Tips for expanding your palate from a former picky eater

January 19, 2022

I wrote previously on this blog about how I used to be an incredibly picky eater. I mean painfully so. Especially for…

January 19, 2022

I wrote previously on this blog about how I used to be an incredibly picky eater. I mean painfully so. Especially for others around me. So selective that my husband still teases me now about what I got away with not eating as a child. My mom was highly lenient despite constant abuse from other adults who were not my parents. 

You can read my thoughts on that in the other post linked here. That is not the subject of this post. This post is for people who may still be picky or selective eaters but don’t want to be anymore. I am proud to say that anyone who knows me now would not call me a picky eater. My mother is shocked. Even at my big old 30-something years, she exclaims, “Grammy would be so proud,” as I scarf down something she’d never eat.

And while it feels a little embarrassing to get that kind of attention for what seems like a reasonably primary task: eating, it’s also an indication of how far I have come. 

It is also a reminder that it has taken a lot of work to overcome my natural inclination to gag at most new foods; not to be too scared to try something new. And to hone in on what kind of flavor profiles, cooking styles, and textures I prefer so that I’m not stuck ordering chicken tenders.

And please remember, this is just what worked for me. I don’t think you should have to change your eating habits if you have no desire to. That is completely ok, and you’ll never receive judgment from me on this matter. 

Find a kind foodie friend

One massive motivator for me expanding my tastes was finding new friends in college who were from all over the country and the world. And who were very kind and patient in helping me try unfamiliar foods. One girl, in particular, took me on a mini culinary tour of Boston every time we went out for a casual day off from classes. Tofu pad thai for lunch. Papri chaat for a snack. Fried green tea ice cream for dessert. I had no idea there were so many flavors. The most fragrant dish in my house was my mother's delicious sauce and meatballs. Rarely were we served any food from different countries except for the occasional Chinese takeout, which is not only kind of an American Thing™; the flavors also vary by region. Especially in New England. 

Anyway, between both the fear of how I might get made fun of and the kindness of my friend, I felt more scared of the outcome if I didn’t try these new foods than if I did. I often say peer pressure broke my eating patterns, but the reality is that I pressured myself. 

My peers were incredibly kind when we’d venture to restaurants that we all knew would not cater to my weird tastes. They made me feel safe enough to try new foods. Especially when, and you know this, if you’re a picky eater, there is an incredible amount of shame around only eating certain foods for no reason other than preference.

So find a friend you can trust and feel safe sharing your secret if they don’t already know, and ask for help in breaking this pattern. Having someone kind and encouraging who will keep you a little bit accountable makes this change more manageable. Plus, meals are meant to be shared. So experimenting with food should feel fun. 

Start with appetizers and small plates

A great way to expand your palate is to try new types of appetizers. Whether you’re going out to eat or cooking at home, introducing different foods in a way that won’t mean you go to bed hungry (or have to cook or order a whole new meal) is a fantastic way to open up your taste buds. 

One hindrance for me trying new foods is the waste. However, making a smaller dish means fewer ingredients, so it won’t be a loss if you hate it. While this is harder with spices and seasonings, most components you’ll use for new dishes can be bought by the ounce or pound either at the deli counter or produce section of your grocery store. 

When going out (assuming covid hasn’t ravaged your city or town completely), go out of your way to order something you’ve never tried as an appetizer. Make it a mission to order one out-of-the-box appetizer, soup, or salad every time you go out to a restaurant or order takeout. Or even better, pick a tapas restaurant and go in on some small plates with a good friend.

Try new things through cooking

There are so many fantastic free resources for recipes if you’re looking to expand your skills at home while also learning to like new foods as well. Here are a few of my favorites on various platforms:

You can also try one of those meal delivery services in your budget. Or check your grocery store for ready-to-cook meals for one or two. Similar to the delivery services but you can pick your meal and buy them one at a time without committing to a subscription. 

An essential aspect of my growth as an eater and taster was becoming more proficient in the kitchen. It has given me the confidence to adapt a recipe to something that might be more palatable to either myself or my husband (or whoever I might be cooking for). 

