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Aug 12, 2009 02:57 AM

Help exposing partner to new foods

My partner and I are moving into a home together and I am the cook among us. She is the most wonderful woman in the world, but she has a long list of foods she dislikes and she came from a boring household culinarily speaking. Her mother used salt, pepper, garlic salt, and maybe oregano from time to time. My partner is used to tough steaks and roasts and she's learned to use cheap distilled vinegar, ketchup and salt to cover up bad foods. She's not a foodie like me as I won't even eat distilled vinegar, it's a cleaning product to me.

So my partner is a picky eater and doesn't like fish (except albacore tuna packed in water), bell peppers, mushrooms, most vegetables in fact except sweet corn, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes, and perhaps carrots but they have to be raw. She has issues with textures of foods, issues I had as a child but outgrew. She has agreed to try new foods but I know her and if she doesn't like it the first time she won't give me a second chance.

So my question is how do I get her to eat healthier?

We've stopped eating out on a regular basis and I'm going to be making home cooked meals every night. I'd like to try feeding her some fish and more vegetables. I got her to eat artichokes and spinach but only in a cheesy dip. What kind of fish is least fishy? I know fresh fish shouldn't smell of fish, but I'm not to familiar with fish outside of salmon, cod, flounder, sole. I'd like to try tuna steaks as she likes steak. I was thinking fish and chips would be good since cod is mild, in my experience.

How did you get your kids to try new food? Please help me.


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  1. I found this... but I'm still looking for more info on getting her to eat healthier in general.

    1. Well, to answer your last question, we had the most success when the kids were involved in the process. Would she be interested in cooking with you at all? If so, I recommend making something you know she'll like, not a hopeful dish. Build slowly. Also, when I was serving things I knew might be a stretch, I tried to include something they'd love like garlic bread or whatever. That way they didn't have a bad taste about the meal in general and develop aversions to things. (God, we work at this, don't we?)

      Canned tuna. Of course there is tuna casserole and you could serve the vegetables she likes, sliced, on the side. Use a vinaigrette to turn it into a salad. Maybe she'd whisk that up.

      A version of Salad Nicoise using only ingredients she likes. Skip the olives etc, this is just to get her eating her foods in new ways but with nothing offensive added.
      As time goes by she may be interested in add-ins.

      Raw carrots and broccoli: Will she eat slaw? Serve it with some meals, and soon you'll have her putting it on her sandwiches. New idea, new taste combo, slowly the door is opening...

      We have non-fish eaters who love fish fry. It's mild and, well, fried. Go for it.

      Could you use the cheesy artichoke spinach dip as a sauce for some kind of bake or saute? Lemon it up and use chicken, perhaps?

      I realize these are very basic ideas but I have been there with fussy eaters and believe the most productive approach is a cautious one! Tip-toe in and let us know how things progress.

      Good luck, Joseph!

      1 Reply
      1. re: fern

        Thanks for the reply. She might eat a slaw, but she won't eat raw broccoli plain. She likes to cook with me, that's a great idea to get her involved. She likes olives, she used to just eat black olives from a can because her mother got poor quality green olives, but now I've gotten her to eat some nice green olives and kalamata olives and she loves them.

        I'll post the results when I get a chance to try them. We don't move until the end of the month.

      2. No kids (and no issues when I was one) but my husband of 35 years is sort of particular and judgemental about food. I'm not one to tell others how to live their life, although as I get older sometimes I'm sorry I didn't. So I've always made what he likes, and then something different for me. Say if it's flounder (the only fish he'll eat) his has to be fried, while I'll broil it or get a different fish/seafood. Wait, he'll eat fresh tuna if I coat it in pepper and grill it rare. Because after years of making this for myself he tried it. When he wants a burger or hot dogs and fries, I have a turkey or veggie burger, or some leftovers that he won't touch, like curry . Vegetables he mostly won't eat, unless covered with cheesy sauce, which negates the whole thing for me. So I make two versions.

        But he loves soup so I make lots of that, and if it's seasoned right he doesn't need it creamy. So there's an idea. At least he's eating home cooking and some vegetables, I always wonder what he'd eat if I wasn't around. Probably McDonalds and cold cuts and Devil Dogs. So my advice is to take it slow and try to adapt things to her taste, and you eat what you want and maybe she'll get curious, then eventually you will have some new favorites for her. Although it might take 35 years!

        5 Replies
        1. re: coll

          That was going to be my backup plan, just eat what I like and she could try it if she wanted. But making two meals seems like it would be more expensive than if we could agree on foods. Maybe I should make two meals half the time and try to find something we could both like the other half. It just might get boring since the common ground is limited.

          We've been together for ten years and your post gives me the realization that she may never totally like everything I like, but hope that she'll eventually try new things.

          1. re: shsesc

            It's not as bad as I made it sound, lots of nights we have the same thing with very slight differences, like he can't have a sandwich without mayo and I prefer mustard or guacamole or whatever. And leftovers are great for me, if I make him grilled cheese for example I just nuke something I made a day or two before. Once you're living together, it won't seem like such a big deal. The trick is like with kids, don't force it, rather make them jealous of how much you enjoy your special dinners: After awhile, the mindset will shift. Especially as you get older and start thinking about your health, as mentioned below.

