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How to convert a picky eater?

I promised myself never to do it, but here I go falling for some guy who's a picky eater! In fact, I even once posed the question on this board if you could end up with a picky eater. I should've known...

This really is almost an impasse for me. I know we are not supposed to try and change someone, but I will do my best. Food is hugely important to me. I think in terms of foods. Not unlike many of you, I love to read about foods, create recipes and menus, shop for food, cook food, and finally eat the food. I've always eaten nearly everything--brussels sprouts to persimmons to Vietnamese food--you name it, I eat it with only three exceptions: olives, anything licorice/anise, and I'm allergic to pineapple.

The most encouraging aspect is that this man seems intent on pleasing me and not unwilling to try new foods. I wonder how much of his food inexperience was simply out of ease. We have cooked together a couple times and at least that is fun and I'm very pleased that he wants to make such gestures. However sweet, plain grilled chicken and canned peas, spaghetti sauce and ground beef can get dull. The first dinner I made for him was a roasted pork tenderloin with a plum salsa (plums, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno, cumin), roasted potatoes and a simple salad. I have also made a taco salad which is very basic to me, but seemed to push his limits.

ANY IDEAS?!!! I would like to slowly introduce him to the beautiful world of food but I want to do it in a way that doesn't seem pushy or scary. Adult or child, how can you encourage a new openness and appreciation for food?

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  1. It sounds like he is already open to trying new things. Cook for him or cook together and introduce something new to him each time. It needn't be a whole new dish, but a new ingredient or new way of preparing an old standby.

    1. If he's willing to try stuff that's half the battle, but you may have to accept that he may never be a foodie. People are going to like (or dislike) what they want to.

      1. I think it is difficult to encourage a new openness and appreciation for food unless the person wants that. I did not become a somewhat adventuresome eater until I was in my late 20s, but it was my choice and not something someone else wanted me to do. I think the harder part for me would be dating someone who didn't like to cook with me because food wasn't that important. (I had a girlfriend who loved to cook. Her boyfriend, then husband, didn't really care about food. It was not a happy union and they eventually divorced.)

        1. bblonde, you wrote "The first dinner I made for him was a roasted pork tenderloin with a plum salsa (plums, green onions, cilantro, jalapeno, cumin), roasted potatoes and a simple salad. I have also made a taco salad which is very basic to me, but seemed to push his limits."

          And if he's *not* used to trying new flavors and foods, I can see why he was pushed to his limits. Cilantro, jalapeno, and cumin can all be *very* strong flavors, and it's quite possible he was simply overwhelmed.

          I personally detest cilantro, as it tastes like soap to me. Jalapeno, I go extremely easy on (and I mean EXTREMELY easy!) and I usually cut back on cumin in recipes. But I love trying new foods, so other than the cilantro, I would would have loved this salsa.

          You said you want to slowly introduce him to foods you like. Well, sounds like you're doing that - but perhaps it just needs to be differently. What about adding small bits of crumbled cooked hot (or sweet) sausage to the spaghetti's meat sauce instead of just ground beef? A simple marinade for chicken before grilling it?

          Baby steps.

          11 Replies
          1. re: LindaWhit

            The funny thing is that the plum salsa didn't concern him at all--he really liked it. My thoughts on that were that if he positively hated the salsa, the rest of the meal was very basic. So I was just going crazy with the condiment. And it allowed me to talk about food, have him smell the cilantro and taste the plums, etc. which was fun for me and he said it was sexy to hear ;)

            It was the taco salad that he was nervous about! Just iceberg lettuce, fritos, ground beef, onions, and bell peppers with rotel and velveeta--basically a queso! He did like it upon tasting it, but the onions were in question and that would've really been a shock for me. I don't trust people who don't like onions

            ...or cilantro for that matter ;) (Isn't it funny how people seem to either LOVE or DESPISE) cilantro?

            1. re: bblonde

              Hey, you can trust me. Even though I don't like cilantro. ;-) But interesting that the plum salsa was fine, but he was nervous about the taco salad!

