How can I learn to stop being a picky eater?
November 7, 2011 2:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn to stop being a picky eater?

Since I was a kid, I have disliked vegetables and fruits. Dislike is an understatement. My parents would try to get me to eat them with both the carrot and the stick, but if I had to force myself to eat them I might seriously throw up. Sometimes I did. Involuntarily.

These days as an adult, I can just choose not to eat them and it's way too easy. This is nothing but a source of shame and stress for me, both for my health and because people tend to be all "You don't know what you're missing! Come on, just try it!" I can't tell them "I don't want to gag in front of you so please leave me alone."

I want nothing more than to be normal. To eat tons of vegetables, some fruits and not stress out about what might make me gag.

Fruit juice is fine, OJ with pulp is pushing it, and Naked Juice I can't stomach at all.

Are there any reformed picky eaters (it's being classified as an actual disorder now) that can share tips and tricks to ease into this?
posted by OnTheLastCastle to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This previous post, "How to become an omnivore...and like it?," might offer some ideas.

FWIW, I have learned to love more vegetables thanks to learning how to roast them. Olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon can go a long way toward making eh veggies really, really good. I've also learned that there's a huge difference in taste between my garden veggies and, say, frozen vegetables.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:38 PM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think working up to it slowly is important. Don't just suddenly make a huge salad with every kind of veggie in it for lunch one day.

Also, what do you like? How do you like it? You can try to incorporate the same veggie, but in a different way. (I.e. you like tomato sauce? Add some fresh diced tomatoes in there as well). Or maybe find similar fruits and veggies to the ones you like. If you like strawberries, you will probably like raspberries.

Good luck!
posted by too bad you're not me at 2:42 PM on November 7, 2011

So, I used to not like fruit. And most vegetables. Once I was an "adult", living on my own and buying my own food, I decided that I needed to learn how to enjoy more foods, so I did a new-item-of-produce-every-time-I-go-to-the-store thing. Whatever was in season and looked interesting, I'd grab one, take it home, and try it.

Turns out a lot of foods are actually really, really delicious.

The trick is to eat them as minimally-processed as possible when you're trying them for the first time.

For fruits, just eat them straight-up. Either bitten directly into like an apple, or cut into chunks. No dipping sauce, no poaching, no fancy stuff. Just a plain old bite. Make sure the fruit is at its peak ripeness when you go to eat it. The difference between an un-ripe piece of fruit and a ripe piece of fruit is like the difference between eating chalk and magical fairy princess sparkles.

For vegetables, chop them up and either roast them (400 degree oven for 30 minutes after tossing with salt, olive oil, and a little pepper) or steam them (with one of those steel steaming baskets in a pot) with a little salt. Don't boil the heck out of them (that's what my mom always did, which is probably why I never liked anything) or drown them in cheese.

And it's OK not to like something the first time (or at all). It doesn't mean you're a bad person. For some things it takes a few tries (I begrudgingly ate pears for years and only recently have decided that I OMG LOVE them). Some things you'll just never like. I still don't like watermelon. (But honeydew, om nom nom.)

Next time you're at the grocery store, just walk through the produce aisle and find something that looks interesting. Produce is cheap enough that buying one of something that you end up not liking isn't going to set you back too much. Pears are really good right now, maybe start there. (Remember, it should be slightly squishy and the skin should feel delicate before it's good to eat, so you'll probably have to wait a few days after bringing it home.)

Good luck! (And have fun! Think of it as an adventure you get to go on, not as something you have to do.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:45 PM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

For me,

1) I had to separate between things being 'gross' and things being 'new'. Smelling, sniffing, feeling with my tongue, and accepting that I won't like it the first time helped.
2) Try it several times.
3) Learn what textures bother you, and what don't. I still have trouble with eggplant, on texture.
posted by gregglind at 2:47 PM on November 7, 2011

I was kind of like this too but even beyond fruit and vegetables--I ate ketchup-only burgers till I was 18 and wouldn't even eat Taco Bell. Now my favorite foods are sushi and Thai.

Do you cook? Experiment with cooking them yourself. No offense to your parents, but they may have been serving you under/over-cooked/seasoned food and it created some aversion to it. I know for a lot of people, it's about texture...are raw vegetables a little more tolerable for you? What about cooked?

