How to ‘Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right’ for the Vegetable Skeptic
By Maggie Perkins, RD, LDN – Senior Nutrition Health Educator
Many people are quick to state “I don’t like vegetables” which, as a dietitian, I hear regularly. But usually those who “don’t like vegetables” do, in fact, like some vegetables. Maybe you fancy vegetables like corn, green beans, potatoes, or even tomatoes without the skin? If you enjoy one vegetable, than you can no longer discredit your vegetable enjoyment! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes March as National Nutrition Month and this year the focus is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right”. Let’s discuss some factors that affect tastes and how we can increase our palate to enjoy healthier foods.
Variety is key: Eating a varied diet will ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs to perform its best. Being adventurous with recipes and adding foods that are new or rarely used is a great way to increase variety. Also, having an awareness of the foods that you have eaten throughout the day and intentionally picking different foods can increase your variety. For example, “my protein for lunch was beef, so my protein for dinner shall be … beans!” Another benefit of eating a varied diet is that the newly introduced flavors may enlighten your palate to enjoy foods that you have historically hated.
Don’t force yourself to eat foods: It is important that we eat foods from each food group every day, but if you are trying to eat more vegetables don’t force yourself to eat mass quantities of the types that you dislike in an effort to eat healthy. Pick another food from the same food group instead. This is one of the biggest reasons dietitians dislike fad diets. Diets tell you what to eat leaving little room for personal preferences. To make lifestyle changes towards healthy eating, it is important to pick foods that are right for you.
Genetics play a role: Our taste buds pick up five distinct tastes; sweet, salty, umami, sour and bitter. The genetic make-up of our taste buds and our perception absolutely affects our food choices. But our tastes do change and you can use this to your advantage.
Start slowly when making a change: Don’t give up on foods that you haven’t liked in the past and continually try small amounts of those foods. A bite here and a bite there—you never know when your tastes will change. If you are trying to make a change to a healthier beverage, making mixtures can help transition your taste buds. For example, if you are trying to make the change to 1% milk and you are currently drinking 2%, try mixing a ¾ cup 2% to every ¼ cup of 1%. Then slowly decrease the 2% milk and increase the 1% milk until you are chugging 1% milk like a champion.
Prepare it differently: Throughout my childhood, the only exposure I had to brussel sprouts were the microwaveable variety. To me they were a bitter, stinky vegetable floating distastefully in a watery sauce. It wasn’t until college that I discovered roasted brussel sprouts. Wow! Roasting them awakened my appetite for these delicious, crispy, hot little cabbages. For picky eaters, hide vegetables in soups, sauces, casseroles and baked goods.
Understand the power of healthy eating: Increasing your vegetable intake can help prevent chronic disease, increase energy, maintain a healthy body weight, and boost the mood. Vegetables are super foods packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Create positive experiences around foods: It is easy to love cake and cookies because they are celebration foods and are usually connected with positive experiences. Try hard to celebrate without the high fat, high sugar foods. But if a sweet treat is a must, try to balance out the meal by adding more nutritious foods to the menu. Remember to create some positive experiences around these healthy foods, which is why it is imperative not to force picky eaters to eat unwanted foods. To get a picky eater to try new foods: 1. Eat them yourself 2. Prepare them often 3. If they refuse, don’t make a big deal out of it and offer it again next time.
Learning to enjoy healthier foods requires exposure and persistence. It may take more than 10 tastes before a child learns to appreciate a new flavor. So don’t write off vegetables, you may be surprised that you like them more than you realize. If you are interesting in learning more about living a healthier lifestyle check out the Poe Center for Health Education’s nutrition programming at www.poehealth.org.
References and other interesting articles: