Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Eat Your Veggies Experiment Part 1: Meet the Eaters

Last week, we posted an extensive article called Learning to Love Foods You Hate: A How-to Guide for Frugal Eaters. It claimed that in order to eat healthy and cheaply, we have to suck it up and try certain edibles we might have hated in the past (fruits, veggies, etc.). Then, it went on to give several examples of how to do this without A) barfing, B) upchucking, or C) expelling food from your stomach through your mouthhole.

Next Tuesday, we’re putting those theories to the test. The lovely Rachel and I have recruited two guinea pigs - my sister Linda and our dear friend Dustin – to take part in an experiment. Using the principles outlined in LtLFYHaHGFE, we’re going to cook vegetables they dislike, and try to make them reconsider.

This won’t be easy, as both Linda and Dustin are very discerning about their meals. But our goal isn’t to shock them with new flavors. Nope - our goal is more modest. We want them to be comfortable and happy, and ultimately expand their produce options a bit. Also, not vomiting would be good.

So far, we know the following:
  • Rach and I are making four or five dishes. We don’t know if they’ll feature five different vegetables or one vegetable in five different ways.
  • Linda and Dustin won’t know the ingredients of any dish before eating it.
  • Neither of them has ever tried kale. Since it’s awesome and relatively flavorless (comparatively speaking), I’d like to cram that in there somewhere.
  • They’ll be eating in different rooms, so their opinions aren’t colored by each other’s reactions.
  • Their verdicts will be recorded by themselves on a sheet of paper. They’ll probably have scales from 1-10 and space for comments.
  • There will be at least two control group participants (ie. dudes that will eat anything) to ensure the food is in fact, palatable.
Beyond that, it’s wide open.

So readers, we need your help on this one. There are more specific questions for you at the end of this post, but first, a little more about our testees:

What is your name?

DUSTIN: Dustin.

LINDA: Linda … your sister.

How old are you?

DUSTIN: 32 going on 16.

LINDA: Old enough that I don’t want to answer that question, but young enough that you can still call me “twentysomething.”

How would you describe your eating style? Why do you eat that way?

DUSTIN: Like the kids from the Apple Jacks commercial, I eat what I like. I tend to not like many things, however. I tend to prefer simple tastes and simple food combinations. I get nauseous very, very easily and I don’t like throwing up. So I just eat the pre-approved Dustin things.

LINDA: Light breakfast and lunch, carbo-loading-type dinner. Why ... laziness? I’m not really sure, I suppose pasta and tomato sauce are my favorite foods and I tend to exploit what I like.

Have you always been that type of eater?

DUSTIN: Yes. If anything I have gotten more adventurous, but to such a small degree that no one would ever notice.


What do you eat during the average day?

Breakfast – Nothing or waffles with syrup and no butter. But that’s recently. It used to be a NUGO bar and a Gatorade. Lemon Lime flavor only. The rest are for hippies. There was a brief period where it was lemon cake and Gatorade. Those where the best times of my life!
Lunch – Salad (iceberg lettuce, Italian dressing, croutons, olives and cucumbers) or chicken cutlet on a roll with nothing on it and chips.
Dinner – A hamburger (well done) with fries or some form of rice. White rice with sauce or Rice-A-Roni. (For the record Rice Pilaf and Chicken are the only good flavors. I used to like Beef but that was when I was young and naive.)

Breakfast - A low-calorie breakfast bar.
Lunch - A vegetable and cheese sandwich (lettuce, green peppers and pickles) and a bag of baked Doritos.
Dinner - Pasta with some sort of protein (sausage or shrimp).
I eat basically the same thing every day. (I am not kidding.)

What are your favorite foods (especially fruits and vegetables)? Why?

DUSTIN: Chicken Francese with a side of Rice Pilaf. Because it’s fricken awesome. If the person cooking it beats the everloving crap out of the chicken cutlet so it is super-thin and there is lemony wine-ness in every bite, you can’t beat it. Normally I eat to live, but I really enjoy eating that. If the rice pilaf is sort of soaked in the Francese sauce, then that just makes the whole thing.

