Are you doomed to dinners of grilled cheese, buttered noodles, and fries? I’m not talking about your kids! Check out how picky eater adults eat healthier.
Picky eating can destroy your life! No, I don’t mean trying to appease the palate of your picky eater kid (good luck with that!), but trying to fit into a healthy world when your favorite foods fall into the SAD (Standard American Diet) category.
As a health coach, I design custom meal plans for lots of moms in the Midwest and Canada who share with me that their partners and kids are “meat and potatoes” kind of people.
Woman cannot live on meat and potatoes alone. Or, can she?
Why do people become picky eaters?
Your kid is not entirely to blame for preferring sweets over vegetables. There is actually a gene, called the TAS2R38 gene, that can predict a sweet tooth in children, because they are particularly sensitive to bitterness. While there are plenty of vegetables that are naturally sweet, some of the most nutritious and green ones are on the bitter side (kale, anyone?).
The good news is- you don’t to tell yourself that your genes are responsible for not eating your veggies– many adults can “grow out” of this sensitivity. Which further supports the idea that you should ALWAYS try a hated food from your childhood as an experiment to see if you can learn to love it again!
I know that raw onions were a feared enemy as a kid. I used to literally chuck my bean burrito in the garbage if there was even a hint of the nasty and sharp crunchiness in it. Now, raw onions are my absolute favorite, and I’ll pile them on just about anything that’s edible.
The only exception to this idea of growing out of yucky foods is if you have a more sensitive tongue, also known as being a “super-taster“. Yale University’s Linda Bartoshuk coined this term for people, perhaps one in every four, whose tongues send a far stronger than normal taste signal to their brains.
Super-tasters actually avoid foods that are high in fat or calories, because those foods are too rich.
Maybe that accounts for all the skinny “foodies” out there?
Our preference for certain “flavors” may actually come from our time in babehood, especially if we chugged breast milk. No, I’m not trying to mom-shame you if you never breast-fed your child (or give you an excuse for your child to throw anything colorful to the dog).
Here is what I know for sure. I ate a lot of tacos and curry when I was pregnant with both my children, and I nursed both girls until at least 1. Up until they started going to school, both kids enjoyed a good chicken curry, and both still enjoy a tasty burrito.
Viva mama food!
Are there benefits to picky eating? There sure are! According to Livestrong, a study published in Obesity Research in 2005, determined that people who successfully lose and maintain a healthy weight consumed a limited variety of foods.
Picky eating instincts came from the caveman, who literally was playing roulette every time he tried an unfamiliar plant or preparation. We are not the only animals that can be picky about eating. Even rats are more discriminating in their tastes than us, because they literally cannot vomit.
OK, so that’s where picky eating may originate, but what if it follows us into adulthood? How do we expose ourselves to a wider variety of foods that don’t make us gag? Even more, how do we enjoy the nutritious foods that support our health without losing all interest in eating?
If you think this is pretty rare, think again! When researcher Nancy Zucker of Duke University started an online registry for picky eaters back in 2010, there were 7,500 registrants, and another 3,500 who started registering, but never finished.
NBC News even released an article that extreme picky eating in adults may be a symptom of “selective eating disorder“. People with selective eating disorder feel there are very few foods they are even capable of eating. People who are stricken with this curse describe that their eating behavior was getting in the way of their job or social life, or they were worried about being bad role models for their kids.
Uh-oh. It’s hard enough to get your kids to eat healthier, but how do you do that when you yourself struggle with this?
Break Free from Picky Eating
I will admit- I was a pretty picky eater as a kid, and am even more of one as an adult. For example, I swore off all green vegetables when I turned 18, mostly due to poor experiences trying to choke down canned veggies long after my whole family was done eating dinner. My siblings even accused me of spitting out the veggies when I excused myself to use the bathroom in the middle of these trials (liars!).
When I made a commitment to eat healthier, I found sneaky ways to add more fiber to my diet without those noxious veggies.Eliminating entire #food groups from your life is a recipe for disaster! #pickyeating @livestrong… Click To Tweet
Eventually, with the help of different techniques and kitchen methods, I was able to enjoy veggies again.
