“No thank you, I’m a picky eater.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m a picky eater.”
“I would, but I’m a picky eater.”
As a dietitian who hosts tabeling events with food samples eight or more times a month, I hear these phrases constantly, and I just don’t get it – at least not anymore.
I understand the students who speedily walk by, diligently not making eye contact – they simply want nothing to do with me. I understand the students who fall into the trap of peer pressure and say no just because their friend did. I was in high school once, I get it. I even understand the students who inform me that they’re on some new diet that won’t allow them to try…say a cherry tomato…because fad diets are incredibly persuasive and we live in a diet culture. I get it. But seriously, a cherry tomato?
What I don’t get, however, are the kids who say “No” because they “are” a picky eater. As if PICKY EATER is a condition that they were born with preventing them from trying new foods. They’re picky, and they can’t help that.
But maybe…maybe, they can.
Full disclosure. I was once the picky eater. I would go out to a restaurant with my parents and brothers and order just a plain bowl of white rice. I would scrape off any seasonings that dared to touch my piece of steak or chicken. I would glare down any sauce that threatened my pasta. And vegetables…I for some reason liked broccoli and peppers…all others could stay away. FOREVER, or so I thought.
There is no exact number of times that you should try a food before you can truly say you don’t like it. Some dietitians say 12, others say 21, others say infinite. Basically, my advice…just keep trying.
But honestly, one real good, honest try is sometimes all it takes.
When you ask most so called “picky eaters” if they’ve tried the foods they say they don’t like, surprisingly (or not if you’ve been one) the answer will be no. No they haven’t tried it, they just know they don’t like it. It’s a fact. Often times it’s not the taste that’s the problem. It’s what it looks like, what the word sounds like, the texture of the food…it can be a whole array of things outside of taste.
So step #1 for breaking free of picky eating: put it on your plate
If it’s never on your plate you certainly won’t ever learn to like it.
Just put it there. You – or whoever the picky eater is – doesn’t need to actually eat it. Just put it there. Put it on the plate next to the things that you do like. Nestle in those carrots beside the potatoes and just look at them. Get used to the color, the way they look on the plate, the way they compliment other foods appearance wise. Just put them there and let them be.
Don’t yell at me if you think this is horrible food waste, one day I promise it will pay off.
Once you’re used to the sight of it, maybe five the food a poke with your fork (or finger). Mush it around. PLAY WITH IT!! That’s right, I am actually telling you to play with your food.
Step #2 is play with your food before you eat it.
If making it looks pretty helps, do that! If just squishing it with your spoon to understand the texture is fun, go for it. Get used to the different shapes and sounds it can make. Then, once you have it on your fork and you’re happy with it there, lick it.
Step #3 give it just one lick, or bite or small chew. Just give it a first chance.
Never pressure someone to take a heaping spoonful if they’ve never had it before, that sounds overwhelming if not terrifying! Imagine being taken to the top of ski slope when you’ve never even been down the bunny hill? (I’ve been there and let me tell you it wasn’t pretty). You may like it and be glad it happened, or you may not. Some of us don’t like things right away, we need time. That’s normal!
And that’s exactly how I’ve been celebrating National Nutrition Month! Helping kids, teens and adults to simply give foods they might have thought they didn’t like a chance. To give them a try. To take the time they truly need to like food. Even if that means just putting it on their plate or turning it into a fun shape before giving it a nibble. After that they can learn to lick it, taste it, chew it and maybe one day even like it.
What’s your picky eating story? Ever hated something you’d actually never tried? Ever liked a food you thought you’d always hate? I’d love to hear about it and hear how you got through it! Comment below.
And if you’re interested in steps beyond #3 to help the picky eater in your life…shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org