Lasagna – Mom makes it with all the fat and goodness.
Pad Thai – Flavored noodles! Carbohydrates are my best friends.
Spaghetti – Seriously.
Italian bread – MY BEST FRIENDS!
Peaches – They taste like a dessert and smell good too.
Grapes – An easy snack that you can eat a great many of and not feel guilty about.
Sugar snap peas – Are not offensive and can stand on their own on a dinner plate without cheese or butter.

What are your favorite ethnic cuisines? Why?

DUSTIN: Italian. Italian food is the best food there is (except for all the fish). Everyone knows it! What we lack in a stable government and smart choices for political allies in World Wars, we make up for in food.

Chinese – I think because I don’t eat it often and most of what I do eat is fried. And we all know fried = good.
Italian – Do I really have to give a reason?

What do you like best about your favorite foods? Is it the flavor? The texture? The smell? How they make you feel?

DUSTIN: I like food with simple tastes, a comfortable texture. That’s why I hate fish. It’s all wishy-washy. I like foods that are solid. I know what I am biting into. There is nothing worse than eating something and biting down on something hard when there wasn’t suppose to be anything hard. Or feeling something pop in your food.

LINDA: I never thought about this. I am not a huge fan of bold flavors. My motto is usually, “don’t put s*** in it.” I suppose that I eat what I do to keep the calorie count down and feel full.

What are your least favorite foods (especially fruits and vegetables)? Why?

DUSTIN: Broccoli. That is Satan’s food. There is nothing but pure evil in those stalks. And the smell tries to take over everything and makes me want to throw up. Broccoli ruins all other food and ruins my day.

Anything spicy! - I’m sorry if I can’t whittle that down for you, but spicy food is no fun for me.
Onions – Ever since I was little, the only thing I can stomach these slimy guys on/in is a hamburger from McDonald’s.
Grapefruit – Way too bitter.
Eggplant – I eat it sometimes, but never really care for it.
Mayonnaise – I only like it mixed with tuna fish, on a Burger King Whopper, or with a roast beef sandwich on rye.

What three foods will you absolutely never touch, even if forced to by gunpoint?

DUSTIN: Broccoli, Squid and caviar or other fish egg like stuff. And no eyes. Eyes are sacred.

I have been racking my brain about this, but I can’t think of foods that I REALLY hate. I think that it may be certain smells that bother me. For example: vinegar makes me nauseated, curry is a deal-breaker and fried onions turn me from Bruce Banner into the Hulk. (You won’t like me when you put this into my dinner.)

OOOhh, also, I remember my father making Texas Chainsaw Chili when I was a child. If I recall, I sat at the table for hours because the taste was so repulsive that I gagged a little with every bite.
(Ed. note – I wrote about that here. It traumatized both of us.)

Hold the phone! I just remembered that I cannot stand olives. Won’t go near them or even consider eating one.

What are your least favorite ethnic cuisines? Why?

DUSTIN: Indian food. Talk about complex crazy tastes.

Indian – That spicy food stuff makes me cry (not for joy).
Mexican – The spicy factor rears its ugly head again.

What do you hate most about your least favorite foods? Is it the flavor? The texture? The smell? The appearance? How they make you feel?

DUSTIN: All of the above. Appearance comes first. Then smell begins the repulsion. Taste usually caps it off and texture just twists the knife harder.

LINDA: See question by gunpoint.

Do you trust us? Are you seriously up for this?

DUSTIN: Honestly, I’m not sure.

LINDA: If I say that I don’t trust you, Christmas this year could be seriously awkward.

Sooooo … readers, how would you approach this? What would you make? What would you stay away from? How would you run the experiment to get the most objective results? We’d love to hear from you, and will post the results next Wednesday.

**Due warning: we’re looking for constructive suggestions, not snarky commentary about the participants’ diets. Less-than-charitable criticism will be deleted immediately.**

(Photo courtesy of Associated Content.)

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Anonymous said...

Hi there -- Love your blog. I would maybe start with a gratin, incorporating whatever veggies you were working with that day. I figure anything smothered in cheese/subtle-tasting layers is pretty innocuous and a good intro to flavors.

Jessie said...

My dad HATES spinach. I made a clam/potato chowder with spinach in it and he closed his eyes and ate it to please me - then got seconds. That was one of my biggest life achievements.