              I say just keep what you're doing - it's just going to be at a slower pace than perhaps you'd like. He's *trying* things; just encourage him to do so and don't push if he pushes back. Just like with little kids - sometimes you have to try something 5-10 times before you like it. ;-)

              1. re: bblonde

                Were the onions cooked or raw? I'm a pretty adventurous eater, but raw onions are on the short list of things I just can't stand.

                1. re: bblonde

                  The onions were in question how? Oh, and on the subject of cilantro, please don't judge those of us who dislike it so harshly, if it tasted to you like a squirt of soap you might not like it either. (It's a genetic tasting difference....kind of like whether you were born with the ability to roll your tongue or not.)

                  1. re: escondido123

                    Thanks for defending the cilantro-soap-tasters. :-) I tried it again today, for the gazillionth time, and eew. It ruined what was otherwise a lovely little appetizer.

                    1. re: jlhinwa

                      Definitely off subject, so just posting for the two of us. My husband and I went to France for a big anniversary and he picked a quite well regarded restaurant for dinner. I speak and read SOME French but not all. My first course was an herb salad--how was I to know one of the major ones was cilantro?! Main course came, can't remember the meat, probably lamb, and it was coated in a layer of cilantro. I did not realize at the time that French chefs had gone gaga over cilantro.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        Oh my gosh! Who would have thought you would have cilantro on everything in a French restaurant? In the southwestern US, for sure, but France?!? Yikes!

                        1. re: escondido123

                          I would have stopped eating the salad as soon as I caught whiff of the cilantro. I'm sorry your main was spoiled because of it. Those of us who dislike the dreaded cilantro know what it's like to have everything else taste of it if you get just one bite. Bleah.

                    2. re: bblonde

                      yes, I heard on the Splendid Table (npr) that there is a chemical in cilantro that tastes like soap. some people can taste that chemical and others (like me and u) can't. So u can trust me ;)

                      1. re: crowmuncher

                        I thought they said there was another chemical in cilantro that tasted wonderful that "covered" the soapy taste--and that was the one we couldn't taste so the soap came through loud and clear.

                        1. re: escondido123

                          was that it really? had a senior moment I guess- thank you

                  2. Keep trying! My husband was very non-adventurous and limited in his eating habits but he is now pretty adventurous. There are some things he won't consider, but it isn't limiting anymore. He's even gotten his meat and potatoes parents to try some new things at our house.

                    One dish that goes over surprisingly well is Thai basil chicken. Even with all the basil and kaffir lime!!

                    1. I get the impression that he's willing to try different foods and that his inexperience just makes him leery of new dishes.

                      I suggest introducing new food occasionally, one or twice a week. Let his palate expand and become comfortable to new flavors.

                      1. I'm curious- is he interested in history/anthropology/traveling? If it's a yes to any of those 3 things, you already have an in. I'm also curious as to what attracted you to him in the first place- and if you can somehow use those qualities to help draw him into your world of adventurous eating. However, if it was a no to all 3 and you're attracted to him because he's so different from you- from personal experience you may end up feeling frustrated no matter how hard he tries. At the end of the day, you both have to be happy. My ex who was not adventurous at all in food failed to make me happy, but his food issues extended into his disinterest in most things I enjoyed (including history and anthropology), as well as control issues. My hubby however absolutely loves all things food, is beyond adventurous (a world traveling mountain climber!) and loves history and anthropology. Is our love just about the food? Hell no. I can name a gazillion reasons why I love him that have absolutely nothing to do with food. However, I do not think that it is a coincidence that we have our love of food in common based on our other interests and personalities. That being said, he seems to be open so if everything else is good in your relationship absolutely keep trying; as long as he is just as willing. As for ideas: take him to fun ethnic leaning restaurants (fusion/Americanized) where he can try new flavors in a more comfortable environment. Make it less about the food and more about trying a fun new place- maybe even invite friends who you know will enjoy the food. (Sometimes watching others enjoy something will make our brains want to enjoy it as well) When he finds something he enjoys, you can try cooking it together at home and then perhaps venture to a more "authentic" restaurant of that type of cuisine.

