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Can You Learn to Eat Foods You've Hated Your Entire Life?

Jenna guest posts, she is the agent of change over at Food With Kid Appeal, sharing tips and tricks with parents who want their kids to eat healthy food. You can read her feeding the family tweets @kidappeal.

I was indulged as a child in my peculiar eating habits. I didn’t like stuff mixed up which prevented me from eating sauces, casseroles, soups, sandwiches etc. I liked things plain and separate. I was the girl who ordered a hamburger (dry and never ate the bun) and fries whether we were eating at Mexican, American or Italian restaurant. If you’ve spent any of your years being a picky eater, there are two categories of food. Food you eat, and food you don’t eat. Period.

Things got better in college where I was presented with new food I hadn’t labeled as gross. All the sudden Mediterranean and Chinese food became a staple in my diet.

Fast forward to my thirties when I was feeding my young family. I wanted to avoid the whole picky eating thing with my kids. I was dismayed when my food tolerant baby turned into a toddler with some fixed food preferences. He wasn’t picky, but he certainly stopped eating a bunch of things he used to eat. I noticed most of my friends toddlers were the same, refusing some of the foods they’d eaten as babies. So I set out to get my toddler back on track with universal tolerance.

Meanwhile I still had some hang-ups with food I was exposed to in childhood in the food-I-don’t-eat category: oatmeal, raw carrots, nuts, peppers and onions. A few times I got brave and would try a carrot here, or onion there, but my mind was made up before I tasted them-they were inedible. No big surprise when I tasted them and said “nope, still hate onions.” I wasn’t successful in learning to like food I hated until I stopped thinking of them as gross food. It’s a mind-set issue. I opened up the door for the possibility to enjoy “hated” foods. I visualize how delicious a raw red pepper strip is, so crunchy and a little sweet, before I put it in my mouth. That reaction too was no surprise, “hmm, peppers aren’t my favorite but I can eat them. No more gagging.

About a year ago, I decided to learn right along with my kids. Often the best way to learn is to teach. When you teach, you often discover what you don’t know, and you can relate to your audience. When I serve food I have historically not eaten, like carrots, I tell them carrots aren’t my favorite. I say that I prefer them cooked, and when raw they are very crunchy. Then I eat one, and show them I survived. The concept that food doesn’t have to be a favorite to be eaten is very powerful in learning to overcome food aversions.

I’m a recovering picky eater (check out the whole story at Food With Kid Appeal). It’s been a life-long learning process, and I’ve got a ways to go-I still don’t like peppers or plain nuts-although I’m warming to red, yellow and orange peppers. I’m glad I’m eating better. I wonder sometimes how I spent two decades not knowing about the deliciousness of oatmeal and onions (not in the same dish!).

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I Am Boymom said...

Great information, am having the same struggle with my kids. Gret concept to share my likes and dislikes and eat icky stuff along with them.

Jenna said...

thx for having me as a guest poster.

i am boymom-good luck with the technique, if you have success with it come to the Forum on Food With Kid Appeal and tell us about it.

WackyMummy said...

Are there any other methods? So far that hasn't worked with my preschooler. He's more than happy to eat entirely different meals than me. If it's green he won't even look at it. And he's super-savvy with finding the "hidden" veggies and eating around them. He's also content to go without eating rather than eat good food. (He figures he can fill up on dried Cheerios later.) Help! :)