Figure out if there's anything even slightly tolerable to you and go from there...for example, if you can stand potatoes, try butternut squash roasted with some olive oil, salt, and pepper....done right, I think the effect is quite similar (and so much healthier). Some other non-offensive vegetables (the only ones I ate when I was a kid) are peas, corn, and plain green beans. Can you stomach tomatoes? Wonder food, as far as I'm concerned--if you get good fresh ones (like heirlooms) they are really good just sliced up with salt and pepper.

Is it a psychological thing? I think that's what it was for me for a long time. My boyfriend can't stand to eat squash simply because it's called "squash" and he thinks it sounds gross (I was the same way about eggplant). It seems like a lot of the stuff I came around to liking was either because I ate it 1) out of desperation (stuff really tastes different when you are famished, so you may try letting yourself get really hungry before you're in a position to try something new) and 2) mixed in with a bunch of other stuff I liked (e.g. finally ate eggplant because it was mixed in with a pasta dish I normally like). That's probably a good approach too--instead of trying to just eat a vegetable straight-up, find a way to incorporate them into things you already like. Also, there are few things cheese can't fix.

I can't speak to fruit because I am really not crazy about fruit myself--I like apples and pineapple, that's about it--if you come around to veggies and not fruit, try to pick ones that are high in the nutrients that fruits have (e.g. I believe red bell pepper has vitamin C in it, which you're more likely to find in citrus). If you come around to fruit but not veggies, try to pick fruits that are high in fiber (e.g. guava).
posted by lovableiago at 2:47 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was a picky eater up until about 18-19 years old. I was fine with meat, potatoes, plain rice, carrots, green peppers, and lettuce, and sometimes lima beans (?!), but not with most other veggies. The only fruit I ate was apples and watermelon. If I had pizza, it was just meat, cheese, and tomato sauce, nothing else. Peppers were sometimes OK. Chili with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and beef was OK, as was my dad's meat-and-tomato spaghetti sauce, as long as the tomatoes were diced fine enough. My meat had to be cooked through, at least medium.

That was over two decades ago, and I now eat almost anything (I'm not fond of most shellfish, but I'll eat it to be polite, and I have learned to love sweetbreads, ripe raw-milk cheeses, and rare steak). It's kind of hard to reconstruct how I got from my previous pickiness to my present state, but here are some thoughts:

It wasn't so much the taste of things that I disliked as it was the texture. Dry cereal was fine. So was milk. Cereal plus milk was revolting. Similarly, eggplant tasted OK but its slimy texture put me off. (The fact that I grew up in the Midwest in the 1970s did not help with the texture of vegetables, especially cooked vegetables.) That explains why I didn't object to veggies in chili or spaghetti sauce, and why I wanted my meat overcooked: the texture was OK that way.

If that's your problem, you should think of ways to introduce vegetables and fruits into your diet in ways that make the texture palatable. Then, as you get used to the flavor, try other textures.

On another level, though, my pickiness was a way of asserting control: healthier than anorexia, to be sure, but similar. When I got to college and could try things in the buffet without being forced to eat something, and then when I moved into my own apartment and started cooking for myself, the stakes in trying something were no longer nearly so high. I decided that I would try anything once, but I would allow myself to say "no" if I didn't like it.

And then I started trying restaurants that prepared veggies in unusual ways, like Ethiopian restaurants. Once I decided I could say no after trying something once, I found myself saying yes instead.

All that said, I still find that there are things I don't like: many sweet fruits (my wife could eat strawberries all day; I find that one or two are enough) and some bitter vegetables like brussels sprouts (though they are much better if they are caramelized). If you are sensitive to bitterness in some plants, especially cruciferous plants like members of the cabbage family (broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc.), you may never come to like them, or you may find them tolerable only in small quantities.

On preview: what others have said about preparation matters, too; I think it's connected with the texture of food.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:52 PM on November 7, 2011

Try something new everyday. Go to the salad bar and pick one item that you wouldn't normally eat and try it. Buy only a spoonful so that if it makes you gag, you didn't waste all that food. Put it with things you normally do eat and the try it in the privacy of your home or office.

