Curb Your Picky Eating Habits

Boy and tomato
By: Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Children aren’t the only ones who get labeled as “picky eaters.” I frequently hear from adults who say they “just don’t like” vegetables. Personally, I find it so strange when people say definitively “I don’t like spinach” because to me, spinach looks, feels and tastes completely different whether it’s raw, cooked, in a smoothie, or included as part of a pasta recipe.

In fact, when my husband of 14 years and I were first dating, he told me he despised eggplant. An eggplant lover myself but wanting to cook foods my new boyfriend would enjoy, I left one of my favorite veggies out of our dishes for quite a few months. One day at the farmer’s market I couldn’t resist and decided, “screw it we’re eating eggplant tonight!” At dinner, he tells me he loved what I made and asked what it was. Seriously? He was shocked to hear he was eating eggplant. Fast forward to a big family dinner at my in-law’s favorite, local restaurant. Out comes an appetizer of eggplant… it was literally unrecognizable to me, a mushy, horrid color and texture, dripping in oil, yuck! No wonder he said he didn’t like eggplant. But it wasn’t the poor eggplant’s fault at all; it had everything to do with the preparation.

Being a “picky eater,” can stem from a lot of reasons. And most are not that the person is trying to be a pain in the you-know-what. Let’s take a closer look and talk about some strategies to help broaden your (or your loved one’s) horizons and get kicked out of this club for good.


We’re all creatures of habit, which is a nicer way of saying that we can get so set in our ways. Sure, when I was a kid I didn’t like certain veggies, like raw tomatoes or peas. I would actually squash my peas under my plate in hopes my mom didn’t notice. Now that I’m a mom I’m pretty sure she totally knew what I was up to! These days I absolutely love adding raw tomatoes to every salad, sandwich, taco, wrap and more. Peas, while still not my most favorite, certainly make an appearance on my plate because they’re a great source of plant based protein.

  • Tastes can change over time so revisit your former nemesis periodically.
  • It can take 15-20 exposures before a child will try a new food, so why not give adults the same chance. Persistence and patience can pay off.
  • Practice makes it possible so keep trying.

False advertising

When I say broccoli, what’s your natural reaction? For most people they crinkle up their nose and make a face of disgust. This is because we’ve been taught that broccoli is gassy and totally undesirable. Even in movies, things like broccoli pizza are seen as just gosh darn awful. We’ve been brainwashed to think of veggie-lovers as “health nuts,” and look at eating a bowl of broccoli as a form of punishment. But boy are you missing out, not just on nutrients like Vitamins C and K, iron, or phytonutrients that can help support natural detoxification, but on flavor, big time!! Check out some of these broccoli recipes and give this old veggie another chance.

Roasted Broccoli

Creamy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

Love Your Broccoli Juice

Oh Sweet Broccoli Juice

Mint Chocolate Protein Shake

Food sensitivities

I often find that people who describe themselves as picky eaters, turn out to have an underlying food intolerance, sensitivity or allergy. We tend to keep a rather limited vocabulary for food and eating; good, bad, like, dislike, cool, weird, yum, yuck. But with further exploration, you may come to realize the reason you don’t care for artichokes is because with IBS they can be a FODMAP nightmare or with yogurt it’s not just the texture after all but that you’re lactose intolerant.

Social pressures

Have you ever seen advertisements touting that “real” men eat meat and hate vegetables? Actually, just turn on the TV or go online and you’ll find plenty. When was the last time you saw a teenager in a convenience store buy carrots instead of candy?

  • Hang out with healthy people. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can help sway your habits and support making new choices.
  • Be the change you want to see in the world. This is one of my favorite quotes ever. There’s no time like the present to order a salad at a business lunch or the vegetarian meal at a wedding. Go for it! You’ll be surprised how many others are now joining in and will follow suit.
  • Kids can be beacons of change. I’m exaggerating about the teens not making healthy choices. In fact, many do. And lots of kids come home from school having learned about healthy eating and request more veggies!

Experimentation is a good thing

Try to identify what it is that makes a food feel unappealing. Often it’s related to texture. Take avocado for example. The idea of eating this soft, mushy, green food straight off a spoon might be off-putting to you. So instead of going for it straight, try adding a slice to grilled cheese or a wrap, mixing it into chili, a topping for an omelet, or blend into a salad dressing to make it creamier. You can even add hemp seeds to avocado slices and gently bake them for a nice crunchy twist.

Other texture tips include:

How do you handle the picky eaters in your circle? What are your favorite tips for trying new veggies?

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Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Stacy is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and an Integrative Nutritionist. She consults for various companies, focusing on health, wellness and innovative strategies to help increase individual’s fruit and vegetable intake. Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist; she holds a BS degree in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston, MA, with more than 20 years of experience. Stacy created and now serves as project manager and lead writer for nutrition services content on the Dana Farber website and the affiliated, nationally recognized nutrition app. Stacy is regularly featured on TV, radio, print and social media on behalf of Dana Farber and other organizations. Together with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy PsyD, they have a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC. Stacy is an adjunct professor in Wellness and Health Coaching at William James College, currently teaching a graduate course in Health Coaching. Stacy is featured in the award winning documentary films, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2,” and serves on the Reboot with Joe Medical Advisory Board. Stacy lives in Wellesley with her husband, two sons and three dogs. She enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Stacy is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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