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Learn to Enjoy Healthy Food: A 3-Step Method to End Picky Eating

We often hear the words “diets don’t work.”

Truth is, the only diet that works is the one you don’t even know you’re on.

It’s when healthy eating comes naturally. When your body craves the foods that sustain it, so sitting down to lunch isn’t a battle of wills.

People often tell me that I “have it easy.” That I don’t have to worry about what I eat because I’m already at a healthy weight.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, especially after having a baby.

I’m just as prone to gain weight as anyone else when I don’t make mindful food choices. However, I wouldn’t say I “worry” about what I eat. Healthy foods just so happen to taste good to me, so I want to eat them.


But what if you don’t like the taste of healthy foods?

Are you doomed to bounce around from diet to diet? Doomed to always crave Doritos and Fruit Loops?

What if the thought of eating vegetables literally revolts you? How could I ever expect a salad or sautéed kale to not feel like a “diet” to you?

Until now, I didn’t have a good way – other than teaching folks more flavorful preparation methods – to encourage people to embrace more variety in their diets, especially unfamiliar vegetables.

But now I do!

I’ve just finished reading a book called First Bite which delves into how our taste preferences are formed – and how they change – from birth all the way through adulthood.

I mostly started reading it because:

  1. As my little guy gets closer to eating solids (note the teething drool in the below photo), I wanted to understand at a deeper level how to (hopefully) set him up to accept a whole host of different flavors; in other words, to NOT be a picky eater.
  2. I needed something to read while I spend my days nursing this little bugger.

Learn to Enjoy Healthy Food: A 3-Step Method to End Picky Eating

A lot of what I read confirmed what I’ve noticed in my clinical experience as a real food dietitian.

You’ll only stick to a certain way of eating if it brings you pleasure.

Mindful eating is one way I have helped folks learn to eat healthy (in healthy amounts) – and keep it up long after our one-on-one work together has come to an end.

But sometimes I fail at getting people to expand the variety in their diet.

So what really caught my eye in First Bite was the research into flavor acceptance.

There’s a short window of opportunity in the middle of a baby’s first year of life where new flavors can easily be introduced and accepted by the infant that translates into children and adults who readily enjoy everything from mashed potatoes to bitter arugula salad.

But if you’ve missed that window – obviously, if you’re reading this, you have – you’re not doomed.

Learn to Enjoy Healthy Food: A 3-Step Method to End Picky Eating

A simple method for introducing new flavors works just as well with picky adults as it does with picky children.

In feeding studies with children, Keith Williams and his colleagues have developed “taste exposure” sessions that help even the most selective eaters expand their diets.

Overtime, they realized that if you can just get the kids to taste a food – and taste it often enough – they might actually like some of them.

But for picky eaters, even teaspoon-sized portions of new, “weird” foods is sometimes too much.

There are 3 key steps to getting picky eaters to try – and potentially learn to like – healthy foods.

Rule #1 is to start small.

Really small.

Grain of rice small.

No joke.

Choose any healthy food that you currently don’t like – be it kale, green beans, liver, olives, avocado or something else entirely – and challenge yourself to eat a portion the size of a grain of rice or a pea.

That’s it. You don’t have to choke down a jumbo kale salad or 3oz of liver and onions.

Just a teeny tiny bite.

Observe the flavor. Truly, take your time.

Did it disgust you? Was it OK? Was it (surprisingly) good?

Rule #2 is to repeat.

And repeat often.

In William’s work, picky eaters are offered tiny tastes of foods repeatedly each day.

In as little as 10 days, autistic children following this intervention have been found to accept as many as 75 new foods.

It’s okay to not like everything, but you’ll only know if you give it a try. And you’ll only give it a try if the demands are low.

As Bee Wilson writes, “When a food is as small as a grain of rice, it is almost as if it is not there.”

Rule #3 is to try larger portions.

We’re not talking full servings just yet.

Once a rice or pea-sized portion is acceptable after 3-4 tasting sessions, Williams moves on to ½ spoonfuls, and finally full spoonfuls.

It sounds to simple to work…

But this method has been used with startling success with even the most difficult of picky eaters, including children with sensory processing disorders who eat, say, 3 foods (like mac ‘n’ cheese, white bread, and orange juice).

So odds are, this can work for you, too.

Give it a go and report back what you find in the comments below.

Until next week,
Lily

PS – If you’re a self-proclaimed veggie-hater, consider not only how you introduce vegetables, but how you prepare them. I’ve helped countless folks embrace vegetables by helping them learn how to make ‘em taste good via my free ebook, “Veggies: Eat Them Because You Want To, Not Because You Have To.”

Will you be my next success story? Grab your free copy via the box below this post or on this page.

Veggies: Eat them because you want to, not because you have to

Your guide to making vegetables taste seriously good

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

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  1. I used to eat my vegetables with something that I knew I would love. For example, I would eat my broccoli with cheese just so I could get in the nutrients, but I eventually found that my lactose intolerance forced me to omit the cheese, and I realized that broccoli actually doesn’t taste bad at all! Recipes were also an amazing way to increase my appeal towards vegetables. Finding roasted eggplant recipes and large veggie curries enabled me to express my creativity in the kitchen and learn to love them!

    • That’s a great method – pairing veggies with other flavorful ingredients!

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