Some of us crave comfort food-packaged hidden veggies

On Nov. 1, 2021, Gal Gadot swept her hair back in a low ponytail, donned a seafoam green hoodie and addressed her more than 70 million Instagram followers head-on.

“Hi guys,” she said, into a camera facing her. “I have a little secret that I want to share with you.

“Actually, it’s not that little,” she teased. “It is enormous. Huge. Ready? Then she tossed a fork full of neon orange macaroni noodles into the frame, took a bite, and said no more.

Could it be a Wonder Woman spin-off? “Red Notice 2”?

Two weeks later, Gadot reappeared for the big reveal: The “huge secret” in question was her new line of boxed macaroni and cheese with hidden vegetables, called Goodles.

It’s the latest entry in the herd of beautifully packaged comfort foods aimed at adults who – apparently – would like to be pampered while eating their veggies.

In addition to the Goodles (ingredients include broccoli, kale, and pumpkin), there are frozen pizza rolls filled with undetectable chunks of carrot, spinach, sweet potato, and bell pepper. They arrive in blue bags designed to evoke memories of the crunchy, salty snacks that burned the roof of your mouth at a slumber party in 1997. There’s micro-spiced oatmeal and apples. waves, sprinkled with freeze-dried cauliflower. There are smoky barbecue chips in crinkled, puffy bags like the ones next to the deli sandwich counter, made from celery pulp and kale. And there are other variations of nutritionally enhanced macaroni, like Camp’s Classic Cheddar Mac and Cheese, made in part from zucchini, corn, spinach and maitake mushrooms. Sticker prices tend to hover several dollars more per item than their non-veg counterparts. Goodles, which is currently only available direct-to-consumer, costs around $6 a box with shipping.

Snow Days Pizza Bites are loaded with chunks of carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and bell peppers.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

The idea of ​​hiding a vegetable in a meal has, of course, been around since the first child learned to moan over a plate of soft broccoli. And there have been attempts to persuade adults to join the journey, like Jessica Seinfeld’s 2010 cookbook “Double Delicious!” is for home cooks looking for tips on incorporating blitz products into family meals. (“Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns” calls for half a cup of mashed carrots in the batter and a quarter cup of mashed cauliflower in the glaze.)

Then came a new wave of packaged hidden vegetable products for kids. Some of them had happy little smiling faces and carrots drawn on their boxes, with bold letters that promised food the little ones would actually enjoy. Kidfresh founder Matt Cohen launched a line of counterfeit vegetable-filled macaroni and cheese, meatballs and spaghetti in 2010 after becoming frustrated with the limited options for his own children. By the end of the first year, Cohen estimates the products were in 50 stores. Today, Kidfresh is on the shelves of over 10,000 stores.

Jessica Levinson, who runs a frozen yogurt shop in Surfside, Florida, had a similar eureka moment when her eldest child started refusing anything green. Levinson went to market in 2019 with five flavors of Peekaboo Hidden Veggie Ice Cream, like Vanilla with Zucchini and Mint Chips with Spinach. On the carton of its chocolate flavor, a life-size cauliflower stalk with oversized eyeballs appears to nestle in the shoulder of a friendly candy bar.

Soon the adults also began to take their spoons.

“I felt a little funny buying kids stuff at the grocery store,” says Jane Hardy, recipe developer and food influencer with 190,000 Instagram followers. She discovered Kidfresh Wagon Wheels macaroni and cheese in the aisle of her local freezer long before her first baby was born, and she loved the idea of ​​a serving of carrots with the plain cheesy pasta she often has. desire.

A packet of Kidfresh Spaghetti Loops with sweet potato slices and whole carrots

Matt Cohen has launched a line of veggie-filled mac and cheese, meatballs and spaghetti curls after becoming frustrated with the limited options for his kids.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

The adult-focused startups were apparently watching from the next aisle — and they got to work quickly.

“We had debates about whether it should be a children’s brand. But really, it’s for the kid inside mom and dad,” says Brian Evangelista, who runs Snow Days — the hidden vegetable pizza bites — for consumer products incubator HumanCo. “We were looking at older millennials who rode that wave of pizza bites in the 90s.”

