Writing About Picky Eaters: Part 2

Through my blog stats, I found that a lot of people were checking out my Writing About Picky Eaters post (in total, so far, about 250 views). Researching my Rachael Ray article (due out Feb. 2010) about picky eaters, I found a lot of people were yearning to conquer their fears, their spouses, or their children’s fears about food.  The article I wrote was short so I couldn’t include everything I found so instead I’ll share some interesting points that I learned.  I hope it’s useful in helping picky eaters out there overcome their food phobias.  I spoke to molecular biologist Adam Ruben and registered dietician Eric Nowicki as well as research online to find out what is behind the science of picky eaters.

I used to be this kid. I tried to give my dog broccoli. She didn't eat it.  Now I love vegetables.  Tastes can change.

I used to be this kid. I tried to give my dog broccoli. She didn't eat it. Now I love vegetables. Tastes can change.

Important Food Facts (from the Q&A listed below)

  • Flavor is a combination of sensory qualities, so our sense of taste is also based on our sense of smell. See how much your nose knows by eating a jellybean while pinching your nose. It will taste flavorless until your nose is opened. As people age, the sense of smell changes, which explains why people may like food they disliked as a child.
  • Kids are notorious picky eaters but their cautious nature is part of predatory instincts to learn what is safe to eat and what will keep our bodies running. Sweets are packed with energy while bitter grub is usually a warning that the food may be potentially poisonous.
  • On average, men and women have different food preferences.

Breakdown of Food Fears

Chemical Aversion: Our taste buds detect five flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (a Japanese word for savory tastes like meat, cheese, mushrooms). 
How to get over it: Eric suggests not overcooking vegetables which tends to bring out their bitterness.

Emotional Aversion: This type of food aversion comes from childhood associations or memories that you have about certain foods. Adam Ruben’s parents hated onions so he thought he hated onions too.
How to get over it: Try incorporating the food you hate in small doses, at least 8–10 times. Most people only try the food they hate 2–3 times and then give up. For example, with onions, Adam shares, “I ate them in sandwich that and I was fine. When I first started cooking, I left out onions and then I made a butternut squash soup and blended in the onions in soup, and now I don’t mind raw onions. I made a pineapple salsa recipe that didn’t work without raw red onion. So I made it with the onions.”  Don’t go hog wild and dump a ton of onions on a sandwich.  Instead try blending them in a soup you like, or chopping them finely and adding them to a sauce.  From the Q&A listed below, “The other method is to eat non-preferred foods when very hungry—the body begins to associate those flavors with a positive benefit (relief of hunger). there are two ways to change your food preferences: (1) time and exposure; and (2) manipulating how hungry you are when you eat disliked foods. The more you eat a food, the better you like it.”

Textural Aversion: While there is no scientific reason texture affects certain people—like the mushiness of a tomato—Ruben recommends cooking the food you can’t stand to change its texture. The mushiness of a tomato dissolves when cooked.

Great Resources About Picky Eaters

My friend Gennie pointed me to a great PBS online article that discusses the science behind picky eaters.

The video on that page is a great introduction into explaining why we dislike certain foods. A Q&A with Danielle Renee Reed is especially helpful.

An article on Psychology Today’s website about adult picky eaters.







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