Don’t be scared to cook. It’s actually kind of hard to make something completely inedible. Just keep basic food safety measures in mind, use a timer, and don’t sweat it if it doesn’t come out exactly perfect. Because let’s be honest, if you’re a real picky eater, you probably don’t know what it was supposed to taste like anyway. So take notes about what you liked or didn’t like and try another time.

How to get over the gagging 

There’s no easy way to get over the gag reflex. Either you can push through it, or you can’t. There are certain foods and textures that I still won’t do. I figure there is a reason that my instinct is to reject certain foods, and I’m trusting my gut. Or my nose. Or my eyes. Depending on the food and the reaction. 

But there have been times when I have just pushed through and tried things that I ultimately knew I’d not like. Look, I've put other people’s genitals in my mouth enough times that I think I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t try any new food presented to me, especially if a friend or loved one made it for me. And that’s one hell of a feat for someone who would regularly turn down anything made by others. Including chocolate or candy if I wasn’t 100% sure of what it was (I absolutely can taste the difference between brands, and I would not be happy about it as a child).

Ultimately, it requires a mental strength that takes practice to acquire. To resist your reflex to gag or choke on new foods, you either power through it, or you can’t, and you know what? That’s ok. 

Learn about the foods and recipes you do like

The fun part about trying new foods is that eventually, you will find something that you didn’t know you liked before. And when you do, I think that is a great time to do some research.

Figure out what you liked about the dish. Was it the preparation method? The flavor? Make notes and then get on your favorite search engine and begin looking for alternative recipes using those ingredients. Pick up a copy of The Flavor Bible to find complementary flavor profiles. Figure out a way to deconstruct the recipe and remix it. Maybe you could turn that sandwich you loved at lunch into a salad.

Don’t be afraid to say no

And finally, and maybe most importantly, you don’t owe trying new foods to anyone except yourself. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about why you will or won’t eat something. So you should never feel ashamed because you don’t eat the way others do. Or the way other people think you should. 

While I often feel that I missed out on certain family bonding moments over shared meals, I am glad that I could find new foods on my own time. And it would help if you took your time too. I know how scary and isolating it can feel when you are food challenged, but I know that when you’re ready, you too can start to expand your appreciation for new foods, flavors, ingredients, and textures. 

Just remember, you’re doing this for yourself. You are the only one who benefits from trying new foods, so let anyone else’s opinions on the matter fall to the wayside.

You got this.  

July 18, 2019

“You have such will power.” 

An office worker in my elementary school said to me when I turned down a fancy chocolate in a fancy box. I laughed, understanding what she meant, even at 9 years old (which hello that's fucked up), but knowing deep down inside the real reason is that I was nervous about the taste. That I wouldn’t like it and I’d have to show another adult just how picky of an eater I was. 

Picky enough to turn down free chocolate in the 4th grade. 

If you’re not a close friend or family member, you may not know about my complicated relationship with food. For the first two decades of my life I would only eat a handful of things and I would not try anything else no matter how hard the adults around me forced it.

Thanks to peer pressure and essentially being too broke to refuse free food of any kind, I’ve long since changed my ways. I vowed to always try something new if it’s presented. Also because I still harbor a little left over shame from all those years of saying, “no,” to everything that the anxiety of facing pushback or teasing drives me to at least have a taste. 

I’m sure a lot of your reading this can relate to being a picky eater as a child. But I’m guessing most of you probably outgrew it through parental force a lot sooner than 20 years old. My mom took a very liberal approach with me and just let me eat what I wanted (which was primarily, cheese, bread, fruit, and peanut butter). Plus the typical kid friendly snacks like pop tarts, pringles, and the occasional piece of candy. My pediatrician told her I’d eat like normal eventually. Which is true, I eventually did; but in my opinion that was bad advice.

I would eat cheese burgers ONLY from McDonald’s and only if it didn’t have pickles. Never off a grill. Never from Burger King or Wendy’s.

I would only eat one kind of deli ham but not the delicious glazed ham my mom would make at the holidays. 

