Confessions of a Picky Eater

picky eater, spinach, tips for overcoming pickyness

I get interested when I see an article on picky-eating, not because I have a child that's a picky eater (although, what child isn't picky at some point?), but because I am a picky eater.

I remember a stand off between my Grandpa and I when I was 7. He had put a very small serving of green beans on my plate and told me that I could only go on the afternoon trip up to the sequoias if I ate all my food. So I did. Grandma had made a delicious Sabbath afternoon meal of mashed potatoes with gravy and some sort of veggiemeat and rolls, and I ate every bite x 2, except for the veggie. Everybody had left the table and there I sat alone, just me and a plate holding a very small serving of green beans. I couldn't do it. No amount of bribes or threats could convince me to put that green food in my mouth.

Here's the confession part: I had never really tried green beans, not to my recollection anyway. But I knew everything I needed to know: It was a GREEN VEGETABLE.

Years later and I can't say that I'm too much better, but I am better. So I'd like to share some thoughts on what helped me get through unlivable pickyness to eating more than mac 'n cheese and PB&J.

Get involved with the food.

Anything I've put my time and energy into and touched with my own hands automatically adds value. Invested interest makes a foreign food more approachable. A child (or even an adult) is more likely to try a tomato after they have planted the seed, watered the plant and picked the fruit themselves. It's the same thing with cooking it. I once spent 3 hours making a butternut squash and pear soup that I would otherwise had never tried if I hadn't gone through all of that preparation myself. In all honesty, I didn't like that soup, but at least I tried it.

Wait to try something new until really hungry.

Pickyness goes out the window when I'm really hungry, at least momentarily. When I stayed with a friend and her family overseas, I was forced to try a lot of meals that I would otherwise have passed on. But it only took a couple meals of leaving the table still hungry before I started trying (and liking) everything being made. The mind is a little more open to try (and like) new things when the stomach is screaming for it.

Try at Least One bite.

I don't always follow this rule, but it's a good one to have and that's why we enforce it on our kids. They have to try everything once. If they eat something and really doesn't like it, fine. But they can't say they doesn't like it if they never tried it; I've been guilty of that my entire life. Although now that my daughter is getting older and sees what mommy gets away with, I guess it's time for me to start practicing what I preach in the "try new things" realm.

Make it a little different.

Green beans was top of my food avoidance list as a child, second only to peas. It wasn't until college that I actually ate this delicious veggie, all because a friend made fresh whole green beans and seasoned them. I still won't eat canned cut green beans, but enjoying fresh whole green beans is a great improvement.

Try the Same Foods Multiple Times Spread Out

Ever heard of the phrase "it's an acquired taste?" Sometimes familiarity is all it takes to change your mind about a food. Taste buds change, flavors become more familiar, and soon something that once evoked gag reflexes now tastes good.

Mix up the texture.

Non-picky-eaters (ehhem, my husband) laugh when they hear that someone won't eat something because they don't like the texture. As a child that was probably the main reason I avoided all of the foods that I did. The way around this is to add texture to mask or change the undesirable traits of a food's consistency. Adding nuts to oatmeal, topping a casserole with toasted bread crumbs, croutons on a salad, crackers in a soup or blending sauces and soups to remove the "chunks". The list goes on.

Blend in the veggies.

Another great texture masker is blending it all up into a smoothie. No, I'm not talking about drinking straight green beans. But adding spinach or carrots to a fruit smoothie is a subtle way of adding vegetable nutrients for the picky eater. Similarly, pureed veggies could be incorporated (blindly) into dishes a la Deceptively Delicious (like the homestyle mac n cheese with pureed cauliflower pictured above). These two methods are more about getting in needed nutrients and less about trying new foods. Serving a veggie on the side is still important.

Conclusion: Patience and persistence.

Ultimately, the point is less about making someone become more daring if that's against their nature, and more about increasing health. All of the above are ideas to eventually broaden a picky eater's food selections or at least get in necessary nutrients even if they're hidden. Seek out a dietician or your physician for personalized and specific guidance for you or your picky child.