My husband hates a lot of vegetables... I'm still working on him. Generally if I don't tell him what's in it he's learned not to ask until after he's tried it. He will eat cabbage only if it's in stir fry, and he will eat eggplant if it's chopped into marinara and there's breaded chicken nearby. Actually, stir fry and home made tomato sauce cure a lot of evils. Especially if there's steak, sausage or chicken involved.

Jen said...

I co-hosted a blogging event last summer called Vindicate the Vegetable. You might get some good inspiration from the roundups over there:

Juice said...

I'd suggest roasted cauliflower with parm cheese. Or sauteed snow peas and radishes with dill. Or puree a veggie into some pasta sauce, or zucchini bread. Your subjects look like they will be a serious challenge!

Liz C said...

You can't go wrong with sweet potato fries!

Clea said...

I haven't tried it, but I trust Bryanna and I've heard good feedback!

Broccoli: roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. Actually, this goes for most vegetables, especially asparagus (and cauliflower, which you already know!). There's an excellent root veggie roast recipe in Yellow Rose Recipes or Vegan with a Vengeance, too. One of my favorite marinades for sweet potatoes or acorn squash or a similar vegetable is just 1 tablespoon of soybutter (butter if you're not trying to be vegan like I'm trying!), 2 Tbs. maple syrup, 1 Tbs. soy sauce, some garlic maybe, a little lemon juice and possible a tiny bit of dijon mustard (or not). Sweetness+ root veg= awesome.

You might also find some good stuff in Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which I just got from the library...but I haven't made anything yet.

I guess my main tips from this rambly comment can be summed up as:
1. Roast it.
2. Grill it.
3. For the truly adventurous, try green smoothies with baby spinach...the color makes my boyfriend gag, but when I finally got him to try my smoothie it was "not bad."

I Heart Kale said...

I love this kind of thing! (Although I have little to no expertise here as a vegetable lover who basically subsists on Indian food). What about disguising this all as a pasta dish, since they both like Italian food and cheesy deliciousness? Here's my idea: Angel hair pasta with kale pesto, roasted broccoli or asparagus, and whatever kind of salty exciting protein you think will excite them. Pesto is a great sneaky and cheese-laden way to get kale involved, and roasting vegetables with salt and olive oil makes them all sweet and caramelized--most of the time people hate green things when they're boiled or otherwise forced into a grassy, sulfurous box.

Kris said...

Oh, you guys. This is EXACTLY what I was looking for.

Anon - a gratin is a great idea. The sweet potato is one of our veggie nominees, so that might go really well.


Kale - Pesto! I know my sister will eat any sauce as long as there's spaghetti under it. Awesome.

And everybody - yeah, I think straight-up roasting might be the way to go, at least with one of the dishes.

This is great. Keep 'em coming!

Christina said...

Incorporating veggies (or new foods) into the participants' fave cuisines could make them way more comfortable. They both seem to like Italian food. A vegetable lasagna might be in order here. Or pasta primavera with a non-cream sauce to make it healthier. Or maybe kale stuffed chicken breasts? I also think soup is a good idea - one of the ultimate comfort foods.

Anonymous said...

if the weather stays cold .... pureed soup might be a good option. then you don't have to worry about texture or smell as much. You can make the flavors a lot gentler in a broccoli / potato pureed soup than in some straight steamed or roasted broccoli

Meghan said...

I just discovered lentils... I use them as a meat substitute in nachos. I flavor them like I would taco meat (after cooking them as your would rice). It could be easy to make a veggie and lentil nacho plate. I love mine with avocado, a little salsa, and some parmesan cheese on top (the shredded, not in the can kind)

Anonymous said...

I would treat these folks like I treat my kid, which is to say, I cook then chop/pulverize or puree the veggies until they are virtually unrecognizable, then hide them/mix them in with something she does like: usually pasta or cheese or both. There's a recipe out there on the Parents Magazine site for spinach brownies that also includes carrot juice. They're delish and fool everyone I've ever given them to. Kind of a silly thought, but a thought nonetheless. LOOOVE your blog, btw!!

watershed said...

I must confess I'm not a big veggie eater. I'll eat them every day because they're hungry, but if I had my way I'd just eat spaghetti and garlic bread!

That said, I think pasta is the way to go. I love ravioli with squash filling, spinach filling etc. and then drench it in olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese with a sprinkle of pine nuts.