I missed out on basically all of my grandmother’s turkey dinners and turkey pies and shepherd's pies. 

Memories of holidays are all a little tainted by some adult making a comment about what I wasn’t eating that day. 

Looking back, I admire my determination not to cave to pressure from adults who weren’t my mom. 

It wasn’t until I was around fellow young adults in college that I started to expand my horizons. I was lucky to find myself in a friend group with people who were from all over the world or who had travelled all over the world (holy moly I was way out of my socio-economic class). And for the most part they were kind in introducing me to new foods. Further, admitting that I was so particular about what I would and would not eat was increasingly becoming more embarrassing. For all the determination I had as a child, facing adults head on about my eating habits, I felt it completely deflate the first time I had to eat in the cafeteria in college and confront my friends about my limited diet.

My mom deserves a lot of credit for sticking up for me and letting me just eat how I wanted to. Even if it did lead to a monstrosity of a sandwich one afternoon at a lake in which she didn’t bring the mayonnaise (probably because of a no glass rule at the park) for my cheese sandwich and didn’t bring jelly for my pb and j. When I wouldn’t eat either alone, she improvised and slapped the cheese on a peanut butter sandwich and a disgusting secret favorite was born. 

Guess it’s not a secret anymore.

I think it was very bold of her to do what everyone told her not to do. She trusted her gut. Food was not a fight worth having with her kids (and luckily, she only had to have that fight with me; my brother would eat whatever was in front of him). It’s not like I was stuffing my face with candy.  

However, if I could go back in time and tell my mom, “I’m your daughter from the future, make me eat like normal, please,” I would. 

It’s not like I was necessarily unhealthy. I was chubby and soft, but that had more to do with the fact that I’d rather lay on a blanket in the grass and read and make art all day than run around the neighborhood than the food choices I would make. 

Like sorry I don’t like stinky cooked vegetables ok? I still don’t. I’ve learned that I prefer my veggies fresh. But good luck getting me to learn that when I was a kid.

November 15, 2018

I have a bone to pick with the cannabis industry, especially the influencers and educators. As we collectively work together to help end the stigma a lot of cannabis users face, it’s important not to transfer that stigma to other groups of people. Yet, every single day that I log in to my various social networks, I see at least one person touting the “plants over pills” rhetoric.

I’m going to be blunt about this type of message: it’s dangerous, harmful and ignorant.

I’m very happy that there are people out there who have found cannabis as an acceptable replacement for all of their pharmaceuticals, but that’s not going to be the case for a lot of people. There are a lot of cannabis users who will always have to take pills. You exclude them every time you #plantsoverpills.

Beyond possibly hurting someone’s feelings or excluding some, you could be causing serious harm. Let’s just say, you have followers with an illness that they need to take daily medication for. Every day though, they log on to Instagram and see you spouting this nonsense about how cannabis is only medicine one needs. The #plantsoverpills phenomenon could push them to the point of thinking they don’t need those pesky little life-saving pills anymore. We have a responsibility to be kinder and more thoughtful than this.

I get the desire to use a catchy hashtag/phrase like “Plants Over Pills”. It is short and sweet and so succinctly describes your mission. However, we have a responsibility to not miseducate, and it is rare to see a disclaimer reminding folks not to take “Plants Over Pills” literally. Or to consult a doctor before changing ones regular medication routine.

I agree with the underlying principles of the Plants Over Pills movement (if that’s what you want to call it). If one can limit the amount of medication they are taking, and still feel good and healthy both physically and mentally, then that’s a win. However, #plantsoverpills on its own passes the stigma cannabis users have faced onto those who need pills to live. How is that right or fair?

We can all do better than this. We need to do better than this.

How one chooses to care for themselves is up to them. Rather than forwarding the stigma on patients who are also using prescription pills, we should be lifting them up and supporting them; not excluding them. We are all in this together. You can still be an all natural, hippy-dippy, cannabis-using educator, influencer, or brand, without ostracizing the very folks who likely need, and would probably love, your flavor of cannabis education.

