Kate Williams, RDN
Look back at foods you rejected as a child. Do you still turn your nose up at Brussels sprouts or fish? Maybe you didn’t like the aroma, texture or simply didn’t like trying new foods. Many people grow out of restrictive eating habits, but some don’t. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2018 Food & Health Survey, familiarity is a key driver in food purchasing decisions. I can remember reviewing clients’ food logs, with very limited variety and certain veggie-subgroups omitted– like the dark greens. As health professionals, we need to be attuned to food monotony as it can leave balanced nutrition behind. I turned to our culinary and insights experts to share simple ways to encourage new foods and flavors among picky adult eaters.
Assess the reasons behind the pickiness. What exactly makes your client reluctant to branch out when it comes to food? Is the issue related to texture, food combinations or maybe even convenience? Are they hypersensitive to flavors and aromas? What about their childhood food experiences? Do they lack confidence in the kitchen? These factors may impact how you approach your clients and encourage them to try new flavors and foods. Once you understand where the pickiness stems from, you can identify appropriate interventions to help them expand their food choices.
Start with a snack. According to What We Eat in America, NHANES 2015-16, 94% of Americans snack at least once a day and 77% having 2 or more snacks each day. Chances are your pickier clients snack and enjoy it! Snacking can be a way for selective eaters to explore new flavors in a familiar format and a smaller portion. Think about how many different plant-based snacks, new flavor and texture combinations fill the market. Find out your clients favorite go-to snacks and pair it with a new flavor or texture that is similar. Do they love potato chips? Suggest a roasted chickpea snack or veggie beet chip which have that craveable, crunchy texture. If your client likes vegetables like carrots but is unsure of ginger, they could try harvest carrot and ginger soup. Snacks are usually a smaller investment when it comes to time, cost and experimentation so encourage exploring here.
Change one thing at a time. New recipes with many unfamiliar ingredients and lengthy preparation can be overwhelming. Encourage clients to start small and try new ingredients in a familiar format. For example, have your clients share some of their favorite recipes and recommend one or two new-to-them ingredient swaps. Sheila Miller, Senior Manager, Campbell Consumer Test Kitchen, notes, “As consumer interest in foods like spiralized veggies and ancient grains grows, it makes sense to pair them with Prego® sauces and Swanson® broths and stocks so consumers can try new ingredients and trends with familiar flavors in professionally developed recipes." If you want to encourage more beans in the diet, try this Slow Cooker Chicken with White Beans & Spinach recipe, that has other common ingredients like chicken and pasta. Or instead of ground beef with rice try these stuffed peppers that feature a filling of quinoa and chicken. Most of us have had bacon on a baked potato, so if that is something your client enjoys, why not try Kale & Bacon Mashed Potatoes?
Share different prep methods. I never really liked cooked spinach and Chef Carrie Welt said I am not alone. She shared, “Vegetables with a lot of nutrient density like broccoli, spinach or Brussels sprouts have a long, slandered history of not being delicious. This comes from adults thinking that kids won’t like it, overcooking it, and making it stand on its own as a loathed part of the meal, but not part of the dish.” Here are some tips Chef Carrie Welt suggests to help make them more palatable – she notes that proper preparation is a must!
- Heat reduces the natural bitterness of greens like broccoli rabe
- Blanch veggies briefly to enhance the color and reduce bitterness
- Boiling veggies too long leads to a mushy texture
- Roasting adds savory notes from the browning, so don’t be afraid to crank up the oven to over 400οF
- Wash or soak whole grains like quinoa to get rid of soapy or bitter notes
- Cook whole grains in broths you know you enjoy
Keep trying. It may take many attempts at trying a single, new food and different preparation methods before your clients like it. Just like kids, the first-time adults try something, they may be unsure about it. Keep a positive attitude – it can take many attempts before a food makes the cut. Some clients may be more selective eaters than others, and that is ok. We just want to ensure they meet the recommended amounts and variety within the food groups. Personally, I felt this way with Brussels sprouts, which I still only like roasted. Some things just won’t stick, but others you’ll love over time, like asparagus or seafood for me!
Explore new foods and flavors,
Kate’s BioKate received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.
- https://foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-FHS-Report-FINAL.pdf Accessed May 2019.