What do grilled chicken, rice, filet mignon, cucumbers, and goat cheese have in common? Well, nothing really, other than the fact that these were the five staple foods in my diet up until age fourteen. For most of my childhood, I was referred to as a “selective” eater, not a “picky” eater (and I would become very angry in response to that title). The title of “picky eater” didn’t really apply to me, at least with its usual connotations. My diet did not consist of typical children’s foods, such as hot dogs, pizza, chocolate milk (and I actually hated all three). Rather it consisted of a selective set of foods, some of which were very mature for my young palate. I thrived on this cuisine for years with no problems, with the occasional supplementation of other basic foods (think pasta, chicken nuggets, various forms of potato, etc…). Though I was met with much debate from my parents and my pediatrician, I felt I was doing just fine.
Once I entered high school and noticed my peers had far more expansive diets than mine, I started to become self-conscious about my limited palate. High school came with new experiences—traveling, going out to dinner with friends, the options were endless—however, my “selective” diet was not as endless. Unlike the comfortable granite countertops of my own kitchen, my diet could not always be accommodated when I was out and about. Italian restaurants were easy, I could always get plain pasta (though my still-ongoing fear of tomato sauce is continually met with much dismay). American restaurants were rather uncomplicated too: a burger (just bun, meat, and cheddar cheese, of course) or chicken fingers were always available (though my fear of the other common tomato product, ketchup, was, and still is, met with much chagrin). Japanese, Mexican, Indian, or any other non-Western cuisine was entirely off limits, though. No spices, no sauces, and most importantly, no vegetables.
These challenges went on for the first few months of high school until eventually I was motivated to put in the work to open my eyes to new and exciting culinary adventures. But, I had no idea where to start. Anything green or well-seasoned evoked an immense fear only a fellow “selective” eater could understand. It was a catch-22, I wanted to try new things, but I was scared I wouldn’t like them. But, I wouldn’t know for sure if I didn’t like them unless I tried them. Maybe I was a “picky” eater after all…
Finally, I sought help from a dietitian who helped me devise a plan to open the flood gates to all sorts of new cuisine. One piece of advice that she provided is the one that I believe had the most profound impact on my willingness to expand my horizons: she told me to cook for myself. Immediately after our first appointment, I went straight to Whole Foods and bought an expansive assortment of vegetables, proteins, seasonings, and sauces. I looked up recipes and got cooking. In just that one day, I learned I loved cauliflower, broccoli, dark meat chicken, and teriyaki sauce. A few cooking sessions later, I adopted spinach, carrots, and all sorts of herbs. Though some more complex acquired tastes, like hummus, brussels sprouts, and salmon took years to grow into, I now consider myself a relatively adventurous eater. All it took for me was to take matters into my own hands; the constant nagging from everyone around me could not get me past the mental roadblock that I had created—it had to come from within.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Ministry of Curry