. It was delicious, and as I looked up to compliment her, I noticed something. My wife hadn’t started her dinner. She was watching me the entire time, with a slight smirk on her face.
“What?” I asked.
“Do you like it?” she asked, her smirk turning into a full grin.
I knew what that meant. She had done some more experimenting with the blender and a bunch of vegetables, throwing something new into the lasagna that I otherwise would probably never eat. She wanted to know if I even noticed the added ingredients.
In this case, it was spinach and cauliflower. I did not taste either one of them, and that’s what was so wonderful.
Let’s face it, as much as we all want to eat healthy, nutrient-packed foods—and as much as we know it can help our running performance—it can be hard for picky eaters to pile vegetables on our plate.
After all, what if we just don’t like them?
While this is a problem that’s normally centered around kids and their narrow taste buds, the truth is that many adults could do a better job of getting our daily allowance of vegetables if we just get a little creative.
A 2011 study by Penn State University found that padding dishes with “stealth vegetables” can cut overall calorie intake by reducing the energy density in the foods. The study was conducted on kids over a three-week period by occasionally serving them meals that had triple or quadruple the vegetable content added in via purees. Children were instructed to eat as much as they liked.
What they found is that the amount eaten did not decrease when vegetables were “snuck” into the food, but the food itself had fewer calories and were more nutrient-dense. Vegetable intake increased by 50 percent when vegetable content was tripled, and 73 percent when it was quadrupled. Kids were asked to rate how much they liked the food and there was little change between the vegetable-packed food and the regular dishes served normally.
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What does that mean for adults? With a little creativity, it could mean a better diet with fewer calories, better energy for your running and a happier body that’s getting better fuel.
There are plenty of meals that can have a vegetable or two snuck in without affecting the taste. Jessica Seinfeld, the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, wrote an entire book called Deceptively Delicious about how to sneak high-nutrient foods into the bodies of picky kids. But this issue is not exclusive to children—and neither is the solution to it.
Here are some ways to get some more vegetables into your diet without your taste buds knowing.
Zucchini can find its way into breakfast foods, as it’s a nutritious, mild-tasting vegetable. The Penn State researchers used zucchini bread during their study, but you can also make zucchini muffins or add grated zucchini to pancake and waffle batter.
Seinfeld also suggests adding cauliflower puree to your scrambled eggs, as it “simply melts into the fluffy eggs.”
Lunch and Dinner
Traditional Italian dishes are just begging for vegetables to be added.
It is super easy to sneak vegetable purees into pasta sauce. In fact, this was one of the main “manipulated” foods of the Penn State study (along with zucchini bread and chicken noodle casserole). Vegetables like cauliflower and spinach, both loaded with vitamin C and vitamin K, can be effortlessly added to pasta sauce without affecting the taste, and vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers and carrots could even make a cameo.
Lasagna is another dish that has so much going on that vegetables like cauliflower and spinach can easily be included without affecting the overall taste. And of course, pizza still tastes great even with spinach and other greens thrown on (or in).
Mexican food like quesadillas or burritos can definitely have more vegetables mixed in (Seinfeld suggests a butternut squash puree for quesadillas). Taco meat can, too.
Chili is another great place to hide vegetables—carrots, squash and sweet potato can all make a sneaky appearance.
Traditional guacamole is healthy enough as-is, with the avocado providing enough benefits to stand on its own. But don’t stop there. Spinach, peas and other green veggies can be added to guacamole without compromising the taste (or the color).
And of course, smoothies can always hide vegetables you wouldn’t normally eat. Make a fruit smoothie and leave a little room for beet puree. Beets might be the perfect vegetable for runners, as they are chock full of nutrients and also have a large amount of nitrates, which studies have shown can help boost endurance.
However you go about it, athletes need the nutrients that vegetables provide. Don’t run away from them, but if you must, play dumb and let them sneak their way into your stomach instead.