Meet the Woman Who Cooks—And Runs—With an Olympic Marathoner
Elyse Kopecky is busy. She’s a writer, runner, trained chef, nutrition coach, mom of two—and the culinary mastermind behind the 2016 New York Times best-selling cookbook, Run Fast. Eat Slow. Kopecky, a graduate of the National Gourmet Institute, co-authored the book with her close friend and professional runner Shalane Flanagan. Shalane is a four-time Olympian, the winner of the 2017 NYC Marathon, and Elyse’s UNC-Chapel Hill track and field teammate.
Run Fast. Eat Slow. preaches the idea that healthy food should be anything but boring—it’s indulgent, nourishing, and totally delicious. As Elyse likes to say, “healthy eating isn’t just kale juice, but also a juicy burger.”
Elyse and Shalane have teamed up again for their newest cookbook, Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow: Quick Fix Recipes for Hangry Athletes. Don’t be deterred by the word “athlete.” You don’t have to be an elite runner like Shalane to love this cookbook. Whether you’re into running or yoga, or just trying to get a daily walking routine going, anyone can benefit from the nourishing, energizing meals in Elyse and Shalane’s book.
Elyse first wowed us by cooking up her simple and delicious Kale-Radicchio Salad with Farro in the Cooking Light test kitchens several months ago. Now, with the August 14, 2018 release date of Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. (pre-order your copy on Amazon) approaching, we were eager to speak with her again. Below, Elyse reveals details about the new book, why she isn’t a fan of trendy diets like Keto, how she gets her kids to eat their veggies, and why you probably need more butter in your life.
Cooking Light: What inspired you and Shalane to write a sequel to Run Fast. Eat Slow.? What about the new book are you most excited to share with readers?
Elyse Kopecky: When Shalane and I were on tour for the first book, we heard incredible feedback. There were people who had cooked their way through our entire book and others who said our book never left their kitchen counter. To me, this meant far more than any of the media accolades we received.
It was especially meaningful hearing from moms of young girls with disordered eating habits. Their daughters had read our book, and it changed the way they look at food for the better. Our newest book comes out of the feedback we received—the recipes are super approachable, simple, and filled with inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients.
CL: Our readers aren't all runners like you and Shalane, but they are still very interested in cooking delicious and healthy meals. How could Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. be useful to them?
Elyse: The recipes in this book are for everyone—whether you’re cooking for young kids who are active or you just want to get outside and walk more. This book revolves around the simple premise of eating whole foods and also real foods. It’s a way of eating that everyone, even those who haven’t been active in the past, can get on board with.
CL: A big theme in both of your cookbooks is “indulgent nourishment.” In today’s health climate, those two words don’t exactly go hand-in-hand given how interested people seem to be in restrictive, low-carb diets like Keto and Paleo. What is your stance on those kinds of diets? Are they safe for active people to follow?
Elyse: I am not a fan of restrictive diets. They aren’t sustainable in the long term. If you’re an athlete, you need high-quality carbohydrates, so it probably isn't a good idea to follow any diet that tells you to cut them out. Complex carbs like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice are a great fuel source, whether you’re an elite athlete like Shalane or training for your first 5k race.
Can't Beet Me Smoothie 2.0 from Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.
CL: Our readers love meal planning (whether it’s through reading our weekly newsletter ThePrep or by following the Cooking Light Diet), and we know you are very big on it as well. How do you meal prep?
Elyse: On Sundays, I try to block out two hours. I get rid of any distractions—no phone, no kids—so I can knock out a lot of tasks at once. I’ll cook a batch of whole grains like farro, quinoa, or wild rice for a grain salad, I’ll make a homemade dressing, I’ll roast veggies like sweet potatoes, hard boil some eggs, and—this one I love—cook beets in my Instant Pot so that I have them for smoothies and salads during the week.
On Sundays during the summer, I’ll throw something on the grill like burgers, chicken, or salmon—and I always make extra so we can enjoy the leftovers in rice bowls during the week.
Green Envy Rice Bowl from Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow
CL: Tell us more about those rice bowls. Here at Cooking Light, we love healthy grain bowls.
Elyse: Rice bowls are the ultimate one-dish meal—anyone can make them and they’re incredibly nourishing. [For] my go-to rice bowl, I throw leftover veggies on top of rice, add a fried egg, and top it with guacamole—that’s a staple in our house! In our new cookbook, Shalane and I call them “Power Bowls” and we’ve included tons of ideas on how to build nourishing bowls at home.
CL: Our readers love to cook healthy, but shopping the farmer's market and stores like Whole Foods can be pretty expensive. You talk about this a lot in your new cookbook—how do you cook nutritious meals for your family on a budget?
Elyse: Leftovers are gold in my house. I’ve found that repurposing leftovers in creative ways saves tons of money—for example, we’ll do “Pizza Fridays,” where we make a homemade pizza, then toss on any leftovers we have in the fridge as toppings.
Also, try to shop with the seasons. Buying seasonal ingredients from the grocery store or farmers market is going to be more cost effective than buying tomatoes in the dead of winter that are shipped halfway across the world! Another great way to get fresh, local produce at half the cost of the farmers market is to join a CSA. When you’re getting a weekly shipment to your house, you’re more motivated to use everything up—and I find that it also helps us sneak more veggies into our meals.
CL: Let’s talk more about your last point—sneaking more veggies into your meals. Many of our readers have kids who are picky eaters. How have you been able to get your own kids to eat more vegetables?
Elyse: As a parent, it can be extremely frustrating to spend time making a nourishing meal, and then have your child toss it across the room. Plus, every kid is different. My four year old eats everything from sardines to goat milk kefir, but my 10 month old is extremely picky.
Here’s the thing—vegetables should taste good, and giving kids plain, steamed broccoli just isn’t going to excite them very much. But if you do something like roast cauliflower, kids will love it. My daughter thinks it tastes like French fries or popcorn, and she can’t get enough of it.
Another great way to work in more veggies is through smoothies. My kids love smoothies—we always start our day with them—and I make sure they have a vegetable component, whether it’s beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, or kale. My daughter especially loves smoothies with vibrant colors, like bright green ones with kale or purple ones made with beets.
CL: In the introduction to the new book, Shalane (pictured above) shares that adopting your healthy eating philosophy has helped her compete as an elite athlete well into her thirties. Can you tell us more about helping Shalane use nutrition to shape her marathon training?
Elyse: The most important thing I’ve taught Shalane is to not fear fat. Healthy fats are essential for her training, and they fuel her through the long runs that prepare her for the marathon. When Shalane and I were teammates, and also roommates, at UNC-Chapel Hill, we fell into the trap of buying low-fat foods because we perceived them as healthier.
The truth is, low-fat processed products are harder to digest, and they contain fewer nutrients than whole, unprocessed foods. The idea of including healthy fats in every meal and snack was something that was totally new to Shalane. Emotionally, she was relieved to stop fearing fats—and she also discovered a love of cooking that she didn’t know she had.
CL: What if you’re not an elite athlete? Do you still need healthy fats in your diet?
Elyse: Absolutely. In fact, there’s a quote from me in our newest book—“Maybe you need more butter in your life.”
We talk a lot about the important of healthy fats in both cookbooks. They keep you satiated and full longer—fat is essential for healthy metabolism and hormone balance, and so many other things. Even if you’re not active, we think butter can be part of a healthy diet.
Follow Elyse Kopecky on Instagram: @ElyseKopecky
Visit RunFastEatSlow.com to learn more about Elyse and Shalane—and to pre-order a copy of their upcoming cookbook, Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.