“Picky” eating isn’t just for kids. There are plenty of adults who steer clear of certain ingredients or dishes for a variety of reasons. Whether you grew up somewhere without many diverse cuisine options, were raised in a culture or religion that kept you away from particular foods, or just straight-up hate olives, there are simple ways you can expand your tasting experience—if you want to.
Take the opportunity to try new foods on the cheap
There are, no exaggeration, millions of foods you could try. You’ll never try them all, but if you want to dabble in a few, we first recommend doing it in a way that doesn’t financially ruin you. Don’t order a whole plate of an unfamiliar food at a new restaurant and drop serious cash if this isn’t something you’re used to doing. If you hate it, you’ll end up hungry and slightly poorer than you were just moments before. Plus, you could even be a little resentful, which won’t make you all that willing to keep going with your sampling plan.
Instead, try new foods whenever they’re cheap or free. At a party, make a point to sample all the hors d’oeuvres and ask specifically what’s in them. To stop yourself from punking out, maybe ask what’s in them after you try them, unless you have allergies or food restrictions.
Consider a buffet, too! As we adjust to our new lifestyles after the pandemic, some buffets are making a triumphant return, albeit with new safety restrictions in place. A flat-rate meal that allows you to pick from a variety of pre-made dishes is perfect for tasting new flavors without breaking the bank.
Take a DIY approach
Sometimes, when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself—in life and in the kitchen. When you’re making dinner, set a goal to eat at least one new thing, even if everything else you make that night comes from your tried-and-true recipe rotation.
“I love to cook,” said Matt McClain, a 33-year-old Brooklynite who admits to being a picky eater. “It’s something that can keep me stuck in a pattern of eating the same thing everyday, but it’s something that allows me to try new things and new flavors, too. I can really figure what ways I can prepare something I’m iffy about in a way that’s more accessible to my own palate.”
Genie Patrathiranond, the CMO of recipe app Cheffe, agrees. Her thinking is that if you’re nervous about new foods, you should make them yourself. The app features some ultra-simple recipes that can open the door to new, more intense flavors, like garlicky kale and ricotta pizza, a creamy white bean and spinach quesadilla, and butter chicken and squash with jasmine rice. All over the internet, you’ll find other kinds of recipes, too—and if you can see the ingredients, you can make an informed choice about what, exactly, you’ll be trying, which reduces some of the anxiety.
Keep your own culinary mastery in mind when you take this approach. If a recipe is too complicated for your skill level, you could end up making something a little gross or give up altogether. Patrathiranond’s app lets you combine recipes, then calculates the exact steps you need to take to make sure all of your dishes are ready and hot at the same time so nothing is cold or unappetizing. McClain, meanwhile, suggests watching cooking shows to see how the pros do it. It “helps a ton,” according to him.
“You see delicious food being made and eaten, and that has really helped me become more willing to try new things,” he said.
Visit new places
McClain recently moved from California to New York and began “dating someone who is more knowledgeable about types of food” than he is, he said. Being exposed to the diverse foods in New York—a combination of various cultural and region-specific dishes—has helped him overcome his pickiness.
You don’t need to buy a one-way ticket across the country to open yourself up to new flavors and meals. But when you do travel, set an intention to be open-minded and curious with your food. Always try the dishes and cuisines your destination is known for. On road trips, international adventures, visits to see your family, or business trips, remember to keep your goal of expanding your palate top of mind. Travel can be stressful, so having a fun side quest that complements the real purpose of your trip is beneficial in more ways than one.
Closer to home, try out new restaurants. Don’t stick with what you know just because you know it. No matter where you live, we’re willing to bet there’s something delicious nearby you haven’t tried yet.
Don’t give up
You will definitely eat something you hate at some point, but it’s better to know and avoid that food going forward than to not try at all. Don’t let a bad experience discourage you from searching for new foods you will like.
“Give every new food, flavor, or cuisine at least a couple tries before deciding whether you like it or not,” Patrathiranond said. “Many ingredients taste completely different when cooked in a different way. So you might not like boiled carrots but then discover that you love roasted ones.”
McClain feels the same: “Food is always capable of being delicious, so I try to keep that in mind with trying new things. I will also give things a try more than once. Everything deserves a second chance.”