            1. re: shsesc

              I've recently began making the same meal then changing it in the end. For example yesterday I made fried rice. I had all the ingredients ready, the pinapple, veggies, rice cooked in beef juices. I then added what SO likes to the pan, fried it up quickly and served it. Mine I added onions first and chilis and would have finished it off with green onion if I had any.

              Today I made gnocchi so I cooked the heavy cream in skillet with some garlic, soup stock cube until it was a sauce, next added all the gnocchi in and mixed it up. Took mine out and plated it, threw on some crumbled blue cheese which melted beautifully on top with cracked black pepper. Back in the pan added a bit of cheddar for SO and served it as soon as it was melted.

              I find cooking this way helps a lot, before this I'd just prepare something for SO and then make something entirely different for myself when I had more time.

            2. re: coll

              This is a really tough question. The guy I dated before meeting my husband once took me to a Chinese restaurant where he ordered a steak and then asked for ketchup. I knew our relationship didn't have a future. I think it is difficult when two people have a different set of taste buds. My husband really doesn't care for anything in the cabbage family. I grew up in a non-fish home. Our Catholic fridays featured fried clams and scallops. We grew up in the 50s and 60s. The bland years. Even in the 1980s it was difficult finding recipes that used herbs. We have two granddaughters now. One loves almost everything including black olives. The 3 yo didn't like anything for a long time. She recently discovered she liked the little peas inside of sugar snap pods and liked garlic roasted portabella mushrooms.
              I have learned to like fish for my husband's sake. He prefers simply grilled anything. Salmon, flounder, haddock, swordfish are all fine with me. I like any kind of sauce and seasoning but he doesn't. I add my preferences after it is cooked or sometimes my piece of fish gets a sauce, his doesn't.
              We have both learned to like a lot of new things so I think time helps as well as trying things. My sister always orders the same thing at a Chinese restaurant because she's afraid she might not like a new dish. I will try most anything at least once. A few years ago I went on a diet so I started eating more salads and fresh fruit. Before I could pass on an apple but now I have to have my daily apple. Fujis right now until local apples come into season. My taste buds changed over a period of a year because I had to eat more fresh vegetables and fruit. I liked things before but I am amazed at how much my preferences have changed. I think a lot of people don't realize that fruits and vegetables have different flavors depending on the variety. Perhaps your partner doesn't expect new flavors so maybe you should open the discussion there. Local, fresh tomatoes are obviously tastier but does she understand the difference in flavors of different potato varietys, for example? Canned beans are tasteless. DH prefers yellow beans picked while they are still small. Visit a farmers market together or good local farmstand. I never ate a parsnip until one dinner at my future in-laws. They grew their own. We also have preferences when it comes to winter squash varieties. We find butternut to be somewhat bland and used to prefer buttercup varieties until I started growing a kabocha variety.

              I try not to do too many sauces because DH prefers simpler preparations. He will try most things, to be nice, but I don't expect him to love a couscous casserole. He doesn't care for noodles but he will eat them. I love noodles. Learn to compromise. I think this is really key to a relationship. DH eventually decided he liked spicy food but because of his taste buds I don't think he will ever like cilantro.
              If your concerns are based on healthier eating, I think you should insist that she give it time to develop new preferences. If you are young, you think healthy eating doesn't matter all that much but when you get older you realize what a serious issue it is. We should have grown up with a low fat diet but we didn't make changes until a doctor required it. And, my husband is very grateful that I was willing to make all the dietary changes he needed. I listened to what the nutritionist had explained to him. OTH he has friends whose wives have refused to make any changes. They are on their own to eat differently. I think you and your partner should discuss health issues. My MIL complained when they had to start eating more chicken and fish and no beef yet there are a zillion ways to prepare both. Meals do not have to be boring.

              1. re: dfrostnh

                We're young and both overweight. We have time on our side, but I want to use this change of address as a way to change our habits and she agrees. We're stopping eating in restaurants except for special occasions and we'll probably start some sort of exercise program as well.

                I love parsnips by the way, that just reminded me that she might like them roasted like potatoes...

            3. She's an adult and quite capable of buying and preparing her own food. Why can't you (and others in this situation) just say screw it, if you don't like what I've cooked fix your own dinner? Try some tough love? I know this is not a typical Chowhound response, but she is not a child and shouldn't be treated like one. Of course it might not work in the OP's situation because it's a 10 year relationship and more to loose of it back fires, but for parents and those in shorter relationships?

              4 Replies
              1. re: viperlush

                Because she'd be eating ramen noodles and double cheeseburgers and I care too much about her to not try to get the both of us healthy so we can live a long happy life together.

                I'll take Shane's method over yours because like he said, if I turn it into a conflict someone has to win and the woman always wins one way or another. I want this for both of us. I'm not treating her like a child, I'm trying to shape her as an adult. I think this major life change of moving is a great catalyst for change in other areas.

                thanks to everyone who's responded so far

                1. re: shsesc

                  You did ask <How did you get your kids to try new food? Please help me.> So that made it sound as if you are treated her like a child.

