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our taste grows up, give the picky eaters some time…

Posted by on Jul 19, 2011 in Blog Posts | 15 comments

As I watch M eschew (not chew) peanut butter, eggs, nuts, and pizza, I feel a small hint of the impatience families feel when their children like a limited variety of foods. M has recently discovered she likes tuna salad, and lettuce after years of neutral exposures.

It got me thinking about things I like as an adult that I hated as a kid. Here is a sampling from  my list:

• red cabbage
• pickles (hated ’em, now love extra pickles on burgers and sandwiches) I think this was due to a scratch and sniff dill pickle sticker that was so rancid I thought that’s what they tasted like…
• mayo (I was a Miracle Whip girl until fairly recently, now I enjoy both)
• most cheeses (I was in my 20’s before I started to appreciate cheese, and probably my 30s before the more stinky versions like Stilton were a hit.)
• red wine
• coffee
• I didn’t try sushi until my mid-twenties, or Thai food, or Vietnamese food and love them all
Things I still don’t like:

• oysters and other raw things like eel, scallops (i love raw fish on hand-rolls, but not alone)
• cottage cheese
• liver (actually, I liked this as a kid, and don’t like it now)
• pretty much all beer
• the combo of chocolate and fruit

I’m sure there are more, but my point is, many of these things I didn’t like or even try until well beyond my teen years. What is critical is creating the environment where kids feel good about food in general. Where they feel like they can like or not like a food, where they are not pressured, bribed or praised for liking a food, where the impetus comes from within.

My friend recently shared a story about her notoriously picky daughter and recalls the fights all through grade-school until college. The girl would often eat a bowl of cereal over a home-cooked meal. When she left for college she felt like she was missing out, and without having to prove anything to anyone, or “lose face” and try a vegetable, her palate expanded to what is now a fairly adventurous diet. When she would come home from school, Dad would remark, “What, you like X now? How come you never liked it when we served it?” What does the now-woman say to that? “It annoyed me. Made me want to just march in a get myself a bowl of cereal…”

So, have patience. When I think of the process of learning to like new foods, I think it’s true that you can really slow that process down for kids, but you can’t really speed it up. Serve a variety of foods that you want to eat as a family, support the Division of Responsibility in feeding, and see what happens. Don’t worry too much if your kid doesn’t eat squid. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t, but chances are she will seek out variety when the pressure is off.

What foods did you learn to like growing up?

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  1. lyorn

    Stuff I hated as a kid but like now: Olives, corn, mayonnaise, all but the most processed cheeses, milk in my coffee, candied ginger.

    Stuff I hated as a kid but tolerate now: fries, sheep cheese, cauliflower. Also, everything from McD, because it was impossible to eat it without having to wash afterwards and tasted greasy and boring.

    Cauliflower is actually complicated because my brain says “you like it and you know it”, yet the memory in my taste buds say “this is an utterly disgusting substance”. When I eat it, I like it, and I know I will like it and that it tastes nothing like what I remember it to, but still the memory remains and cannot be overwritten.

    I still do not like: Fennel, not-fresh coconut, blue mould cheese, sugar-only sweets (like marshmellows or cotton candy), and popcorn.

    I’m currently developing issues with store-bought mayonnaise again. It tastes greasy (well, it *is*, but with high quality oils it shouldn’t taste that way, should it?). I’ll have to learn to make it myself, I guess.

  2. Jess

    I can actually remember a time when I was a kid (I must’ve been 6 or 7) where I thought sour cream was gross. Now I adore sour cream. I also didn’t like olives, beets, fish, mayonnaise based potato salad, coffee or tea without sugar. Now I love all those things. I can honestly say I can’t think of a single fruit or vegetable I don’t like (though I’ve never tried durian, I hear it’s stinky :-). The complete list of things I don’t like is down to bivalves (mussels, clams, oysters), liver (though I’ll eat liver pate, just not straight up liver) and coffee ice cream (bizarre, because I do love coffee). Oh, and Katja, I hear you on fruit/chocolate combos. I love fruit, but don’t mess up my chocolate with it.

    I still keep trying mussels, clams, oysters and liver whenever I am presented with the opportunity, but mostly I’m just confirmed in my dislike. With bivalves, I think it’s a texture thing; with liver, a taste thing (in pate, it’s mitigated by all the extra fat and seasonings). I’m happy not to like coffee ice cream, because that way my husband can have ice cream around without me eating an enormous bowl of it every night before bed, which inevitably happens if any other flavor is around.