Give something three or four tries before you dismiss it. My father was in the restaurant business and he said that a critic will come in and try something several times before actually write a review about it. So taking a cue from a food critic's habit, give anything a few tries.

Now here is a game that may make you learn to stomach something more than once...

When you taste something, don't wrinkle your nose an stick your tongue out to try it. Put it square on your tongue. Try to decifer what it's cooked with and how. Your tongue is an incredible instrument. Coupled with your brain, you can learn to pick out what you like and dislike about a food item. This will also help you not gag because you may taste the flavors you do like. Maybe you'll learn it's not the flavor you dislike but the texture. Maybe you don't like raw carrots, but when it's roasted with corn and string beans you love it! Or maybe you like mashed potatoes with mashed carrots mixed into it.

Hope you'll be able to expand your palate. There are so many wonderful foods to explore an eating, in my opinion, is one of the greatest pleasures of life. One that you can enjoy with a hundred people or all by yourself!
posted by Yellow at 2:54 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get the impression picky eaters have never been really hungry, and avoid situations where there's not much choice about food. When you're famished, you'll eat anything.

So, put yourself into one of those situations. Go survival camping, visit the developing world, or just travel on a limited budget.
posted by Rash at 2:59 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

My friend hated all fish. She gradually introduced it into her diet by always trying to eat one bite of it whenever she could. A year later, salmon is her favorite food. I would try just eating little bits and not letting yourself be disgusted by it. Keep at it and don't get discouraged. Reward yourself with foods you do like. Gradually, you may find yourself loving the formerly offensive foods. The fact that you want to change is the most important part.
posted by 200burritos at 2:59 PM on November 7, 2011

Make a deal ahead of time with family and friends when eating out to allow you to try a bite of something they ordered that you normally wouldn't eat. Then you are not going to a lot of waste and expense to expose yourself to new things if you don't care for it. You might find something you can like.
posted by cecic at 3:06 PM on November 7, 2011

Keep trying little bits of various vegetables, in safe surroundings so if you throw up, you're doing it at home instead of a restaurant or friend's house.

As I age, my tastes change somewhat: I will now occasionally eat tomatoes voluntarily, and went so far as to put a few leaves of fresh spinach on a sandwich the other day. Still hate all varieties of squash, except in cases where the actual taste is completely disguised such as pumpkin pie and zucchini bread. Still hate cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.)

My fiancee hates most vegetables, but will eat a lot of them if they are deep-fried and dipped in ranch first, or cooked in some way that changes the flavor a bit - for example, he finds green beans simply steamed or boiled to be nasty, but when we toss them in olive oil and roast them for 20 minutes, he loves them. As far as we can tell, there's some flavor element he can't stand that breaks down or is disguised in that sort of cooking.

With tomatoes, it's the texture of raw tomatoes he can't stand - he'll eat tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, or roasted tomatoes treated in much the same way as roasted green beans.
posted by telophase at 3:07 PM on November 7, 2011

Also adding that my fiancee thought he hated salads, but when we realized that if we made a salad of various components that he liked, namely romaine lettuce, red bell peppers, and mushrooms, sometimes topped with Parmesan cheese, and with either ranch or ginger dressing, he liked it just fine. So once you find a group of vegetables you like (or at least can stand), perhaps try combining them in different ways to feel like you're eating more variety.

Also perhaps a vegetarian cookbook that has a multitude of delicious ways to prepare vegetables might help, or at least inspire you to try some different ones? It worked for me - I got Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and have added a lot of its recipes into my regular repertoire alongside meaty dishes, and I've heard good things about Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.
posted by telophase at 3:14 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Although I was never a picky eater, I've started to really enjoy fruit and vegetables after I got into gardening.
posted by leigh1 at 3:27 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm an extremely selective eater; when I was a toddler I refused to eat anything "mixed" (took apart tacos and burgers) and had a very very short list of acceptable ingredients, and I'm only a little better now. 85% of the grocery store doesn't look like food to me. I made a deal with myself after I was 18. I try three things a year - three new things - and I've fulfilled my obligation to try new things. They still talk about the time I tried pepperoni, ranch dressing, and A-1 sauce all in the same calendar year.

