Some of us have to eat hidden veggies that are packaged in ready meals

On November 1, 2021, Gal Gadot brushed her hair back into a low ponytail, donned a meerschaum green hoodie and addressed her 70 million+ Instagram followers head-on.

“Hey guys,” she said into a self-pointing camera. “I have a little secret I want to share with you.

“Actually, it’s not that little,” she teased. “It’s huge. Enormously. Ready? Then she flew a forkful of neon orange macaroni noodles into the frame, took a bite and said nothing more.

Could it be a Wonder Woman spinoff? “Red Notice 2”?

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

It’s the latest entry in the herd of happily packaged comfort foods aimed at adults who – apparently – like to be spoiled about eating their veggies.

In addition to Goodles (ingredients include broccoli, kale, and squash), there are frozen pizza rolls stuffed with undetectable chunks of carrot, spinach, sweet potato, and bell pepper. They come in blue bags meant to evoke memories of the bubbly, cheeky snacks that burned the palate on a sleepover in 1997. There’s apple spice microwavable oatmeal studded with freeze-dried cauliflower. There are smoky BBQ chips in crumpled bags, puffed up like the ones by the sandwich counter, made from celery and kale pulp. And there are other versions of nutritionally fortified mac, like Camp’s Classic Cheddar Mac ‘n’ Cheese, which is made in part with zucchini, corn, spinach, and maitake mushrooms. Sticker prices are typically a few dollars more per item than their veg-free counterparts. Goodles, which is currently only available direct-to-consumer, costs about $6 per box with shipping.

A pack of Snow Days Pizza Bites on a background of sliced ​​red peppers.

Snow Days Pizza Bites are packed with chunks of carrot, spinach, sweet potato and peppers.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, the idea of ​​hiding a vegetable in a meal has been around since the first toddler learned to lament a plate of limp broccoli. And there have been attempts to persuade adults to join in, like Jessica Seinfeld’s 2010 cookbook, Double Delicious!, aimed at home cooks looking for a guide on how to incorporate flashy products into family meals. (“Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns” calls for 1/2 cup mashed carrots in the batter and 1/4 cup mashed cauliflower in the glaze.)

Then came a new wave of packaged hidden vegetarian products for kids. Some of them had happy little smiling faces and cartoon carrots on their boxes, with bold letters promising food the little ones would actually enjoy. Kidfresh founder Matt Cohen launched a line of veggie-filled mac ‘n’ cheese, meatballs and fake spaghetti-O’s in 2010 after becoming frustrated with limited options for his own kids. Cohen estimates that the products were available in 50 stores by the end of the first year. Today, Kidfresh is on the shelves of more than 10,000 stores.

Jessica Levinson, who runs a frozen yogurt shop in Surfside, Fla., had a similar aha moment when her oldest child started rejecting anything green. Levinson launched 2019 with five flavors of Peekaboo Hidden Veggie Ice Cream, like vanilla with zucchini and mint chips with spinach. On the box of her chocolate flavor, a life-size cauliflower stalk with oversized eyeballs appears to nestle in the shoulder of a friendly candy bar.

Adults soon picked up the spoon too.

“I found it kind of weird buying kids stuff at the grocery store,” says Jane Hardy, a recipe developer and food influencer with 190,000 Instagram followers. She spotted Kidfresh Wagon Wheels Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese in her local freezer section long before her first baby was born, and she loved the idea of ​​a serving of carrots along with the cheesy easy pasta she often craves.

A pack of Kidfresh Spaghetti Loops with sliced ​​sweet potatoes and whole carrots

Matt Cohen launched a line of veggie-filled mac ‘n’ cheese, meatballs and spaghetti loops after becoming frustrated with the limited options available to his kids.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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

“We had discussions about whether this should be a children’s brand. But really, it’s for the kid in Mom and Dad,” says Brian Evangelista, who runs Snow Days — the hidden veggie pizza bites — for consumer products incubator HumanCo. “We looked at the older millennials who rode the wave of pizza bites in the ’90s.”

Snow Days – which has its own celebrity mascot in investor and creative director Scarlett Johansson – launched in March 2021. Shortly after launch, there was an enthusiastic review in Bon Appetit, proclaiming the “ingredient list…reads more like a salad.”

Amanda Natividad, a 36-year-old marketer who lives in Los Angeles and eats pizza rolls regularly, says she ate Totino’s Pizza Rolls “all the time” growing up. The first thing she liked about Snow Days was the herbal ingredient list. “I have a child,” she says. “But the pizza bites are for me.”

“Consumers are not only interested in healthy food, it is one of the most important factors in their purchasing decision. 86 percent of consumers surveyed for our most recent food newspaper said “personal health and well-being” is important or very important when making choices about the foods they buy,” said Barb Renner, US consumer products director at Deloitte. “Healthy doesn’t mean that consumers only want to snack on raw carrots and kale. They want tasty, convenient meals and a little comfort after everything we’ve been through.”

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

Jessica Levinson launched five flavors of Peekaboo Hidden Veggie Ice Cream, like vanilla with zucchini and mint chips with spinach.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The Goodles founding team — which consists of five people, including Gadot and is led by Jen Zeszut, who has not coincidentally spent the last few years as CEO of a baby food company — has joined forces via Zoom during the pandemic to make their own contribution.

The result? Pasta made with regular wheat flour, chickpea protein, and “nutrients from” broccoli, spinach, kale, squash, sweet potatoes, and Frankenstein’s mushrooms. The noodles rattle around in a cardboard box that looks like the classic Kraft cheese has been pimped up by the skater kids at Rocket Power, along with a pack of whole milk dehydrated cheddar cheese sauce that when all is said and mixed , like their forefather tastes. (When asked how the vegetables were integrated, the spokesman for the founding team disagreed.)

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

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

The path from nostalgia game to sales boon seems to have been paved, at least in part, by timing. Many of us have spent the last two years indoors freaking out and incredibly concerned about our health. The confluence created a landing pad for pre-packaged ready meals that vaguely promise well-being.

“Even as a nutritionist, I crave home cooking,” says Elissa Goodman, who runs a holistic practice in Los Angeles. “And my customers say, ‘I don’t have the brain or 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 founded Bubble, an online marketplace for healthy snacks and staples, in 2019. “Today the consumer is much more aware what goes into their bodies,” she adds, which is why they load their carts with cookies sweetened with apple juice and bags of celery pulp chips. When Bubble first launched, there were about 40 brands selling groceries on the platform. Today, Young says, there are nearly 600.

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

If you’re deciding between a salad and a pizza bite with hidden veggies, the former obviously contains more nutritional value. But if you’re dying to eat pizza, lots of veggies is better than nothing, says Goodman.

Gadot pretends to eat Goodles twice a week.

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

“Like before,” the woman said, and Gadot waggled his famous eyebrows and grinned in agreement. Some of us have to eat hidden veggies that are packaged in ready meals

Russell Falcon

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