Lately, I have seen many questions regarding how to get picky eaters around them to eat new foods or foods the picky eater refuses to touch. Well, I can tell you that I do have my own personal experience with this. I suspect my own wonderful husband is a ‘super-taster’ (meaning, essentially, extra taste buds on the tongue), so he tends to be a pretty picky eater! Since this is a hot question, I thought I’d do a blog post that included tips for introducing new varieties to those picky eaters in our lives! I’m also going to give some possible explanations into reasons for picky eating!
First, let’s talk about reasons some may be picky eaters. This will not cover the entire spectrum of reasons (there could be any number of them out there, for we are all individuals in our own rights), but it could help narrow down possibilities that would help get friends and families adjusted to new foods!
1. Super-tasters: As I mentioned about my husband, one reason for picky eating could be that the person is a super-taster. These are people who are generally much more sensitive to bitter tastes and fattiness in foods (a.k.a.: umami taste) (Vacca Foeda, 2010). To explain a bit more, most researchers believe in the ability of the tongue to have 5 basic tastes. These are:
e. Umami (fatty/savory) (Ikeda, K. shortened by Ogiwara, Y, & Ninomiya, Y, 2002)
Super-tasters tend to be especially sensitive to foods that are considered bitter or umami (Wikipedia.org, 2011). These would be things such as coffee, dark chocolate, broccoli, fat on meats, or meat broths. Such people may often not want to eat these and other bitter or umami-tasting foods. I don’t have any citations for this next piece, but I have also heard that super-tasters may also enjoy the sweet tastes, and be more partial to bland and sweet foods (although, there have been other reports and opinions on this). So as not to make a whole blog out of this, I have included some various references at the end of this blog that will give you more information on this subject, as well as sources for testing and understanding super-tasters.
2. Autism and Neurological Dysfunction: This one was pointed out by one of my IPMG friends. She stated that scrawny and picky might be one sign of Autism (this includes Aspbergers). Since texture has a big part in such dysfunctions, there could be a chance of these being the issue. Check out this test and site for more on this: http://school.familyeducation.com/learning-disabilities/behavior/56323.html
3. Food Intolerance and Allergies: Sometimes people do not realize that there might be a food intolerance or allergy in someone who does not like certain foods. This could be particularly true of wheat, dairy, or other common allergenic foods. In this case, you might try getting a full spectrum allergy test done. Another good way of determining this would be to ask the person whether these foods hurt him or her when he or she eats them. If so, allow that person to avoid them, and work with some of the alternatives I will list in the sections below. This might be especially positive when it comes to some of those foods we do not realize are toxic to most people.
4. Neophobia: This is a fear of the unknown or new. Often characterized in children after the age of 2 (a common time of weaning off of breast-feeding in many traditions), neophobia can manifest as picky eating at any age, really. A person with this issue could either not want to try new foods or just flat-out deny them (Wickford, 2011). It is almost like a fight or flight response for many. The idea is that these foods are unfamiliar therefore, may not be safe (Bainbridge, n. d.). Some experts in psychology believe that neophobia can manifest due to frightening or unpleasant situations regarding food as well (Wickford, 2011). Others believe that the cause can be both genetic and environmental (Wickford, 2011).
5. Growth: Many people see picky eating in the pre-teen and teen years. This is a common response of growth, in both physical and mental capacities. If this is the case, the person may only choose to eat foods that are comfortable or ‘cool’ to eat. In this case, it may just take working with the person to find reasoning and sensibility for why such foods are desired and what could be done to add in new foods.
6. Texture: Texture is often an issue for many picky eaters. Many of us might remember disliking certain foods at different times in our lives. While texture is very common in neurological dysfunctions (see above), it can also be a standard personal issue. I remember hating mushrooms as a youth. I also remember my brother hated tomatoes. Now, I enjoy many varieties of mushrooms (although the first time I decided to try them as I got older, I do remember being squeamish at the texture…but I got over it). I’m not sure if my brother does tomatoes or not now, but I have heard that these two foods are common dislikes of picky eaters.
7. Check the Gut: Some people tend to avoid foods because they may have bad experiences digestive-wise with them. This could be a sign of leaky gut or other intestinal/gut issues. One important thing to do in this case is talk to the picky eater about how this food makes him or her feel. Another is to get the picky eater tested. You can do that through the mail from Entero Labs here: http://www.enterolab.com/Default.aspx or at a lab near you!