I usually let my friends and family suggest things to try; they know a lot more about what's out there and what I already like and try to add things that make sense. Most years aren't as successful as the pepperoni year, but I usually emerge from each one with one or sometimes even two things that I actually like enough to actively order when my favorite foods are available.

Also, research indicates that when dealing with young children, you probably need to make multiple attempts to introduce a new food before they'll accept it. Do the same thing with yourself: give yourself ten or fifteen tries with carrots (or whatever) before giving up.
posted by SMPA at 3:35 PM on November 7, 2011

Here's something that might work, and though it sounds silly, I mean it quite sincerely.

Try Again.

Really! Try again. But, this time, try figuring out why other people might really like "insert yucky food item here." Try tasting things from a different point of view. Try rediscovering things that might be delicious.

One of the problems with opinions is that, after a while, the issue becomes the opinion itself rather than the thing. I had a friend who couldn't stand the band Wilco because she doesn't like country, and they're alt country. A friend gave her a mislabeled copy of one of their CDs... and whadayaknow! She loved it. ("Who is YHF?")

Tastes change over time. It's easy to find yourself trapped by opinions that no longer hold true. So, try again.

When I was a kid, I hated sweet potatoes. Now I love 'em.
Hated clams. Now I love 'em.
Hated marinara sauce. Now I love it.
Hated cheese. Now, I'm finding that I really love it.

A big change for me was fish. For whatever reason, I thought it was gross. Now, I love it. I'm still hesitant to order fish at restaurants, and that's dumb because every time I DO order it, I'm surprised by how delicious it is. I had a tuna steak the other night that really blew my mind. Deeeeeeeelicious!!!
posted by 2oh1 at 3:37 PM on November 7, 2011

You have *two* problems: an inexperienced texture-sensitive palate, and extremely high anxiety. You're never going to like anything that tastes like stress! So buy just a couple of things you think will make good starter tests, take them home, and eat them. Alone. Take a bite. Don't like it? Throw it out. Unsure? Put in fridge and try again later.

You could even practice with something you do like. Make a peanut butter sandwich. Sit down at the table. Without making a big production, take a bite. Consider whether you like it. Consider whether maybe it's not the best peanut butter sandwich ever but it'll do. Think about what you might do if you had taken that bite and found that you didn't like it. Deal with that situation calmly. When you feel like you know what your methodology is going to be, start with your first test. Alone. No pressure.

And actually, you might have 3 problems, the third being a stunted sense of drama about not liking things. Kids are lacking in subtlety and it's all EW and UGH and *die*, but you're a grown-up and you can dislike a food in the same way you can dislike a shirt color or tv show. There are shades of gray here that you need to acknowledge: not everything is fantastic or awful, some things are just okay or meh. You will not die of meh.

And if your friends are exacerbating that aspect, or winding you up so that you are being overdramatic about it, stop eating with them. Just tell them you need to take this thing on in a reasonable way and they weren't helping but you'll meet them after dinner.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:47 PM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Considering that you are not that experienced with fruit and veg, it might be helpful to have a friend go to the grocery store with you to help you pick out a few things so that the first apple you try isn't a mealy gross one. Alternatively, try a farmer's market where you know it's fresh and in season.
Also, don't pressure yourself to try things in front of people. Get used to trying it at home first.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:07 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good ideas here. A few more thoughts:

1. Try new things at home so you don't also subject yourself to the fear of hating them in a visible way in public.

2. Make sure what you get is really in peak condition. Forget those big plastic tasting vegetables and fruits in the grocery store. Pick up perfectly ripe, in season, locally grown produce, preferably from someone who grew it. My entire world changed when I first tasted local tomatoes in Greece -- I never knew vegetables and fruit could taste like anything worth eating.

3. Think about what you don't like in the items that don't appeal. It could be texture (e.g. maybe you'll never like slippery items like okra) or taste (bitter, sweet, sour) or association (why I can't abide peanut butter cookies.) Stay away from those items until your palate is a lot more tolerant.

4. It's OK to add things you don't think you like (sliced zucchini) to disguising things you do, like pasta sauce and spaghetti. Having something you think you don't like taste like something you definitely do can get you past that first hurdle of knowing you ate the normally repellant thing without a problem.
posted by bearwife at 5:10 PM on November 7, 2011

Thanks, guys. It means a lot to know I'm not alone. It's like a shameful thing and people ALWAYS seem to think I like not being able to eat normal things. I'm going to read through and try out a lot of your suggestions.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 5:15 PM on November 7, 2011

I found reading things about people enjoying food helped. I started associating the food with enjoyment via the bridge of the character in the book.