    Oh, and I pretty much never eat fast food… I think it’s been 10 years since I’ve been to McDonald’s? Once or twice a year we’ll go to In-N-Out. But that’s not so much a “hamburgers make me gag” thing as a “if I’m gonna eat a burger, I want to eat a better burger than what’s available at McD’s”.

  3. Sarah

    I was a very picky eater as a kid and still am. I used to put ketchup on everything as a kid, that way the food tasted of ketchup instead of whatever it was. I also learned to swallow my food whole with lots of water – like taking large pills, because if I didn’t chew it, I didn’t taste it as much.

    As for preparation, as a kid I thought I didn’t like steak, but it turns out I do. My mother used to cook it until it was dry, tough shoe leather. When I was twelve one of her boyfriends convinced me to try it – he ordered it medium rare for me – and it was a completely different food. My taste buds didn’t change, because I still don’t like over-cooked steak, but now I understand the impact of preparation so much more.

    The main difference between how I ate as a kid and how I eat now, is that as a kid if a meal had one ingredient I didn’t like (onions for example), I couldn’t stand to eat anything off the plate because the flavour infected everything. Now I can sort of eat around the objectional item and tolerate it.

  4. Meowser

    I liked cream cheese up until I was about 10, and then suddenly (right around the time I saw my brother with his bagel and cream cheese all chewed up in his mouth) I didn’t like it anymore. Suddenly it had a weird aftertaste, and I never liked it again. Just as well, because cow’s milk doesn’t like me, as it turns out.

    Cow’s milk not liking me also might be why I hated milk when I was a kid. I really did. I would only have it over cereal or with chocolate in it, or maybe if I was dunking cookies. I liked skim milk better because it didn’t have that milky mouthfeel I disliked. As an adult, I liked the taste of whole milk more than I used to, but now I’m only having goat’s milk. (And that still tastes weird to me, just drinking it, although I use it in cooking all the time, and I love goat cheeses.)

    Oh yeah, and mushrooms. I thought I only liked Chinese mushrooms and would refuse to eat the other kind until I was about 10, when my mom gave me white button mushrooms and told me they were Chinese, then after I ate them and liked them, told me she faked me out. Finky move, to be sure, but now I freaking love ALL mushrooms. Can’t get enough.

  5. Amber

    I actually like mushrooms if they are fresh ones mixed into a dish , but ditto on the canned ones as I think they are over processed and look bad. I guess the canned ones look bad because of preservatives added to them. Also I don’t mind mushroom soup mixed into other dishes like spaghetti sauce or shepard’s pie.

  6. Twistie

    I loved coffee flavor from an early age, but black coffee is something I only grew to enjoy in my late thirties.

    As a child, I detested sauerkraut, and I didn’t try it again for decades. A few months ago, it occurred to me that I tend to like sour things, pickled things, and everything in the cabbage family I can think of… so maybe it was time to give sauerkraut again. Yeah, I liked it this time.

    I never had a problem with the flavor of beets, but it was never a great favorite of mine and the texture… frankly, I couldn’t make myself swallow it most of the time because of the texture. I could eat beets as the broth in a borscht with lots of beef and other vegetables, but that was about my limit until I recently discovered a recipe for beet risotto. Like the borscht, the beets themselves are mostly used as broth (standing in for the wine and stock in a regular risotto), and the greens are chopped up and cooked into the dish at the end, so I get more flavors and textures for my tongue to play with. Mr. Twistie is thrilled because beets were pretty much the one vegetable he loved that I actively disliked.

    Funnily enough, even when I was a kid I would re-try foods I hadn’t had in a while to see if I liked them better. I didn’t do it with everything, mind. Otherwise I would have been enjoying sauerkraut for years! LOL! Still, I kept trying with things like mushrooms, asparagus, cherries, and glaceed fruits. Nope, still don’t like any of them, and I probably won’t bother with a lot more tries at my age. I figure if I was going to start liking them, I most likely would have found a version I liked by now. But at least I know that I did my best along the way to give them all a fair shake.

    Oh! I thought of one more thing that I’ve developed a taste for over the years: parsnips. I thought they tasted really weird when I was a kid, but as an adult I adore them.

    There was also a period where I suffered from gastric distress every time I ate apple. Made me miserable, because I like apples a lot. A couple months ago, I tried a couple bites to see how it would sit, and guess what? I CAN EAT APPLES AGAIN!!!! Yay! I’ll be baking apple pies come the fall.

    • katja

      Love this and your curious and kind approach to foods! Yay for apples! (I get goose-bumps when I bite into an apple-like nails on a chalkboard kind of thing, but if I cut it up I like it! Go figure!)

