My culinary life wasn’t exactly exciting growing up. Our meat tended to be beef from my grandfather’s farm; fish wasn’t an option unless it was breaded and in the form of a stick. I rarely ate vegetables, and if I did, it was usually corn or canned green beans. Breakfast was almost always some sugar-laden cereal. (Lucky Charms were my favorite, as I’ve mentioned before.) And snacks were various shades of brown or orange and came out of a box or bag. Inspired by Peter Brady, my favorite meal (and the one I requested each time my mom asked what I wanted for dinner) was a broiled pork chop, sweetened applesauce, and macaroni and cheese from a blue box. Not a lot of variety and hardly a colored vegetable in sight!
Getting from there to the food-loving person I am today has been a long and fun journey. A journey that has taken me on adventures I could have never hoped for or imagined.
If you had asked the teenage version of myself if I would ever eat raw sea urchin straight from the sea, the answer would have been a resounding no, without even knowing what sea urchin was. Yet, last summer, I had the fantastic opportunity to eat raw squid, oysters, tuna, and sea urchin at a seaside fish market in Gallipoli, Italy. What an amazing experience… the food, the atmosphere, the people! I definitely would have missed out had I not been willing to try something new.
If you want to take your taste buds on an adventure and learn to enjoy foods of all kinds, then here are five suggestions to help you be an explorer of food:
1) Be willing to try every food at least once.
If you have kids or have ever been around someone else’s kids, you have heard the plea, “Just try one bite.” As we get older, we tend to lose the notion that we should try a new thing (whether it’s food or anything else) at least once. This is unfortunate because in doing so we limit the new experiences we can have and eliminate the possibility of a positive outcome. So, just try every new food that you encounter. If you really hate it, I give you permission to spit it out… preferably discreetly into a paper napkin.
2) Know that learning to like a new food will likely take multiple attempts.
One of the best pieces of information I learned in school is that children require at least 15 exposures to a new food before they learn to like it. Fifteen! That’s a big number! Now, can you imagine how many more times it takes adults who may be a little set in our ways? I guarantee you I did not transform from a person who ate no fish what-so-ever to a person willing to eat raw scallops in one go. My taste buds and, perhaps more importantly, my mind have adapted over time.
3) “Hide” a new food with other foods you already like.
As I mentioned in my post about personalized nutrition, I still haven’t learned to like avocados, despite knowing all of the health benefits. But I’m trying. In fact, I’ve started adding it to my morning smoothie so that I can slowly get used to the taste. Over time, I fully expect to learn to like the taste without having to hide it with pineapple and arugula.
4) Consider each food individually, rather than groups of foods.
I cringe when I hear people say, “I don’t like ______”, filling in the blank with a whole food group. While it’s easy to say, “I don’t like fish,” or “my child doesn’t eat vegetables,” that perspective is very limiting. After all, even within the same group, foods have different tastes. You may really enjoy the crisp tartness of a Granny Smith apple or you might prefer the juicy, sweetness of a Red Delicious. By not lumping all foods together, you may find that you really like one food in the group while you’re still learning to like another. Added bonus: different foods have different nutrients. For example, the Red Delicious is more abundant in the flavonoids cyanidin and epicatechin than its green counterpart.
5) Be open to possibilities.
If you try a new food convinced that you won’t like it, I would bet that you will be right. So approach these new attempts with openness… open to the possibility that your taste buds have changed; open to the possibility that your mood is different; open to the possibility that this version of the food is better than the last version of the food. You still might not like it, but at least you will have given yourself the option that you will.
As I said, learning to like new foods is a process and you won’t become a foodie overnight. However, if you decide to start or continue learning to like new foods, you will be on a wonderful life-long adventure! The world is full of foods to which you will only be exposed in specific settings, at specific times of year, or with specific people who cook them. What an amazing opportunity!