                        1. Some people just don't have joy in eating, so they eat to live. They don't seek out new tastes because new tastes aren't valuable to them. You can't change that. But it does sound as if your man has joy in pleasing you, so that's a good start. And he may truly just be uneducated when it comes to matters of the palate. There's hope here.

                          So, may I suggest bacon as the password to new food ventures? Most people like it, and when you add it to things they think they will dislike, they are often pleasantly surprised. And tone down spicy or "exotic" tastes with the addition of some cream. To get him into the idea of trying new things, I'd go with classic French flavors rather than with Mexican or Asian, at least at first.. I agree with LindaWhit that small steps are best. I don't think a taco salad is exotic at all, but to someone who may have lived on steak and baked potatoes, that might be too intense.

                          1. What a fun and exciting challenge! You have gotten a lot of wonderful advice here. I would just add, as a formerly picky eater (hanging head in shame) that it had to be my own idea to try new things and to re-try things I didn't think I liked.

                            It may be that he is highly motivated now because you are in the "new" relationship stage, so if he is less willing down the road, don't get discouraged. Just try to find ways to intrigue him and let him make up his own mind. If you can find ways to get him invested in cooking with you, etc., so he takes ownership of preparing inventive meals, all the better.

                            Best of luck to you!

                            1. I am honestly sad for those of you who don't get the same love of cilantro that I do. It's one of my favorite flavors ever!

                              I think we are off to a good start cooking together. I also find that so many people were just served bad examples. Their mother's asparagus (or any vegetable, for that matter) was out of the can with a gloopy cheese sauce. The most important thing will be that he will try things multiple times. Something grilled versus sauteed or roasted or boiled or mashed is so different! My grandmother hates squash--which is unfortunate because there is very little similarity between the boiled squash she was served always and a roasted butternut squash, or a glazed acorn squash, or rosemary-butter broiled yellow squash, or grilled zucchini, or a mashed squash and onion casserole (a la Black Eyed Peas), or a sturdier squash casserole with gruyere and sausage. Food is absolutely a passion for me. I will have fun bringing him over to my side. I just wouldn't know what to do with myself, though, if he cannot learn to love food. Luckily I think he is already beginning to. He called me up just to tell me that he went to a taco truck and left all the traditional accoutrement on his tacos--cilantro, onion, and lime as well as a green salsa. And liked it! I'm hopeful...:)

                              Any recipe recommendations would be helpful. The onion thing worries me, and how come so many people don't like tomatoes? I love them this time of year...a nice bruschetta or a caprese salad.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: bblonde

                                It sounds like the conversion into the Borg Collective has begun QUITE successfully, bblonde! :-)

                                1. Trying different ways of cooked items is a major plus.
                                2. Going to the taco truck and getting it "all in" is a major plus.
                                3. Calling you to TELL you he went all in on the tacos is a home run. :-)

                                Re: recipes - for what, specifically? Re: the onions - have you tried caramelized onions on a burger or in a pasta sauce?

                                1. re: bblonde

                                  bblonde, I consider myself a lover of food, but there have always been certain things I find unpalatable (vegetables!). So I have decided to try to conquer them one at a time. While I love all things tomato-based (ketchup, salsa, marinara, etc.) I detest from-the vine tomatoes. It's mostly a textural thing for me, but the flavor by itself isn't something I enjoy either. So, this spring, I decided to grow my own tomatos and see if that made a difference. I planted one grape tomato plant and it has yielded tons and tons! While I won't just pop one in my mouth, I have successfully prepared and eaten a caprese salad, fresh salsa (I also grew my own habaneros and cilantro), BLT pizza, and in turkey/avocado wraps. I no longer pick them out of order items. I'm very proud of myself! My next goal is to develop a taste for squash. Probably won't grow it myself, but I'm going to try at least 10 recipes with different varieties and see if I can learn to like it. Mom just boiled it or sauteed it with onions and blech!!!! There's got to be a better way to eat it.