Here are 5 ways to start enjoying hated foods again:
- Cook it a different way
- Obscure it in a yummy food
- Make it fun
- Flavor it
- Change the color
Most healthy eating programs like Whole 30 will tell you to steam your sides or eat them raw. I won’t go into the benefits of steamed or raw foods here, because I don’t personally enjoy them, nor do a lot of the women I serve.
The biggest lesson I learned on my healthy eating journey was to cook my foods a different way. Salad will never be my main course for any meal, but I love eating roasted veggies.
Any veggie can be roasted, and it’s easy! Simply toss cut-up veggies on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with your favorite olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil, throw some seasoning on top, and bake at 425 degrees for at least 20 minutes. Bam! You have a whole pan of deliciousness.
On top of that, the roasted veggies tend to keep for longer in your fridge, and can be eaten hot or cold.
Roasting is not the only technique you can explore.
- If you hate tough meat, try a slow cooker, Instapot, or even sous vide techniques.
- If you can’t stand chunky foods like salsa or cottage cheese, try blending them or mixing them in other foods to make them smoother.
- If you detest crunchy foods, mash, puree or cook them down into soups, stews, smoothies, or muffins.
Jessica Seinfeld literally wrote the book on Deceptively Delicious, about how to get your kids to eat veggies that are pureed inside of their favorite foods.
As an adult, you may not be fooled by her. However, hiding foods that don’t taste good to you might work if you mask them with foods you already do enjoy.
For example, suppose you don’t like spinach, but you love eggs. Chopping the spinach really fine and adding it to your omelette might allow you to explore the taste of the two foods.
This same principle is frequently used in the food industry. You pair one food with another for maximum benefit (and profit). Such as pop with your popcorn at the movies, or wine recommendations to go with your steak, or ketchup to go with your fries.
I used this same technique to help a client address her love for liquor. When we removed the accompanying snack, she found herself less likely to indulge in Bacardi.
Some foods really just belong together (at least, until you tolerate them better).
Make It Fun
Kids are not the only ones who play with their food! Make your eating experience more joyful, and you might find yourself eating foods you never before dared.
Remember when you cut out star shapes of your kid’s PB&J? Or, you made smiley face pancakes?
Those food memories bring a smile to your face, and provide a positive boost in how you view the foods. Now, take those principles to your adult foods.
- You can also spiralize foods like zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, or any vegetable
- You can use melon balls to make small and dainty portions of softer foods that have been chilled
- Try shaving some colorful citrus on top of your food, or a dash of color or herbs
- Have fun with mini meatloaves, mashed potato cupcakes, or egg muffins
- Drink your fruit-infused water out of a wine glass
If you have been following me, you know I love food with flavor! I can’t help it- being a Hispanic woman who married an Indian man and who has traveled internationally, there are few spices I won’t play with.
Yet, I talk to a lot of folks who are afraid to venture beyond salt or pepper. Some even go so far as using Italian herbs, and then give me blank looks when I talk saffron, cumin, or sesame.
Here’s a tip- if you have trained your tongue to enjoy highly processed and boxed foods, you need to treat it to some legit sources of REAL flavor.
- Velveeta doesn’t provide HALF the pleasure as a good piece of Pepper Jack
- Ranch from a bottle ain’t got NOTHING on homemade cucumber dill dip
- Cream of chicken soup will BOW to real cream or coconut milk
Check out this post to explore some ways to kick up the spice in your kitchen.
Change the Color
This is a great way to awaken your visual experience of eating, and also adds a hint of fun. There are a variety of ways to change the colors of your foods, yet many of them are artificial.
The natural ways to color your food would be to incorporate more colorful fruits, veggies, and herbs.
- Use some fresh mint leaves, parsley or cilantro to add some green to your food
- Add a dash of turmeric for yellow that makes your food pop!
- If you love red foods, avoid the dyes and use tandoori spice or paprika instead
Note: I am not a big fan of using food dyes. However, my teen daughter will sometimes get her younger sister to eat unfamiliar foods by dying them a different color. For example, Asha hates rotini pasta, but will eat them when they are a pretty pink color. Check out Nourishing Joy’s post on homemade food coloring for a more natural route to food dyes.
Now that you understand where your picky eating comes from, and have several techniques to make unappetizing foods more delightful, it’s time for you to “weigh in”.