Are you stuck in a meal rut, recycling the same old dishes week after week? Are you nervous trying new things because you might not like them? Does your family groan if you announce that you’ll be “trying something new” tonight? Welcome to the U.S.A., land of some of the world’s least adventurous eaters. But scientists studying this subject say it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little creativity and perseverance, your picky eater can – and will – become more open-minded. Here are ways to get everyone, even the pickiest eaters, on board.
Practice Makes Perfect
Did you know experts say you need to taste a new food eight to ten times before your palate adjusts to enjoying it? With this in mind, don’t get discouraged if you see frowns the first couple of times you offer something unfamiliar, particularly if it’s in the vegetable family. Try offering a new food many different ways, such as in stews, soups, or salads, before introducing it as a stand-alone food. Experiment with cooking styles as well; some people hate cooked peas but love them raw, and asparagus pan-roasted with olive oil and feta cheese might get a much better reception than the same vegetable traditionally steamed.
Double the Fun with Food Pairing
There’s a term for being resistant to trying new foods – it’s called neophobic. If this is you (or your child), here’s a trick: Try pairing an unfamiliar food with an old favorite. Researchers studied this strategy by giving kids a new kind of chip paired with a familiar dip and found they took to it happily, whereas paired with a dip that was also new, they said no thanks. This strategy works the same way with vegetables – pair a new vegetable with a favorite sauce or condiment and you’ll get a more enthusiastic response.
Travel the World with Food
Nowadays even small towns usually offer a few international restaurants such as Mexican, Chinese, Italian, and Thai, and these provide ready-made opportunities to teach your kids about other cuisines. But you can also dip a toe into international waters by making your own healthy takeout foods; this lets you control the spiciness and make substitutions while still presenting new flavors.
Skip the Kids’ Menu
Dining out offers a great opportunity to try a type of cuisine you’re unlikely to cook at home, whether that’s Thai, Indian, or regional barbecue. But the typical kids’ menu, not so much. Common offerings like chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and pizza aren’t particularly healthy, and you’re missing the chance to expand your kids’ eating horizons. Your best bet? Pretend it doesn’t exist, and share a combination of regular entrees, appetizers and salads. While those kiddie prices might sound tempting, you can get away with a similar total by ordering family style.
Listen with Reason
Science shows that some people are simply more sensitive to certain tastes than others, particularly early in life. Tastes that fall in the sour and bitter categories are particularly problematic, as are very strong flavors. So if, for example, you or your kids just can’t stand broccoli (after trying it numerous times), it’s not worth pushing it. There are lots of other healthy vegetables to choose from.