Furthermore, as great as cannabis has been for my health and general wellness, there are simply some things that it’s not going to cure. While CBD, and smoking cannabis, has helped me with my anxiety, for others it could do absolutely nothing or worse, exacerbate it.

Cannabis is not a cure-all for everyone. Let’s stop pretending that it is. Otherwise, you’ll start to sound like a snake oil peddler.

November 13, 2018

There are a lot of shitty things about taking a road trip. It’s uncomfortable to be in the car for hours at a time, sometimes for several days. There is a lot of crappy, not-so-great-for-you-food because it’s kind of hard to travel with enough salad for three days in a cooler. Which leads to digestive issues. Then there’s sleeping in strange places. And not getting enough sleep because you want to hit the road early the next day so maybe, just maybe, you might spend 8 full hours in the next hotel.

It’s one of the most literal definitions of, “it’s not the journey it’s the destination,” I have ever experienced.

And yet, my husband and I continue to do it. Year after year. As shitty as it can be, it always ends up being a blast. We’ve done the Colorado to East Coast drive so many times that we’re almost experts at it.

For the first two weeks of October, we hit the road visiting our families in New Hampshire and Tennesee.

Our first 2 and a half days were spent driving, with the ultimate destination being with my family in New Hampshire. We left Colorado on Wednesday, a little after 4 pm and arrived in New Hampshire around 10:30 pm on Friday. It might have been closer to 9 pm but of course, as soon as we hit the Mass Pike we hit traffic. It had been smooth sailing for about 1900 miles up until that point.

The timing of our trip was based entirely around making it to the North East in time for the Reebok Boston 10k for Women. That happened on Monday, October 10th. My dad asked me to do it with him back in April when we all went to Disney. He wanted to run it in honor of his late wife, my stepmom, Kim. It was her favorite run and this year marked 5 years since she passed.   

It was an absolutely incredible experience. I felt so inspired by all the other women running. Especially those running with impairments. I kind of felt like a piece of shit for wasting my body for so long. But it also felt empowering to be out there and complete it.

The best part was absolutely seeing my husband, sister-in-law, nephew and my brother’s oldest friend by the finish line cheering us on. Then when my nephew ran out to run the last little bit with us, oh Jesus. I am still riding that high almost three weeks later.

It was a short stay in New Hampshire and before I knew it we were on the road again to Tennessee to see some of Geoff’s family. With a quick pitstop in Centralia, PA.

Everything on the web says there’s a coal fire burning underground here that started burning in 1962 and could continue to burn for another 250 years. However, several folks commented on my slightly sarcastic Instagram post about “risking our lives” on Graffiti highway that it wasn’t burning. Do with that what you want. I just would err on the side of caution. It was cool to see. Nothing crazy special. I kind of regret not bringing spray paint, but not everything needs to be stamped, ya know?

It was a long drive from New Hampshire to Tennessee, so I was so thrilled when we finally got to our AirBNB. I got freaked out as we vaped on the porch that night and had inadvertently awoken all the baby cows who were staying in the field just 10 or 15 feet from the porch. I tried to make friends with them, but I wasn’t able to get a good pet in. Maybe next time.

His dad and step mom live in a picturesque, farming mountain town in Tennessee. Geoff organized a little family reunion down there since he and I have been married nearly 6 years and I still hadn’t met any of his siblings. They all live all over the country, in addition to significant age gaps between them, and it unlikely we’d cross paths at one of their parents without intentionally organizing it.

It was so lovely to meet a couple of his siblings; unfortunately even with planning, shit happens and not all of his siblings were able to make it. Maybe next time. Geoff even met his young niece and nephew for the first time, and that was pretty freaking cute. I also learned that if you take two kids to a McDonald’s Play Place, set their food out on the table and tell them to just eat when they’re hungry. They’ll do exactly that. But it will take an hour.

It was another short stay in Tennessee, too. Just three days and we were off again. We made record time from Tennessee back to Colorado. We left Sunday morning around 9 and we were in our apartment on Monday a little before 3 pm.

