“My child is a picky eater.” I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before and if you’re a parent, perhaps you’re the one saying it. My parents sure did because I was that child, although I don’t think the word ‘picky’ quite captures what my situation was – I was terrified of food.
From the time I was a little girl until my early twenties, my limited menu consisted of French fries, peas, corn, mashed potatoes, cereal, ice cream, hot dogs, peanut butter sandwiches (hold the crust), crackers, pasta with tomato sauce (hold the veggies, cheese and meat) apples, oranges and grapes. I was so afraid of new foods that I did my best to not try them and on occasion when I was forced to, I would gag so much that I couldn’t swallow, resulting in a scene and a lot of tears. If you had told my parents that as an adult I was to become a recipe developer and food blogger, they would’ve laughed in your face. So how did it happen? How did I learn how to eat?
To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. My complicated relationship with food carried on into my teens and I struggled with anorexia for years. After going through therapy and overcoming my eating disorder, I graduated high school and moved out on my own to attend University. Subconsciously, I started to realize how much I was limiting myself. I don’t remember the exact moment that I decided to start trying new foods, but I do remember my new friends inviting me out for sushi and pizza, foods I would never have dreamed of eating and going along with them because I was tired of feeling left out. I started slow, I ate small portions and I stuck to plant-based foods because by this point I had been a vegetarian for over a decade.
Slowly but surely I overcame my food anxieties and although I now stick to a very healthy vegan diet, I am not afraid to eat. I love eating. I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this, so if you’re a picky eater or you’re raising a picky eater, here are some tips to keep in mind:
As a young girl, food gave me such extreme anxiety that I avoided birthday parties and summer camp because I was afraid to eat the meals served. If you’ve also experienced this and you’re working on trying new foods, start slowly. Make a goal of trying one new food a week. If one food a week feels like too much, try one new food every two weeks. Make sure to push yourself and believe that you CAN do this, but don’t force yourself to go quickly. Be gentle on yourself and work at a pace you’re comfortable with.
Know Your Heart
Do you have reasons for not eating certain foods? I knew as a little girl that I didn’t want to eat meat because I love animals so much. My dad offered to buy me a trampoline when I was six years old if I took one bite of a hamburger, chewed it and swallowed it. I never got a trampoline. Know your heart and be aware of the reasons you do not want to eat certain foods. Are you afraid of them? Or do you have ethical reasons why you don’t want to eat them? This could take some time to figure out so educate yourself and know your heart. Trust your heart.
Know Your Body
When you’re introducing new foods to your meals, listen to your body. Do your best to ignore what your mind is saying if you’re freaking out and know your body. Does it make you feel good? Does it upset your stomach? Is it easy to digest? Does it give you energy? Does it make you tired? Silence your mind and trust your body, it knows best.
Erase the Past
Just because you used to hate a certain food, doesn’t mean you’ll always hate it. Our taste buds change and reproduce every five to seven years and we can also train ourselves to like foods that we may not have enjoyed before. For example, I used to hate cilantro so much but I really wanted to eat salad rolls (fresh spring rolls) because I love eating out at Thai restaurants. I decided that I was going to like cilantro and continued to order them. This was a great exercise for me to learn how to like a new plant-based food because after a while I didn’t only like cilantro but I also craved it. Decide which foods you’re going to like and if you don’t enjoy them at first, tell yourself that you can like them and keep trying them. A lot of this is mental and you are strong enough to overcome it!
Learn How to Cook
The best way to learn how to eat new foods is to learn how to cook them. This way, you’re able to work with the food and observe it through the entire process of it becoming a meal. Challenge yourself to work with a new food this week and pick it up when you go grocery shopping. If you’re not sure how to prepare it, look it up on YouTube or Google a tutorial. There are so many great food blogs and YouTube channels out there that can help you so face your fears head on in the kitchen, you can do it!
Some people may read this article and think “first world problems” and others may fully relate to it. It’s important to recognize that food anxieties begin in the mind and can always be overcome. If you’re looking to try new foods but you’re afraid to start, I believe in you. I went from eating a limited menu of less than fifteen items to experimenting with new fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. I love eating and get very excited about trying new dishes. It is possible to a wide variety of healthy foods and to enjoy it, too! Bon appetite!
Are you a picky eater? Or have children who are? What are your strategies for trying new foods?
ASHLEY WOOD is a recipe developer and writer from Winnipeg, Canada. With a passion for health, wellness and vegetables, Ashley creates simple and inexpensive vegan recipes made from whole ingredients that are often seasonal, sometimes gluten-free and occasionally raw. Ashley believe in celebrating the benefits of living a vegan lifestyle and at the very least, hopes to inspire others to eat more plants, smile and live with some Sunshine.