                  <I'm trying to shape her as an adult>. As other threads have shown us that some people can't be shaped/changed.

                  Like I said, for you it might not be the best method, but for those who are just started out or for parents? I know that if I was in your situation I would be frustrated, eventually grow tired, and say screw it you are on your own. You are obviously more patient that I am, and I admire that.

                2. re: viperlush

                  I am with you. When I got married my husband told me he didn't like eggplant or prawns and he wasn't too into Chinese food, he mostly just liked meat and potatoes type American foods, and foods cooked his mama's way from his family's home country. Well, I just cooked whatever I wanted and he just ate it. Too bad for him. I am a good cook, so he should appreciate that he married someone who knows how to cook and likes to cook cuz not everyone does, and not all newlyweds know how to cook either. He should count himself lucky. So now he eats lots of Chinese food, Thai food, Vietnamese food, or what have you, and he has never said a thing about eggplant when I make it. He can still only eat 2-3 prawns when I cook them, or a mild flavored fish, no squid or other delicious creatures...but he has gotten over everything else. So I usually make friends with people who like to eat seafood so that we can have that when we go out together and I never miss it. Tough love is the way to go IMHO. I do occasionally do some steak and potatoes and I have his mama's well worn recipe book. But I have definately helped him expand his horizons.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    WOW! I like your method. Also what viperlush said kind of makes sense.
                    I occasionally will feel like doing that, maybe only for the sake of getting my SO to actually start learning how to cook because if you don't actually visit the kitchen you just won't learn. It's through experimenting, learning and trying that I actually learned how to cook.
                    Sometimes I feel they won't step in the kitchen because it's "my territory" and because I've arranged things and know where everything is/what ingredients are available. While I'm also protective of the kitchen so it doesn't get messed up which would give me a heartattack if I found out I really really want and wish my SO would get into cooking.

                3. I have some friends like this and have learned to go slow. If someone is afraid of heights, you don't take them up the top of a 1,000 foot cliff. Right? I love introducing people to fresh, delicious ingredients. So what I'd do is find out what her favorite dish is, then make it for her with excellent ingredients and a gourmet touch. It'll be easy to approach and fun. I once put roasted leeks in a tater tot hot dish. I waited until everyone was enjoying it and then someone asked what I put in it because it was so good.

                  A tip on getting people to eat veggies. Roast them. Totally different flavor that is more palatable to people who have veggie issues. My wife hated brussels sprouts and cauliflower until we roasted them. Unfortunately, most of us grew up with boiled and steamed veggies, which is probably the worst way to prepare half of them.

                  Also, just know that some people will never like certain things and that's okay. I'm a foodie and will try anything, but if you give me a pickle I'll give it right back to you.

                  And, I totally disagree with the tough love idea. If you make it feel like a conflict then someone will have to win and you'll get nowhere. She'll be eating canned tuna for years just to prove a point. For the sake of love, keep it fun and include her in the process!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Shane Greenwood

                    I completely agree with this. My boyfriend was known as the "chicken finger" guy to all his friends before meeting me. I had the challenge of opening up his mind to new and different ingredients, and forms of cooking. The most basic example was him picking out orange bell peppers from a sandwich once because they werent green. But Ive spent a lot of time explaining the benefits of fresh ingredients, and just letting him try stuff. If Im making something with stuff that he isnt too sure about- then I let him try what Im eating- if he likes it then we share it- if not- then Ill do a quick sautee of spinach- the veggie he liked the most when I met him. He is the same as your partner though- if he tries it and doesnt like it- then he wont try again.
                    Very occasionally I'll sort of hide ingredients in dishes and see if he likes it-then Ill tell him later what it was. Or I'll add "fun" ingredients to tried and true dishes- if Im making meatloaf-I always add zucchini and mushrooms to the mix- he loves them that way. Or Ill sautee mushrooms in with spinach.
                    Funny story was our first sushi experience together- we got a lot of basic maki rolls-and one of my favorites- the una-avo- eel and avocado. I didnt anticipate him even wanting to try it-but he did and loved it- I later learned that he thought that it was "veal and avocado" which is the only reason he tried it in the first place. But he did love it- and eats it regularly when we go out to sushi.
                    Long story short, I think that patience and education are the best ways to go about introducing her to new ingredients etc. Now when we go out to dinner with his friends, they are constantly impressed with his choice in entrees, and interest in preparation.

                    To answer your other question- I think that Mahi Mahi is a very approachable fish as well, and swordfish has a really wonderful flavor as well that isnt too fishy.

                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                      You have great ideas. I think this is what anyone does for those they really love and want to please. When my hubby and I got married I knew exactly what he loved and what his Mom made the best and I set out to make those things, and to make what he loved taste the best. He absolutely loves my cooking too. Then he knew that he could trust my cooking skills, so when he did try something different he was open to it and has learned to love things that he didn't know he liked before.

                      1. re: Shane Greenwood

                        What makes me want to cry is when I lightly boil, delicately bread and bake or pan fry cauliflower Florettes and SO says he's rather have them boiled. *sigh* Now I guess I shouldn't be complaining because at least he'll eat cauliflower but it drives me nuts!!