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Recreating Your Favorite Meals

By Marni Sumbal

Do you ever wonder why you crave sweets around 3pm? Do you ever wonder why you eat chips or pretzels with sandwiches? Why is it that you always have pancakes after your long Sunday ride? Why does lemonade always sound good after a hard and hot workout?

creative meals I'm sure you have heard the expression "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks." I think it would be true to say everyone has habits in their diet — good and bad. I think the number one fear people have when changing dietary habits is giving up their favorite foods.

Ask yourself: if you were to change some of your eating habits, would you lose weight, improve performance or feel better about what you eat?

While snacking on fruit is certainly not a habit that you would want to change, perhaps always ordering fries with a meal is a habit that should be changed. What about that energy bar you snack on mid-day? Are you eating that for convenience, because it tastes good or because it provides you with the fuel for your upcoming 90-minute workout? 

Maybe it’s time you got creative with your meals!

I love finding creative ways to turn a favorite high-calorie recipe into a new, favorite healthy recipe. Part of being creative with meals means understanding what it is that you want to recreate. Everyone has parts of their diet which could use improvement. Whether you are looking for ways to improve the diet for performance gains or improving the diet for weight loss, it is important to make the most out of your meals and snacks and most of all, enjoy what you are eating and feel satisfied after eating it.

Take a look at the meals and snacks in your diet that you could recreate. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is presentation important?
  • Is size important?
  • What makes this meal sweet?
  • What makes this meal filling?
  • What seasonings make this meal tasty?
  • Why do I enjoy eating this food?
  • Am I eating this meal for health benefits?
  • Am I eating this meal for performance benefits?
  • Am I eating this meal because I am bored or tired?
  • Am I eating this meal because I am starving?

Let’s use pizza as an example:

Presentation — would you still enjoy pizza if you went light on the cheese, loaded it with veggies and ordered whole wheat, thin crust?

Size — would you be able to eat 3 small pieces over 1 extra-large piece?

Sweetness — there isn't anything sweet about pizza.

Filling — although whole wheat would add fiber, the cheese adds fat for filling and perhaps, because it is easy to eat a lot of pizza before feeling full, it is easy to fill yourself up with a lot of calories.

Seasonings — is it the sauce, toppings, in the bread? What makes pizza so good?

Why do you eat this? — Is this a special night? Is a sports game on TV? Did you just have a hard workout?

Health — pizza could be healthy if prepared at home.

Performance — many people enjoy pizza a few nights before a race. There could be performance benefits so long as the rest of the diet is balanced.

Bored or tired —is delivery or frozen pizza an easy option when you don't feel like cooking?

Starving — Do you reach right for frozen or leftover pizza when you are starving? It is likely that if you are starving that you may overeat pizza when it is ready but if you are starving at a restaurant there are quicker items on the menu. 

Eating healthy isn't about giving up all of your favorite foods. Sure, you may need to cut back on restaurant and fast food items, but by cooking at home you can really get creative in finding ways to give your old favorites a healthy twist. 

Try this recipe swap on for size:

Instead of French Fries...

zucchini friesZucchini Fries
Similar shape, nice crunch, filled with nutrition, low in fat and calories, great taste!

1 zucchini
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 egg whites
1 tbsp fresh Parmesan

1.  Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil. Spray with non-stick spray.
2.  Cut peeled zucchini in half. Cut each half into thin slices. Cut each slice in half to make fries.
3.  Arrange your stations – zucchini slices, egg whites (lightly scrambled), bread crumbs and Parmesan. 
4.  Dip slices into egg whites and lightly coat it with the bread crumb mixture. Place on baking dish.
5.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until bread crumbs begin to brown.

Marni Sumbal holds a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and is certified in Adult Weight Management by the American Dietetic Association. Marni is a Level 1 USAT coach and is currently pursuing a registered dietician degree. She enjoys public speaking and writing and has several published articles in Hammer Endurance News, Cosmo Girl and Triathlete Magazine. Marni contributes monthly to and You can check out her blog at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.