  7. E

    I was not a very picky eater growing up, but here’s my list of things I didn’t like until my 20s:

    – beets (I asked for a salad without them, and the waiter convinced me to try it WITH them, so I said I would, and that’s when I discovered that I liked them)
    – peanut butter
    – fish (I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my favorite, to steal your phrase. I think I just hadn’t had fish prepared properly, though, since my mother always overcooked it. Now fish IS one of my favorites.)
    – brussel sprouts (This might be a preparation issue, since my mother used to boil them, and now I like them grilled or in the oven.)
    – nuts

    Things I still don’t like:
    – nuts in chocolate
    – candy (except for chocolate, if that counts as candy)
    – carbonated drinks (though I’ll put up with some tonic water with gin)
    – mayonaise
    – coconut texture (but I like the flavor, like Samantha C.)
    – raw carrots (it’s both a texture and flavor issue, because I like cooked carrots)
    – raw onions (I think this is an intensity of flavor issue rather than a texture issue)

  8. Amber

    I think the only food I didn’t like as a kid that I like now is imitation crab, especially when it’s in California Roll sushi. When I was twelve I developed cravings for fried shrimp, which I hated when I was younger, and even now I like fried shrimp. Also I eat orange cheese these days despite the time in my toddlerhood when my grandmother forced me to eat cheese as it was one of only three items we could afford for a month. However, I only eat orange cheese if it’s cheddar and it’s grated in fine pieces on Mexican food.

    However, I will not touch eggs, liver (or any offal), or commercially made pizza. I have to be out of the house or sealed away in my room if a relative cooks frozen pizzas, or buys one from a fast food place, as the smell makes me gag. I do eat home made English muffin pizzas as they don’t have the strange smell of chicken poop and dirty laundry.It sounds funny, but I know of a lady at my church who said commercially bought pizza smelled the same way to her, so I’m not the only one who smells pizza in such a way.

    • katja

      my folks gag over microwave popcorn, which can be pretty bad and linger, but sometimes it tastes so good! Sorry about the pizza thing. I don’t know what chicken poop smells like, but I will try to get that image out of my head too! ON facebook, someone said mushrooms looked like Zombie skin… Come on people! 🙂 We’re trying to help, not create picky eaters… I kid! Fascinating about cheese and food scarcity. My mother didn’t eat beets until her fifties, because post-war in germany it was one of the fill-up foods…

  9. Bobbini

    I was a VERY picky eater as a child, largely because it got me attention and gave me a sense of control. Much like the example you cite, my tastes expanded greatly as a young adult. To my parents’ credit, they never commented on my changing choices. I now like beets, corn, fresh tomatoes, squash and many other things I hardly ever tried before.

    A couple weeks ago, a coworker gave me some cucumbers from her garden. E., my six-year-old, saw one and asked what it was. When I told him, he said “You said that my taste buds change, right? I should probably try a cucumber and see if I like it now.” My husband snapped off a piece for him and he declared that he liked it, and cucumbers are now his favorite vegetable! (Good timing–our cucumber vine is climbing the porch-posts and we get a fresh one every day or so.)

    • Samantha C

      hee, what a coincidence, I’ve been having the same revelation about cucumbers. I used to think they didn’t taste like anything but I’ve been proven wrong.

      I think one thing that really changed my thinking is that I realized how important texture is to my food tastes. I thought I hated tomatoes as a kid; looking back and eating them now, I like the actual FRUIT part of the tomato, but the seedy part is goopy and gloppy and makes me gag. (same with some cuts of cucumber too, if it’s firm enough I don’t mind the seeds but sometimes I’ll eat around them) Similarly, I love the flavor of coconut, but I hate the texture of toasted coconut.

      As you grow up and learn about food, it becomes easier to identify what you actually like and dislike, and to separate out foods that way. “I like something prepared one way but not prepared another” can be easier for little kids to classify as “I don’t like this”, maybe just to make sure the icky preparation doesn’t show up.

      • katja

        I love that
        . “I like something prepared one way but not prepared another” can be easier for little kids to classify as “I don’t like this”

    • katja

      love this example! M tried this too. I brought this topic up (caution, if we remind kids every time, “your taste buds might change, you should try it” they will sense the play for control, but it sounds like you are finding just the right balance…) by saying, as I was enjoying a piece of dark chocolate, “It’s funny. I love this chocolate now, but I didn’t like it when I was a kid. You know, when you were little, you didn’t like chocolate either, and now you love chocolate milk… It’s neat that our tastes can change over time…”