For instance, I didn't like tomatoes until one day I had a craving for egg cheese and tomato on a bagel and some part of me had decided that that would be the tastiest thing on the planet. I couldn't get it out of my head until I ate it. I had to go out and buy a tomato. It took me a bit to make the connection to the story I had been reading, but it's a good way to break the initial ick association that can get in the way of trying something new.
posted by platypus of the universe at 5:36 PM on November 7, 2011

Don't think of "vegetables" and "fruits" as a big monolith. They have such different flavors and textures that it's hard to imagine what would be in common with all produce that could make a person just hate all of it. Start thinking of each fruit and vegetable as a unique kind of thing, and go from there.

Remember that a roasted vegetable is completely different from a raw vegetable, and both are completely different from vegetables cooked in a stew or soup. This applies to all vegetables. Even different kinds of tomatoes offer vastly differing eating experiences (I personally find "salad tomatoes" gross and mealy, but plum tomatoes are great and grape tomatoes are good too). Same with raw fruits and fruits baked into pies. Mmm, pie. They're all different.
posted by wondermouse at 6:44 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was an extremely picky eater as a child. I liked fruit (in 1970s Northern Ontario that meant Macintosh apples and the occasional banana, plus tinned fruit cocktail), but the only vegetables I ate before I was 23 were corn, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce--but only the green part of the iceberg, not the white! For a while my folks tried to make me eat veg and I could choke down peas, but only because I could swallow them whole.

What turned it around for me was taking myself out for dinner after a final exam in my third year of university. I don't remember what the main part of the meal was, but the veg on the side, which of course I didn't touch, was broccoli. When I tried to order dessert, the server told me I couldn't have dessert until I ate my broccoli. He was kidding, of course, and I said EWWW broccoli. He said it was his favourite vegetable, and I admitted I had never tried it. And then he said he wasn't kidding, I couldn't have dessert until I at least tried the broccoli. And then he left me alone for a while. I tried it, I liked it. I actually kind of loved it. And I got dessert!

That was a HUGE life changing moment for me. I asked people for months, "Have you ever tried broccoli? It's really delicious!" I can remember deciding I was going to try asparagus and talking about THAT for weeks. My friends thought I was nuts. And avocados, man did I proselytize for avocados once I'd tried them.

But I also remember, probably two or three years after that, out for a big birthday party dinner for a friend and we had tapas and I passed on the artichoke hearts, saying I didn't like them. Someone said, Oh I love them, and again I had to admit I had never tried them. And again, loved them.

Now, I eat everything, have a wide ranging appetite, and really really really love food and cooking and eating. But despite this, I still sometimes find myself automatically thinking, "Oh, I don't like that" about new foods. And definitely that's anxiety. Because it's not like, Oh, I don't like country music, it's way more emotional and visceral and scary. There's something really threatening about it, it's almost a phobia. I also still don't like carrots or green beans, and celery makes me gag, too. Oh, the times I have retched into my plate because of the restaurant morons who think celery belongs in tuna or egg salad!

SO. My advice is to try new foods. Things you have never tried before. I think the reason I can't get over carrots and celery and green beans is they are vegetables I tried and hated as a kid. I just can't get over that first exposure trauma. Beets, and asparagus, arugula, avocado, sweet potato, etc. etc. etc. had no horrible childhood memories attached to them, so I could approach them without all that baggage.

I can understand not wanting to try new things around your friends, who are jerks, but it can be hard to prepare new foods well, so I think the salad bar suggestion is a good one, or ordering a small side dish of something at a restaurant. If you have some non-jerky friends, I like the idea of asking for a taste of things they have that you haven't tried.

Also: butter and deep frying. They improve everything.

