Tips for Adult Picky Eaters

May 1, 2012

(Photo by claireknights)

I recently wrote a post about how to help kids overcome picky eating, focusing on parents taking an active but not overbearing role in their kids’ diets. I received some questions from adults who were picky eaters themselves, and looking for tips. The good news about being a picky eater as an adult is that you can choose to experiment on yourself and try different things, which can be harder to get kids to do.

Around the same time, I had an observation about a couple of people I know. I noticed they were nonchalantly eating foods that they previously avoided or professed to strongly dislike. When I inquired what had changed, they said they didn’t know.  They hadn’t actively tried to incorporate these foods into their diets, it just kind of happened. My theory is that they’ve been exposed to those foods enough times over the years that they’ve come to no longer mind them. One example would be olives, which can have a distinct and strong flavor, but are commonly found all over – from pizza to salads, and in a lot of recipes. I’m not saying that they now love these foods, but at least they’re no longer an issue.

A great example (although non-paleo) is beer, which is said to be an “acquired taste”. Most of us aren’t introduced to beer, or anything that tastes remotely like beer until our late teens. I remember really disliking beer the first time I tried it – which is a common reaction. But you keep trying it, mostly because other people seem to enjoy it, and it grows on you. I only began to enjoy the flavour after I had tried it multiple times.

The difference between beer and vegetables is that we have much less motivation to keep re-trying vegetables. When’s the last time your friends gave you a hard time about not liking broccoli? It’s almost expected of kids to not like vegetables, and not completely unusual for adults. Plus, with vegetables (which seem to be one of the most common “picky” foods), there are various textures and methods of preparation that come into play. Some people will only eat carrots cooked, but not raw for example.

I would love to try this theory on myself, but I can’t think of a food to try it on. There are many foods I won’t eat because of health reasons, but I can’t think of any that I strongly dislike or avoid because of flavor or texture.

But if I was a picky eater, and wanted to expand my palate, I would try desensitization. I’d choose a food that I’m picky about, one that’s considered healthy and nutritious. If you have an aversion to grains, dairy, or sugar, then consider it a blessing in disguise. Unfortunately, those are the foods that hardly anyone’s picky about unless they have an allergy. Some people also feel unwell after certain foods like FODMAPS, so stay away from foods that actually make you feel physically unwell as a result of eating them.

Let’s say you have an aversion to carrots. A couple of times per week for the next few months, try to eat half a carrot. Make sure to mix up the way you eat the carrot to vary the texture and flavor, as well as whether you’re eating it by itself or with other foods. Try combining the carrots with foods you love – like your favourite dip, or stir fried with another vegetable you enjoy.

A few ideas on how to eat carrots: steamed, boiled, raw, stir fried, roasted, in soup, with dip, in salad, grated, pureed,  juiced, carrot chips, with butter.

Be patient and persistent. I’ve read that it can take upwards of 20 times of being exposed to the same food to stop being picky about it. If for example you can eat cooked carrots, but not raw, vary how you eat them raw.

Perhaps most importantly, try to make this fun. Do let yourself get stressed out or anxious – consider it an experiment or a challenge. What do you have to lose?

This approach could also work well with kids, but it’d probably be a good idea if they didn’t know what you were up to. I’m not a fan of sneaking foods into their meals, but if introducing new foods becomes too predictable or tedious, they may resist and dislike the food even more.

Has anyone had success with such an approach? Or do you have any other tips?

Shared with Real Food Wednesdays, Healthy Home Economist and Fight Back Fridays.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron May 1, 2012 at 6:46 PM

This totally reminds me of the realm we run into with organ meats. People seem to realize how important and healthy they are, but just have an aversion to the taste.

Most of the recommendations of how to bring them into your diet revolve around cooking in different ways, trying to mask the flavor . I think that if someone took your advise here and started adding small amounts at a time into dishes they already like, that just might do the trick.

I agree with you on disliking beer at first. And coffee. They are pretty darn bitter if you’re not used to them. But the difference for me is that I was never motivated to get beyond the dislike phase. I still think they are awful. However, I fully understand that once you get used to their uniqueness you can begin to enjoy them on a different level. One thing I never did get about coffee though – how can something smell so good and yet taste so bad?


[email protected] May 1, 2012 at 7:16 PM

Haha, I’m with you on the coffee. I have never been a coffee drinker, but once in a blue moon I’d enjoy a coffee “treat” from Starbucks, especially when on vacation or driving long distances.. I then realized that I was just drinking it for the sugar (I always order fancy sweet concoctions). And then on a separate occasion, I went through a phase while on vacation where I started getting used to the taste of plain iced coffee, almost liking it – especially if I added lots of cream. I really think it’s just a matter of getting used to a certain taste.

And good point about the offal – that’s such a common paleo complaint.


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