Snow Days – which has its own celebrity mascot in the form of investor and creative director Scarlett Johansson – launched in March 2021. A glowing article in Bon Appetit proclaiming the “ingredient list…reads more like a salad” followed shortly after launch.

Amanda Natividad, a 36-year-old saleswoman who lives in Los Angeles and regularly eats bites of pizza, says she ate Totino’s Pizza Rolls “all the time” growing up. The first thing that seduced her in Snow Days was the list of plant ingredients. “I have a child,” she said. “But pizza bites are for me.”

“Consumer interest in healthy foods is not only high, it is one of the most important factors driving their purchasing decisions. Eighty-six percent of consumers surveyed for our recent food journal told us that ‘personal health and well-being’ was important or very important in choosing the foods they buy,” says Barb. Renner, head of US consumer products for Deloitte. “Health doesn’t mean consumers just want to snack on raw carrots and kale. They want tasty, convenient meals and, with everything we’ve been through, some comfort food.

    A carton of Peekaboo ice cream surrounded by sliced ​​and whole carrots

Jessica Levinson went to market with five flavors of Peekaboo Hidden Veggie Ice Cream, like Vanilla with Zucchini and Mint Chips with Spinach.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Goodles’ founding team – which, including Gadot, is five people and led by Jen Zeszut, who has not spent previous years as CEO of a baby food company – has teamed up to Zoom during the pandemic to create their own contribution.

The result? Noodles that are Frankensteined together from plain wheat flour, chickpea protein, and “nutrients from” broccoli, spinach, kale, pumpkin, sweet potato, and mushrooms. The noodles vibrate inside a cardboard box that looks like the Kraft classic was pimped by the skater kids of Rocket Power, alongside a packet of dairy-based dehydrated cheddar cheese sauce that, in the end account, has the taste of its ancestor. (Asked about how the vegetables were incorporated, spokespersons for the founding team hesitated.)

Gadot says she remembers when she was a little girl in Israel and her aunt and uncle used to bring bags of American mac and cheese as gifts. “I’ve always been frustrated that I couldn’t find a more nutritious mac and cheese option,” she says. “What sparked my interest…to incorporate veggies, protein, and fiber.”

After launching late last year, Goodles sold out within weeks. Its parent company, Gooder Foods, Inc., has raised $6.4 million to date.

The road from nostalgic gaming to bargain sales seems to have been paved at least in part by timing. Many of us have spent the past two years locked indoors in panic, incredibly worried about our health. Confluence has created a landing pad for prepackaged comfort foods that signal vague promises of wellness.

“Even as a nutritionist, I crave comfort foods,” says Elissa Goodman, who runs a holistic practice in Los Angeles. “And my clients tell me, ‘I don’t have the brains or the energy to think about chopping vegetables and making a salad. »

“Healthy junk food” has sold well over the past two years, says Jessica Young, who in 2019 founded Bubble, an online marketplace for healthy snacks and pantry staples. “Today’s consumer is much more aware what’s going on in their bodies,” she adds, which is why they load their carts with sweet apple juice cookies and packets of celery pulp crisps. When Bubble first launched, there were around 40 brands selling food on the platform. Today, says Young, there are nearly 600.

As for the actual health benefits of comfort foods made from hidden vegetables, nutritionists admit — somewhat reluctantly — that they exist, to some extent.

If you’re hesitating between a salad and a bite of hidden veggie pizza, the former obviously has more nutritional value. But if you’re determined to eat a bite of pizza, any amount of vegetables is better than none, says Goodman.

Gadot claims to eat Goodles twice a week.

Recently, she posted part of a behind-the-scenes video of her glam squad in action on Instagram. As a man forced his hair into oversized curlers and a woman worked on Gadot’s eyebrows, the actor ate bites of Goodles.

“Like old times,” the woman said, and Gadot waved those famous eyebrows and smiled in confirmation.

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