I'd stay away from strong-tasting tomato sauces with veggies in it. The taste seems to bring out the veggies more for me. Instead try an alfredo sauce with veggies, feta and veggies etc.

There is also a fantastic recipe for vegetable flecked bread in the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. They won't believe there are so many veggies in it!

Kitschen Bitsch said...

What an awesome experiment! A couple words of caution from someone who has done something similar...

First, don't force broccoli on the non-broccoli eater. Some people are able to taste an apparently foul flavor in it (there is a scientific explanation for this that I've read, but I'm too exhausted to track it down), thus putting them off it entirely.

Second, don't overdo the disguise. During the low-carb craze, someone served a friend of mine mashed cauliflower masquerading as mashed potatoes. She cannot stomach cauliflower to this day. So, while hiding veggies may be acceptable, I would avoid putting them in drag.

All that said, I do think that a lasagne or quiche could be a way to start. If all else fails, deep fry. Cheap and good, and we can pretend it's healthy... it's how I got turned on to okra.

TC Byrd said...

I'm definitely thinking a red sauce could be useful here. But then again, I live with a man who still thinks that corn dogs are haute cuisine and doesn't like cheese, so perhaps you can't trust my ability to widen anyone's horizons.

Katie said...

My boyfriend is a very meat-and-cheese-no-condiments-or-veggies guy, so I deal with this dilemma every day!

I think gratin's a great idea. I was going to suggest risotto, which is kind of in the same vein. Especially since he already seems to be a big rice fan!

Also, you can pretty much throw zucchini in no matter what you make. Chunks in pasta, pureed in a sauce, in any kind of soup, or in lasagna (mmm!). The flavor is so mild and the texture so innocuous, it blends really well and is easy to hide!

I DEFINITELY agree that broccoli is a bad idea. Personally, I love it. But the flavor is too strong to sneak in under the radar of someone who really hates it.

Rebecca said...

Try introducing the vegetables raw or very lightly steamed/braised with some salt. The taste is very mild in such dishes and from the sounds of it, salty should work. In a salad (with a good dressing), or as crudite (with a good dip) always appeals to my picky eater.

As for curry - try introducing curry potatoes. Use just enough curry to color the potatoes; most people's first experience with curry is so overpowering that they forget that spice can be gently used to layer tastes. The same should work for most hot spices.

I look forward to following your experiment.

Pippi Longstocking said...

I think Christina had some great ideas-- veggie lasagna can hide many, many tasty veggies (spinach, eggplant, minced broccoli?) spaghetti sauce is easy to hide some veggies in as well. You might want to try mashed cauliflower? With the right herbs and a little butter, it's great!

For Dustin, you might add spinach to his beloved pilaf? With enough Francese sauce, he might not mind? You could also throw some different salad greens into his iceberg lettuce lunch (but leave him some iceberg for the crunch).

Linda might be down for a stir-fry, since she likes Chinese and is okay with snap peas. Bell peppers and snap peas maybe?

Chris said...

I have found that a lot of times it's texture, not taste that is the real turn off. I HATE the texture of cooked peppers (I call them slugs). I have found that if I dice them finely they just "melt" into the background flavors of the dish and are actually quite tasty. For Linda, try grating any onions in her dishes. That way they will "melt" leaving her with a nice onion flavor but no "slimy" texture. Good luck with your experiment!

Kris said...

Gah, this is my favorite comment thread, ever.

I think we're going to avoid broccoli, as Dustin made it clear he will MURDER us if it's incorporated into anything. I'd be the same way about mayo, so it's understood.

Subtle flavors seem to be the way to go, too, and I love the risotto suggestion. Does anyone know a good sweet potato variation of that?

My friends said...

I would suggest a beef dish (like a hamburger or stroganoff) with finely chopped greens in it. Or a really yummy pasta sauce with finely chopped veggies mixed in since they both love italian. They would only taste the sauce, but still get the veggies.

Love your blog - especially the 'til we meat again frittata!

ashley King said...

I know you said you want to avoid borccoli - but i make broccoli ricotta ravioli which is fantastic and you barely taste the broccoli - I use wonton wrappers instead of making my own pasta - then just cook some broccoli, garlic, and onions the I pop them in the blender and pulse until they are in little pieces then I mix with ricotta and some parm cheese. I stuff the wrappers and you only have to boil them for about 2 mins. You can use a red sauce or a creamy type sauce.

