How To Be A Picky Eater Without Offending Everyone
Everyone has something they don’t like to eat, be it bananas, peas or French toast. Picky eating – from not liking certain veggies to cutting out whole food groups – is a habit often associated with children, and a trait that can be judged as silly, disobedient or a product of neglectful parenting.
But many adults retain their food selectivity, and whether it’s a simple preference of taste or texture or a symptom of a more complex mental health condition, picky eating as an adult can cause stress for both the eater (or non-eater, as it may be) and their friends and family.
If you’re a picky eater, there are strategies you can use to manage your eating habits in a way that will allow you to be healthy and comfortable, but that don’t place excessive responsibility on others to get food “right”.
#1 Your body, your choice
Picky eaters are often told that they “just don’t know what they’re missing out on” by those who enjoy the food they don’t want to eat. That if they would “just try it once, they’d love it”. This cajoling is often done with the best of intentions, but can feel like a lot of pressure to the picky eater who might hear the same phrases repeated at every meal.
Even though others might pry, prod and plead, making you feel pressured to eat outside your comfort zone, as an adult you do get to choose what you eat. Remember that you have the right to decide what goes into your body; no one can force you to eat what you don’t want to.
And for those with picky eaters in their lives, studies show that forcing a person to eat what they don’t want can do more harm than good. Allowing a picky eater the possibility of trying new things without judgement or pressure can help them come to new food in their own time.
#2 Use your words
While most of the time a polite “no, thank you” or “not today, thanks” will do, for situations where the pressure is high to try a certain food, more explicit phrases might be required to make your position known. Try “I do not want to eat it, thank you,” or “I understand that you like it and I am glad that you are enjoying it, but I do not want to eat it,” to really get your point across.
Using “When you, I feel” statements can help others understand how their well-intentioned encouragement can feel like pressure, for example, “When you tell me how much I’m missing out by not trying the liver, it makes me feel like I am disappointing you.”
#3 Take responsibility
Friends and family might tire quickly from eating only the narrow selection that a picky eater allows. Before eating with others, think about how you’ll make sure your hosts know about your preferences in a way that can help you fit in with them, rather than making them fit in with you.
You might offer to bring along a dish that you know you’ll enjoy, or suggest a recipe you could make with them. If eating someone else’s home cooking is going to be problematic for you, suggesting that you eat out when sharing a meal together will allow you to order what you want and not make your friends responsible for your happiness. At a dinner party, asking to be able to serve yourself is a great way to make sure you don’t end up with a heaping pile of your least favourite food, while still allowing you to politely compliment the delicious things you did take.
#4 Take one for the team
Set your boundaries before they’re tested and decide ahead of time what exceptions you might make to your food rules. For example, you might elect to branch out while travelling and try everything that’s offered to you, knowing that at home you can eat only your comfortable favourites.
If a meal has been specially prepared by someone who didn’t know about your tastes, you might decide that politeness must win out over your sensitive taste buds and eat a small helping. Some cultures and religions dictate that it is insulting to leave food on a plate, and you might need to adhere to this custom regardless of your preferences in order to avoid causing offence (or travel to places where leaving leftovers is the way to go!
#5 Make a change (if you want to)
As you grow up, make new friends, travel and take responsibility for buying and cooking your food, you might decide that it’s time to broaden your taste buds’ horizons.
You could start a plan to do this by yourself and let close friends and family know so that they can support you. Introduce one new food item a week, or create a list of foods that you want to try and give yourself time to make up your mind about them. Remember that it can take up to 10 tries of a new food to develop a taste for it, so don’t give up on your first attempt.
If you’re not confident that you understand your picky eating habits, or the thought of branching out into new food areas makes you anxious or stressed, talking to a dietician or therapist may help. A professional can ease the burden of figuring out the complex equation of why you eat what you eat, and work with you to decide the best way to go about introducing new foods to your menu.
By paying attention to their habits and communication, picky eaters can make mealtimes happy, stress-free occasions, with or without widening their repertoire.
Lauren Sherritt is a playwright and freelance writer based in Brisbane. Lauren’s work has been featured online at Junkee, The Financial Diet, Birdee, LifeMusicMedia, lip magazine and Australian Stage.