I don’t know how it happened, why it happened, or when it happened, but at some point in my childhood I stopped eating whatever was put in front of me. I went from eating all sorts of colorful and flavorful dishes to eating strictly your typical picky-eater diet. Vegetables, fish, and dozens of spices remained the enemy for longer than I care to admit. Finally, a few years ago, I decided enough was enough, and from then on I made a conscious effort to step outside of my eating comfort zone. Being a picky eater is certainly not something you can snap yourself out of overnight, but there are a few ways to make pushing the boundaries quite a bit easier.
Keep reading to see what worked for me. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “picky eater,” these tricks might just help you expand your palate even more!
Don’t dive right in and serve up a big plate of whatever it is you’re trying to eat more of. Had I gone about this process staring at a plate of steamed cauliflower, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story today. Instead, I would look for foods I knew liked (take nachos, for example) and then would add something that would typically be out of my diet (like cauliflower). (And yes, cauliflower nachos are delicious.) Another food that’s perfect for this technique? Pizza. You pretty much put anything on a pizza and it will taste good—even broccoli. Sandwiches, tacos, pastas, and stir-fry dishes are also great. I’m a big of the half-and-half trick: Not super into quinoa, but make brown rice at least twice a week? Make both and scoop half a cup of each onto your plate.
If you were to open your fridge and have the option to choose between grilling turkey burgers or a new fish you convinced yourself to buy at the grocery store, chances are you’ll pick the familiar option. But when you don’t have control over the menu, you’re kind of forced to eat what’s in front you. I’ve surprised myself by loving foods I’ve tried at weddings and dinner events with fixed courses. This strategy doesn’t always pan out, but it’s gotten me further than if I had relied on my own choices to make myself branch out.
I become a more adventurous eater after a glass of wine. I’ve found that happy hour is a wonderful time to try new foods. There’s nothing like a drink or two to lower your typical food “inhibitions.” What’s more, happy-hour portions are typically smaller and the plates less expensive, so if you end up not loving something, the guilt factor is minor. Plus, your appetite usually kicks in after a few cocktails, and when you’re tipsy and hungry, almost any food sounds good. Next time, your friends want to meet happy hour or dinner, suggest a place with a unique menu.
Even if it’s not at happy hour, trying novel dishes with friends makes them more enjoyable. Research has shown that you pick up on the social cues of someone you like enjoying the food and that makes it more appealing. And when you dine with friends, you share your food. Whether I’m with a big group and we’re sharing a bunch of small plates, or I’m with one other person, I like to let others take the lead on ordering. Their top choices may not be the ones I was immediately drawn to, but when I’m at a good restaurant it doesn’t matter—I know everything will be delicious. Often it’s other people’s orders that I like the best.
And finally, just don’t think about your food too much. Don’t dwell on where it came from, or the fact that mushrooms look like mushrooms. When I’m first trying a new food or trying to reintroduce a flavor into my diet, I try to focus solely on how it tastes. This one can be tough, and I’ll admit I still haven’t really gotten over the whole mushrooms-looking-like-mushrooms thing, but that’s why the other four scenarios are helpful. I may not sauté a side of shiitake mushrooms to have with dinner (yet), but when I find them chopped up in a sauce or inside a minced vegetable lettuce wrap, I enjoy them. So when I’m cooking with friends, I just divide up the tasks—I’ll manage the protein, and let someone else handle the veggies.
What foods do you wish you would enjoy more? Share your food hang-ups in the comments!