The other thing to keep in mind is that once you like a wider range of foods, then you have "permission," socially, to turn down foods that you don't like. I spurn celery, won't drink red wine, and make gagging noises when people talk about oatmeal (slimy!), but because I like a lot of other stuff, I'm "allowed" not to eat stuff I don't like. If you don't like anything, then, paradoxically, it's like people think you don't know what you're talking about. So don't get stressed out thinking you will have to love every single food you try. Instead just know that you will, almost inevitably, find at least one new thing that you love.

Whoosh, this is long. I am very passionate about picky eaters! They are my people. I could cry when I think of the opportunities I passed up as a teenager because of my fear of trying new foods (a year long exchange in Japan!). Don't beat yourself up about it, but know that when you open up to new foods it will totally change your life, I promise. In the mean time, take a multivitamin and be gentle with yourself.
posted by looli at 7:05 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Remember too your taste buds actually change as you get older so foods that you didn't like when you were a kid you will mysteriously finding yourself liking as you get older.

Also try veggies raw, I find I can't eat a lot of veggies cooked as the texture just feels weird, peas for example just squish and make me gag. But raw peas fresh from the pod I'll eat like candy. Cooked carrots are boring, raw carrots and some dip are a great snack. If the raw veggie thing doesn't work for you then the roasting suggestions above are another great way to eat veggies.

The rule my parents used growing up was we didn't have to like any new foods/cooking methods we came across, but we couldn't say we didn't like it if we hadn't tried it 3 different times. Funnily enough most food was OK after the 3rd try.
posted by wwax at 7:31 PM on November 7, 2011

My daughter taught herself how to love tomatoes this summer. Every single time she saw someone eating a tomato, she asked if she could have a tiny, tiny piece of it--initially it was paper-thin slices, and then tiny little wedges, and then last night at supper it was three or four half-inch thick slabs of them. She rotated the way she ate it--sometimes she put soy sauce on them, sometimes salt, sometimes sugar, and sometimes ate them plain.

Despite the knee-jerk omg ew reaction to things, sometimes repeated exposure will bring people around.

Also, look at food writing. What Platypus of the Universe said is a good start--fiction about food--but food writing is a whole other world. Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking convinced thirteen-year-old me to try (and love) tomatoes, gingerbread, and eggplant--three things that thirty-year-old me can't imagine my life without.
posted by MeghanC at 7:47 PM on November 7, 2011

I know exactly how you feel, and my heart goes out to you! It's hard, and it's made harder when other people don't understand what's going on when you don't eat what they're eating.

I was an extremely picky eater growing up (I was almost done with high school before I tried pizza), and only got gradually better through college. Now I will eat anything. Two things helped:

- Social pressure, but of a particular kind. I was put in situations where I really didn't have any choice, and with people who didn't already know that I was a picky eater. With my family, I was partly anxious about trying new things because I didn't want the attention that would come with that; with semi-strangers, nobody would be paying attention to what I was eating, at all, and a lot of my anxiety went away.

- As MeghanC mentioned, food writing. For me, it was Calvin Trillin's The Tummy Trilogy, and Peter Mayle's French Lessons, both on tape in the car on the way to work. It made me want to try new things in a way I really didn't at all before.

There's no magic trick--I gagged on salad (both lettuce and dressing) for a long time, even after I broke through and started giving it a try--but it really does get much easier over time. Then, once you get over the hump and into being able to physically eat new things, I recommend hanging out with people who really enjoy cooking and eating, because their enthusiasm will be infectious and help you continue to try new things (because it will always be easier, if you're like me, to stick with the familiar).

As mentioned above, a great way to cook most vegetables is to cut them up, toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes (longer if they're still tough after that, not easily stabbed with a fork). I do that with broccoli, squash, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus or anything else I can think of. (Note: broccoli and asparagus really are delicious. When left to my own devices, they're my top choices. I roast both until they're a little burned in the extremities.) So if you do want to pick something at random from the store and try to cook it in the privacy of your home, that's a sure-fire way to do it with no fuss and guaranteed decent results. If there's a condiment you like, like parmesan cheese or soy sauce or Jane's Crazy Mixed Up Salt, don't be shy with it if that would help. I don't know, in retrospect, if home-cooking exposure would have worked for me, but it might work for you. Another thing to do might be to order delivery from a local restaurant (say, stir-fried Thai or Chinese vegetables), so you don't have to worry about cooking for yourself but you're not trying things out in public. That has the added advantage of delicious sauces.
posted by rustcellar at 9:07 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

While you're working on all of the excellent suggestions above, perhaps you could try something like the Sneaky Chef to up your intake of fruit and veggies in the meantime?
posted by rubbish bin night at 4:46 AM on November 8, 2011

I like the hunger suggestion above. I was picky until 20, which is when I went backpacking for a few months in a different country with little cash. I will eat everything except bananas now (I probably could learn to eat bananas, but it is my last bit of resistance).
posted by Acer_saccharum at 6:48 AM on November 8, 2011

I know of a reformed picky eater! Jeffrey Steingarten.