Water said...

I saw that olives were on a hate list. As Alton Brown put it, "when people tell me they don't like olives, I suspect it's because they've been eating these,", these being those flavorless black canned olives. I too used to dislike olives. But then I found the enlightenment that is the Whole Foods olive bar. Basically, if you can find a good quality oil or brine packed olive, there may be hope. Good luck on the venture!

Jen said...

Oh awesome idea! I always try to make something "new" to convince picky eaters they like it!

I have found soup is always good, especially if you serve it with some bread. That might help them avoid the texture problem both expressed. Pureed foods (soup, dips, sauces, etc) might also avoid texture issues. (That's how I convinced my husband mushrooms weren't satan's vegetable. He hated the texture, but when they were chopped he didn't mind.) I also wouldn't try to squeeze too many new foods into one dish. Keep it simple and the rest of the ingredients familiar. That way it isn't so scary.

Those of us who love to eat like to talk about how we love food because of the emotions it brings up, of the sense of comfort, of how it relates to some fundamental aspect of humanity. But it works in reverse, too. It can actually be emotionally challenging to try new foods, especially if the person identifies them self as a "picky eater", and it's important to be sensitive to that fact! Sounds like you're doing that already, which should go a long way towards easing their worries. Can't wait to hear how it turns out.

darlinroz said...

Loved this post. Love your blog!

I would suggest eggplant lasagna (spinach lasagna is good too). Babganoush (can use pita bread, or just fresh veggies - carrots, celery aka "safe" veggies for dippers). Bean soup loaded with all sorts of veggies. My friend makes Panini’s all the time: can do previous suggested kale pesto with eggplant or any other grill veggies - squash, zucchini, red onion (maybe not for Linda) – can mix it up on the bread too, use pita or naan. Stir fry with brown rice (Mrs. Braggs amino acids – just as good as tamari or soy sauce and better for you). Quinoa is good as well, its like pasta and rice all in one. Just season with salt and pepper, since they don’t like spicy spices. Mmm… now I am hungry and I just had lunch! Good luck….

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog a few weeks ago - love it! This is a challenge for me because I love vegetables - all vegetables. Well, I dont understand rutabaga - otherwise - yum, veges!

Life without broccoli is hard to imagine.

I found this recipe last year (dont remember where, sorry to not give the author proper credit) and made it for some vege-hater friends and they all gobbled it up. Maybe this would be something fun to try.

Gratin of Zucchini, Eggplant and Chickpeas with Goat Cheese

Greatly inspired by the recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook.


1/2 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) I used a can and it was fine.
1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchinis (courgettes)
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 small white onions, sliced
1 large sweet red bell pepper
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes (you can use any kind, I used a combination of yellow cherry, grape and an heirloom red)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp. no-salt added herb blend (I used Kirkland - the Costco brand) Skipped this and used oregano and marjoram.
kosher salt

fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup grated goat or fresh Parmesan cheese


Pick over the chickpeas and discard any damaged peas or stones. Rinse and drain. Place in a bowl, add plenty of water to cover, and let soak for at least three hours.

Drain the chickpeas and place in a saucepan with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered until tender, about 45-60 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Again, I skipped the above part and just used 1 can of chick peas, drained and rinsed.

Cut the eggplant and zucchini into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Set aside. In a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft - about 10 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant and zucchini and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until just lightly browned, about another 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes, chickpeas and spices. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Cut the tomatoes into small chunks, and combine in a 9x13 baking dish with the crumbled goat cheese. Pour the vegetable mixture into this dish, sprinkle the grated goat cheese or Parmesan over the top. Bake until golden and bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes before plating.


Anonymous said...

Have you heard the song -
(Don't Give Me That) Broccoli
by The Phenomenauts
Album - Dog Train

We love broccoli at our house and my kids get a big kick hearing this song. They love both the stems (broccoli sticks - peeled and raw) and the tops (trees - steamed and lightly salted). Of couse they are exposed to lots of veggies with a vegetarian mom.

Lauren said...

A friend of mine just made sweet potato fritters for a party and I think I ate 27 of them. As Linda wisely noted, fried=good.