So, what can you do if you have a picky eater? I think the first step is to find out why the person might be avoiding certain foods or just eating others. Once this determination is made, here are some suggestions.
If you know that your picky eater has no allergies or other health problems regarding foods, you can help him or her begin to try new foods. I would still recommend avoiding wheat (see references to Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly book for more on this) and other foods with anti-nutrients (legumes, other grains). Otherwise, here are some common ways to help a picky eater not be so picky (and if the picky eater is scrawny, adding these suggestions into the diet might help grow the body as well):
1. Try sauteing veggies: By sauteing things, commonly the texture and taste will change. You can even saute in real butter and preferable spices to help the veggies take on the flavor of the butter and spices. You can also saute the veggies in bacon fat or grease. This adds a nice flavor and gives them necessary added fat. Just DON’T use those nasty hydrogenated seed or vegetable oils. Those are highly processed garbage. They take away the nutrition of the meal!
2. Add Bacon or other fatty, good meats: This also adds to the flavor of veggies and adds the required good fats to the meal. You can saute, steam, boil, or bake veggies and add the browned or cooked up meats to them during or after making (during is the best for more flavor, in my opinion).
3. Try “hiding” the veggies within the tasty foods: For example, you could make a meatloaf (sans wheat, please) and add spinach in it. This can mask the flavor and/or texture of the added ingredient. You can also puree various foods into other foods so that they won’t be noticed. This is commonly done for stuff like liver or other organ meats (a food many people are not a fan of, but one that is one of the top nutritious foods we can eat).
5. Roast the food: This can go for veggies and meat. You can roast it with lots of butter or other good fats. It can change the flavor and texture of veggies and meats completely!
6. Wrap other foods in bacon: Many people love bacon, and it is good for you. Try utilizing that! You can wrap all kinds of foods in bacon and grill them or bake them to tastiness!
7. Link foods to interests: This one mainly applies to kids, but you can make various foods into shapes via cookie cutters. This could be meat, veggies, or both. Sometimes, the idea of playing with the food might be okay (as long as you don’t buy the processed garbage and you don’t do it with every food, I think this is fine).
8. Give it time: Sometimes you just have to give it time. As palates change, a taste for different foods and a lack of desire for other foods might occur. Tastes change as we change our eating styles. When one is used to thinking ‘crap’ tastes good, the real foods might not be so palatable…this WILL change. It’s essentially a re-training of the taste-buds (in the mouth and in the gut)!
9. Make it together: Sometimes inclusion really helps people open up to new foods. If a child or other picky eater is asked to be involved in the process, it might get the juices flowing (in the mouth as well as in the head)! You might find that by including the picky eater in the preparation, that person will feel more interested and proud in the partaking of the meal as well!
I hope that many of you can use some of the above information and suggestions. In the references below, I am including some sites with great, healthy recipes that might be good to introduce to picky eaters!
Until next time, have a healthy day!
Bainbridge, C. (n. d.). Tips for getting picky eaters to eat. Retrieved from http://giftedkids.about.com/od/familylife/a/picky_eaters.htm
Ikeda, Kikunae. (2002). Translation: New seasonings. Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo, 30(1909), 820-836.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (1998-2011). Children’s nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/childrens-health/HQ01107 (I actually didn’t use this reference, but thought it might be a good one to just browse over…don’t take it all to heart, though).
Vacca Foeda. (2010). How to tell if you are a supertaster. Retrieved from http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/how-to-tell-if-you-are-a-supertaster/
Wickford, H. (2011, Sept. 2). Reasons for picky eating in children. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/533163-reasons-for-picky-eating-in-children/
Wikipedia.org. (2011, Sept. 22). Taste. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste#cite_note-16
Props go out to the following IPMG Tribe Members:
Jennifer Shadwick Huda
Tara Ogg Chaput
Dave ‘Papa Grok’ Parsons
Charity Farquharson Pratt
Marlo Watson Montemayor
Jen Jones Young
Jamie Saal VanEaton
J Seree Dawson
and finally, here are some wonderful cooking sites that can help you with your picky eaters (nice recipes and advice):
There are many, many more that you can link to throughout my blog as well as from the other blogs I’ve listed here! That should be enough for you for a while…right? Have fun! I know I do with these great sites!