His book The Man Who Ate Everything centers around how he chipped away at his food sensitivities for his new job as a food writer. He has some good insights into how to think about food and how to gently introduce yourself to things you wouldn't normally eat.

I don't remember if he talks about this, but you as others have mentioned, it might help to break down what exactly it is that offends you about certain foods. Taste, texture, appearance, etc.. As an example, I'm one of those people who will eat just about anything. But I have an extreme aversion to certain temperature issues. I am horrified by cold spaghetti and hot mayonnaise, for example, and I've just read some things in a nearby ask that sent me to my fainting couch for a while. And I don't think I know anyone, even among food enthusiasts, who doesn't have some aversions here and there.

The difference, I think, is that the non-picky eaters have their aversions defined very narrowly. If you can pin down what it is about things that you don't like, you can try different preparations and combinations, and eventually narrow your dislikes down to the point where you can pass them off as a refined palate.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:35 AM on November 8, 2011

When I was growing up I hated cheese. Why? Because the only cheese I ever knew existed was Sharp Cheddar. That's all we ever had in the house. In high school I had my first pizza (yes, really) and discovered white and more mild cheeses. Same with vegetables and fruit. My 100% typical mom of the 50s bought canned veggies, rarely fresh. Yeah, most canned veggies are fairly gross, especially asparagus and green beans, but it was all I knew.

So, over time I've learned to expose myself to common foods prepared differently, and expand from there. I never liked fish, most specifically Salmon, until it was prepared in a way that I enjoyed.

Experiment with different ways of preparing foods you think you might like. You might be pleasantly surprised. I'm dealing with this very situation with my 'too old to still be eating like a child' daughter, and I'm coming to realize it's going to be up to her to want to change her way of eating. All the suggesting and nagging in the world is not going to inspire her to change until She wants to.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 10:04 AM on November 8, 2011

My suggestion in situations like this is that if you are going to try a new food you ought to actively search out the very best of that type of food. Don't just get cheese from a supermarket, go to a cheese shop. Talk to the people behind the counter, ask them what their favorite is. Don't get your veggies from a supermarket, go to a farmers market. Ask for what is especially ripe. Get the best goddamned pears you can find.

I have turned many pickle haters into pickle lovers simply by asking them to eat the very best pickles in the world. (Bubbies). Now, they know what a pickle actually should taste like, and what sort of flavors their should be feeling and smelling in a pickle. It actually revolutionized their experience of plane old regular pickles.

Hell, you know what, not just picky eaters, everyone should do this. Excellent Food, of any sort, is one of the great sensory wonders of the world.
posted by Freen at 1:24 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Learn to cook.

That's it, really. Learn to take one ingredient at a time -- especially ingredients you don't like! -- and combine it/prepare it in such a way that it becomes more palatable to you. Over time, you'll get used to the raw ingredient tastes, and you'll learn how to cook things more to your liking. Even stuff you love can be made unpalatable by a bad cook, and the converse is also true.
posted by davejay at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2011

Oh, and on the real juice thing: water it down, and take shots of it. Seriously. A shot glass with half naked juice and half water should be something you can do to get used to it.
posted by davejay at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2011

There's a possibility that your parents simply weren't very good cooks. And there's a possibility that they were exceptionally lousy at making things like vegetables. My advice to anyone who doesn't like a particular food is to go to a really, really good restaurant and try that particular food the way it should be prepared. Then try to replicate that experience at home. Note this is easier to do in places with an awesome food culture, where you have access to the best options. Also, farmers markets are your friend. The produce will be in season and taste super fresh.
posted by quadog at 11:36 PM on November 8, 2011

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