We stayed in Salina, Kansas on both our first and last night out. If you ever stay there, the La Quinta and the Holiday Inn Express are only a $10-15 difference. Spend the extra money and go to the Holiday Inn Express. I’m usually very pro-La Quinta. I’m a rewards member and everything. But this one, in particular, is not good. Hopefully, they’ll get a renovation soon. That was a long weird digression, but to be honest, I was a little high when I wrote this.

What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? If you’ve never taken one, where would you go if you could? Leave a comment below.

August 23, 2018

The end of May and the entire month of June were pretty rough for me. I unknowingly sprained my ankle by stepping off a sidewalk curb the wrong way and then further worsened the injury when my cousin challenged me to do the Manitou Springs Incline with her.

My sprain caused me no pain. It just felt like it needed to crack or something. That’s why I didn’t think much about doing 2000 vertical feet over .9 miles with a 3 or so mile hike back down the other side of the hill. It wasn’t until later that night when my right foot was almost twice the size of my left that I realized I had probably injured myself.

"Ok, I guess I’m taking some time off," I thought.

A week went by and the swelling had gone down considerably. Still, no pain so I thought, I’m probably ok to do some light walking around. A friend came in from out of town and we headed over to the Garden of the Gods to walk around for a bit. Big mistake. My ankle was so swollen when I got home that evening.

At this point, I’m kind of panicking. My brother and his family were coming to visit the following week and I had so many fun things planned. I wanted to go hiking. I wanted to take my nephew to see some dinosaur fossils (which we did do). We also had a family gathering to attend. I took another dreaded week off from the treadmill.

I was ok with taking the second week. My mind was distracted with getting my place ready for my three favorite people. By the time their arrival date came, I was sure my ankle was healed. By their third day here, my ankle was a nightmare. I’m an asshole, too. I didn’t take care of it while they were here. I mean would you? My nephew gives me so much life that I honestly didn’t care.

Once they left, and I was faced with the reality of my situation, I started to feel helpless. I went about 5 weeks total of moving from my desk chair to the couch and my bed. Just to stay sane, I’d remind myself repeatedly, “at least you CAN sit all this time.” I was begging my husband to take me to the grocery store. Or let me do the laundry. I had to avoid the stairs as much as possible, but the only way out of my second-floor apartment is via the stairs.

I did become increasingly pissed off at how inaccessible these apartments are. I’ve said it since we moved in here, that these places are not accessible at all. Like our apartment building technically has a disabled parking spot but there’s no ramp in the curb from the parking lot to the ground level apartments.

Every day that passed by that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, I became more annoyed and agitated and my brain just felt cloudy and mad. I just could not shake the feeling that I was going to destroy all of my progress. That I was going to fail. The recently purchased sneakers, that were practically just begging to be broken in, were going to just sit in my closet forever. Embarrassing me every time I stepped in there to get my suitcase or swap out my sandals for boots.

I felt defeated.

When my ankle finally started feeling better, I let the fear continue to guide me. I was so certain that my injury had derailed everything I've accomplished thus far. I figured I probably slowed my time way down. That I wouldn’t be able to lift the same weights anymore. That’d I be weak and tired. I was clearly putting on weight (I didn’t).

I didn’t want to be seen at the gym. I was scared to put on the clothes I was receiving from Le Tote.

I had to have a lot of pep talks with myself. “No one is going to know if you’re slower or weaker or fatter except for you. No one is paying that much attention to you at the gym. Not even your own domestic partner is going to notice.”

And also, if someone is paying that much attention, WHO TF CARES?

Right? Right! Who cares? Why should I care? What does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if I sit on my ass all day long or if I get to the gym and put a couple miles on my soles.

And that’s what motivated me to get back in there. Realizing that it literally doesn’t matter. Funny that I got there from “nothing matters” but that’s the kind of person I am. If nothing matters then you should just do whatever makes you feel good (as long as your good feeling doesn’t come from making others feel bad because your impact on others does matter).

If it feels good to relax, do it. If it feels good to run a marathon, do that. Ultimately, that’s all that does matter while you’re alive on earth.