While most articles about picky eaters focus on how to get children to try new foods, I have a very picky adult eater in my house, my husband.
Dealing with his likes and dislikes has taught me a few things about how to create nutritious meals and still have them appeal to his finicky tastes.
I’ve also worked with clients who began the session listing all the foods they don’t like and won’t eat, almost daring me to be able to work around those limitations!
In my opinion, there are three parts to what I consider eating nutritiously, whether you are picky or not:
- Choose high-quality food.
This means organic, grass-fed and finished, wild caught, and pasture raised.
- Choose one-ingredient foods.
What I mean by this is to choose foods that are ingredients as opposed to those that have ingredients. For example, chicken, lamb, salmon, cucumbers, broccoli, raspberries, walnuts. You get the idea.
- Choose those foods that agree with your particular metabolic makeup.
No matter how healthy a food is, if you are sensitive to it, it doesn’t agree with you, or you just plain do not like it, don’t eat it! Besides being fuel, food is meant to be enjoyed. There is some interesting research done revealing that participants absorbed less iron when they ate food from a different country and absorbed more iron when they consumed food from their native country, which researchers deduced that they enjoyed more.
The feeling of enjoyment prompts the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger the relaxation response. This also relaxes the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and increases digestive juices, which improve your ability to digest fully. Eating food that tastes delicious to you provides pleasure that triggers digestion.
Conversely, eating something you don’t particularly want or like, or food that makes you feel ashamed or guilty triggers the body’s stress response, which can partially shut down digestion, as well as cause fat storage, insulin spikes, and gut issues like bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. There are so many good foods to choose from, you never have to force yourself to eat what you really dislike.
You must be willing to make substitutions.
If you don’t like eggs or they don’t agree with you, you don’t have to have them for breakfast. In my Today is Still the Day Plan, I do recommend eggs as they are a nearly perfect form of protein. However, I’ve had clients who are allergic to eggs and recently my daughter developed a sensitivity. So you make a healthy substitution. While it is important to have a clean source of protein at each meal, there are many other good protein sources, and as long as you choose a high-quality source, you’re good. If you love cheese, but it doesn’t love you, experiment with nutritional yeast. It adds a delicious cheesy flavor but has no dairy. It has been a very welcomed addition for my daughter who has always loved cheese but can no longer digest it well.
I do find that many picky eaters assume they don’t like certain foods, whether they’ve ever tasted them or not!
For example, someone was talking about quinoa, and my husband made a face and said he didn’t like it. What he didn’t realize was that one morning each week for months he’d been having quinoa-egg bites for breakfast and loved them. He had no idea what he was eating was quinoa. Because it was unfamiliar to him, he assumed he wouldn’t like it.
So, with that being said, I fully believe in being a stealthy cook. I hide veggies and beans (and quinoa!) in places my husband still hasn’t realized! Sometimes just tasting, even if it is one bite, is a win. At least they have had exposure to something different and may be willing to try it again sometime in the future.
For many picky eaters, the texture is very important. They may like the food if it is prepared in a different manner. My husband does not like mashed cauliflower, but he loves roasted cauliflower and cauliflower tots. There are so many foods and flavor profiles, it may just be a matter of finding a new recipe or using different spices.
The key, in my opinion, for a picky eater to be able to eat nutritiously, is to offer a variety of healthy foods they do like and occasionally offer something new to expand their horizons.
Choose the best quality, be creative, and use spices and herbs to add flavor and interest and make the meals flavorful, colorful and attractive. The nutrition will take care of itself!