Ask the Dietitian: 5 Nutrition Tricks for Picky Eaters

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the Dietitian: 5 Nutrition Tricks for Picky Eaters

We cover a lot of ground when it comes to nutrition at MyFitnessPal. Some of the topics can be tricky and deserve further explanation from our experts. Now is your chance to ask for clarity! Every few weeks I’ll pick a few of your questions to answer in detail.

Sara: I’d like any tips you have for picky eaters. I’m extremely picky as an adult (and no, that’s not going to change) and it makes good very nutrition hard!

Great question, Sara!  Here’s what you should know:

Kids get an easy pass on picky eating — grilled cheeses, french fries and chicken fingers have long been the common cure for fickle toddlers and teenagers. But what about those of us who never outgrow the picky-eating habit? I’m talking about the population of adults who are finally coming forward about their closet dislike for spinach and kale salads, butternut squash, mushroom risotto and even (gasp!) the beloved avocado.

We’ve had several readers write in asking for advice on how to overcome their inherent preference for safe, starchy foods and push their personal boundaries into adventurous, more nutritious foods. You’re not the only one in a rut, Sara!

VALID REASONS TO BE “PICKY”

There can be a handful of reasons adults don’t outgrow their finicky eating habits; genetic disorders, reflux disease, food allergies or intolerances and even stressful, anxious childhood eating environments that leave lasting scars. How they perceive some textures and flavors can also be coded in their DNA. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center have discovered several versions of a gene that affect a person’s ability to detect bitterness in certain foods. Many vegetables and spices have low levels of bitterness, but even the most miniscule levels may be perceived at a higher concentration — to the point of being inedible — for those who bear the gene.  

While environment and experience play a big role in shaping our taste preferences, picky eating is not as uncommon as you might think. Researchers at Duke University launched a registry of adult picky eaters, finding 10 times more people than they’d predicted. The registry drew so many individuals, that Duke now has an entire outpatient treatment center designed to help people who struggle with picky eating, or as they call it, restrictive food intake disorder.

Skimping on the things picky people are often most reluctant to eat — seafood, plants, fermented foods and vegetables — can possibly have a direct impact on your health. Colorful vegetables contain high concentrations of vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health. Seafood is a great source of protein, rare minerals and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, which not only keeps you full longer, but also strengthen GI-tract muscles and helps maintain a more stable digestive tract. A diet filled with plants can also lower your cancer risk.

FIVE TRICKS FOR PICKY EATERS

The ability to overcome picky eating goes well beyond flavor. Visual appeal, smell and texture play a huge role in our opinion on certain foods, too. Here’s my advice:

1. START SMALL

And start with something you have some desire to want to like. Just a few bites.  Try it prepped a few different ways — raw, charred, roasted, etc.  Do this in small increments over the course of a few days, and try it often to see if your dislike starts to decrease. Take a red onion, for example. A raw, red onion and one that’s been slowly caramelized are basically two different foods … one is very crisp, bitter and pungent, the other sweet-smoky, velvety and buttery.

2. GIVE IT A MONTH

Take on one new food each month. Prepare it in as many ways as possible until you’re fully convinced you just don’t like it. Here are 10 ways to eat broccoli from charred and roasted to raw and spiralized.

3. COMBINE FLAVORS

Experiments show that people (especially kids and young adults) may increase their liking for bitter, sour foods if they first combine them with something sweet.  Drizzle honey over grapefruit, or toss grapefruit into a salad with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette and candied pecans. Add a pear or sweet apple to sautéed greens or kale and stir blueberries or sweet mango into tangy Greek yogurt.

4. PAIR NEW FOODS WITH OLD FAVORITES

This may be as simple as dipping broccoli, radishes or cauliflower into hummus or cheese dip, in lieu of chips. Try roasting and mashing butternut squash, then toss it over pasta as a sauce, and sprinkle it with cheese. Add sautéed greens or juicy tomato to a classic grilled cheese or macaroni and cheese.

5. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH ADVENTUROUS EATERS

This may sound simple enough, but picky eaters might actually feel very strongly under assault when surrounded by people who don’t understand their situation, telling them they should try certain foods because they are healthy, tasty or trendy. Be proactive about it and make it a point to eat more often with adventurous eaters, then use it as an opportunity to try new things! It’ll save you time and money from having to prepare new foods for yourself or risk ordering an entire entrée and tossing it in the trash. Ask for a bite or two of something new each time you dine with someone who likes different things. Chances are they’ll be more than happy to help support the cause.


READ MORE ASK THE DIETITIAN

> Is Sugar Really Addictive?
> Is Counting Calories or Working Out Better for Weight Loss?
> Is It Normal to Always Feel Hungry?


About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.

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