                                  Back to your topic, change can be accomplished, it just may take a lot of time and effort on his part (if he's up to it).

                                  1. re: sheilal

                                    For squash, slice and brown it in oil or butter and it will have a very pleasant sweetness that you might well like.

                                2. I'm with a non-adventurous eater and have given up trying. It is less conflict that way. When I go out to eat with her, it is for simple food, like pizza. When I go out with my friends, it is for spicy, exotic, and foreign foods. When I cook at home, I may make a vegetable-heavy stir-fry, and instead of spicy peppers I'll use a sweet pad thai sauce, for example. Whoever eats it, eats it, or they can go make a peanut butter sandwich, I don't care.

                                  1. There are two sides of this coin.

                                    On the one side, you're trying to get him to open up, and you have every reason to be optimistic. A huge part of liking varied foods is repeated exposure, and if he is willing to be exposed, he will probably be a lot easier to convert than many picky eaters - my wife, for example, is much less open to trying new foods and it's been a 10 year war of attrition with her (so far, she has expanded to enjoy a few more spices, enchiladas as long as they aren't hot/spicy, and in a major win for me - chicken!). But another part of learning to like varied foods is being exposed to them in a way that is pleasant. So don't get too impatient - give him new things right along with familiar favorites that you know he'll like. Keep eating enjoyable. He'll come around before long.

                                    The other side of the coin: Often, we label others picky eaters when really they just don't eat like we do. For years I lamented my wife's eating habits, but there was one major upside - she was willing to eat homecooked meals, as long as I cooked something that she liked. As a result, I'm now waaay better at cooking Italian American food, pizza, cheeseburgers, and desserts than I ever would have been had I been left to my own devices. These were foods that I had always found a little uninteresting - I can now make good enough versions to entice even people like me who tend to forgo such things. So maybe this is not just a hurdle for him to overcome but also an opportunity for you to learn to appreciate food and to cook in ways you wouldn't have otherwise.

                                    1. There are different reasons people are picky eaters.

                                      *Some don't have experience with a wide range of foods.
                                      *Some have bad experience with food (over-cooked, etc).
                                      *Some have taste or texture issues (which do not change).

                                      I had all 3 of those. I'm still not a wide-ranging eater, but I'm curious enough to try. The hardest of those to overcome is the taste/texture issue. I can love lentils/beans/scrambled eggs/cooked onion/etc. but the texture makes me gag. Gagging is not fun, so eating is not fun.

                                      Mixing safer and more experimental choices is probably the way to go. At least until you've built a common food vocabulary.

                                      1. I am a very picky eater a lot of it has to do with growing up pretty poor and never being able to experience certain foods. I don't like fish - but I promised my bf that once we got engaged I would really make the effort. My boyfriend is an awesome cook and he has introduced me to so many things - like lamb, how did I never eat this before????? Eggplant! I never ate it and now it's one of my favorite foods. Baby steps is the right way to go. btw I also can not stand cilantro.

                                        1. I've been married for 41 years to a man who will eat almost anything I fix, but is oddly picky about restaurant food. I can't change him. But is a joy that he eats my food. If you can get Mr. Picky to eat your cooking and appreciate you as a good cook, you can easily live together happily, if he agrees to do the clean up chores! I realize that today men are expected to cook, so I'd project that if you can accept that he probably won't ever be as tuned into food as you (or not--you never know) and you can live with his more basic food prep, then you should be OK.

                                          Mr. Sueatmo always orders the same pizza--always. (Pepporoni) He insists that he hates Thai food, even after eating good Thai meals. He orders the same 3 things off the Panera menu. That's just the kind of guy he is. His family was very conservative foodwise, and never ate anything remotely hot or spicy. He has learned to like spice and heat.

                                          I really think it is best to NOT try to change him but to accommodate his preferences while cooking him really good food. He will probably love you forever.