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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

112: My Picky Eating Journey & Tips

Howdy! I've been a picky eater for as long as I can remember. One relative attributed the sudden self-imposed limitations on my diet, somewhere between ages 3-5 years old, as a cry for attention when my younger siblings were born. Another, who happens to work in the medical field, blames it on a sensory disorder I've never been formally diagnosed with. I know that I ate peanut butter and milk just fine before my folks had to switch to powdered milk and powdered peanut butter due to financial issues. Regardless, at some point, I ceased eating fruits (excluding bananas), vegetables, seafood, milk, tomato sauce, and (generally) peanut butter. It's likely I rarely ate those to begin with, given my mother was very young and rarely cooked. The diet I remember from my early years consists of hotdogs, boxed macaroni & cheese, pasta with butter and parmesan, cheese sandwiches, cinnamon-butter-sugar sandwiches, butter & peanut butter sandwiches (the non-candy peanut butter exception), land/sky meats, pizza (the tomato sauce exception) and fast food. I ate a lot of brown-beige foods but nothing of color.

Fruits taste fine but I don't like the texture. Vegetables have an uncomfortable texture and they taste bad. Seafood smells and tastes bad. My best guess for why I can't drink plain milk is that powdered milk left that negative of an impression, so as to spoil the beverage forever.

Over the years, I've expanded my diet, with effort. At some point pizza convinced me to add sauce to my pastas, so by middle school, I was at least consuming tomatoes and garlic, if only in sauce form. Around that time, I moved to New York and was introduced to a variety of Italian and Chinese food, though I still picked obvious vegetables from my meals. Occasionally an adult would force me to eat something against my will. Once, I was told I wouldn't be allowed to leave the table until I drank a glass of milk. The adult meant well. I was very under-weight. But alas, I really don't like milk. I sat there the entire day, meaning I was unable to spend time with the step siblings I was visiting, which was a shame. Other relatives made me try vegetables and seafood, but my reactions were severe enough where they didn't push the issue with any regularity.

I was always good at trying new non-vegetables. For Mexican food, I'd remove the corn and beans. For Chinese, I'd remove beans, and any vegetable not sliced small enough as to be inconvenient to remove. I got used to eating diced onions and carrots, but would give away my broccoli. When the family went out for hibachi, I'd give the salad to my sister. I've never eaten a salad. As an aside, as an adult I was hired to run the salad bar for a pizza restaurant and I had to ask the girl training me which parts of the lettuce were eaten vs thrown out. To get nutrients into my body, I drank a lot of shakes. Some were intended for athletes, an attempt to help me gain weight. Others were my only source of fruit.

In college, I had concerns about my health. Eating at the dining hall meant nearly every meal consisted of two cheese burgers, an Oreo blondie, neon yellow ice cream, and a sweetened latte. This isn't to imply there weren't healthier options. These are the foods I chose. I kept getting sick, which was likely exacerbated by prolonged lack of sleep, thanks to my poor time-management skills. My skin was breaking out. Whenever my body became annoying enough for me to care, I'd eat a cucumber or some soup. The soups varied but generally contained spinach, carrots, celery, or mixed herbs. Soups are still one of my favorite ways to eat vegetables. There were a few breaks from college where going home wasn't an option. For those, I either found work that covered room & board, or I crashed with friends. Before I'd show up at the friends' place, I'd fill my backpack with supplies from the dining hall. While I had jobs, they barely covered my school supplies, leaving little money for grocery shopping. My dining hall hoards consisted of apples, oranges, packaged crackers, rolls, and pastries. I shared these with the friends I crashes with, always packing enough to hold us over for at least a week. While I've never enjoyed eating fruit, when push came to shove, I was willing to consume the occasional apple or orange. Sometimes I would buy a pomegranate as a treat. Of all the fruit I could enjoy, I picked an expensive one.

Towards the end of my college education, I finally gained the infamous Freshmen fifteen and went from being so underweight I couldn't donate blood, to a rather healthy size that I didn't like the look of in pictures. Suddenly my diet wasn't just effecting my skin, and I went to some ludicrous extremes. For three days, I lived off frozen pineapple, something I would've refused to eat before, and which I'm not a fan of now. For a while, my lunches were mixed nuts and raw spinach. While I didn't enjoy the texture nor flavor of the leaves, I could eat them without gagging. While on Keto, my go-to carb was spaghetti squash or kelp noodles. Eating stopped being fun. Eventually I made peace with my ever fluctuating size and returned to old habits.

I was invited to a sushi restaurant as an adult. Not wanting to be a drag, I agreed to go, fully anticipating the entire menu would be seafood. It actually wasn't. There were chicken based "sushi" dishes so I mostly ordered those. However, the dishes at my table didn't smell overwhelmingly fishy so I tried my then-boyfriends orders, at his request. That was a big risk, as I'm easily embarrassed, and I don't like for people to see the faces I make when eating something unpleasant. Thankfully, the sushi didn't taste like seafood either so now that's a means of getting seafood into my diet. I can't get grocery-store sushi anymore, as unfortunately, I had a bad reaction (probably due to the imitation-crab meat). Meaning my current seafood options are a bit pricey.

While inebriated, I've taken the opportunity to re-try vegetables I long-ago decided I hate. So far, I still really don't like them.

A year or so before Covid-19 made it the norm, I started working from home as a full-time artist/writer. Whereas before, I had to pack lunches in advance, now I could make them fresh. Meaning I could take the time to dice garlic and vegetables as small as I wanted, to be tossed in soups, rice, pasta dishes, etc. I took the time to learn how to grill onions, then how to sauté them. More recently I picked up gardening and my rule is, if I grow it, I have to eat some of it. And I'm trying to grow everything. I've planted pumpkin, turban squash, spaghetti squash, onions, carrots, beans, broccoli, corn, jalapenos, bell peppers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, collard greens, garlic, oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary, coriander, lavender (for tea), etc. Of those, I've been able to harvest jalapenos, a single white onion, green onion, and wild meadow onions, but I'm hopeful more will survive the blistering heat of the Texas summer. I've been figuring out new vegetable solutions. After learning a quick and easy pickling recipe for peppers, I've pickled the jalapenos and onions I grew, as well as store bought onions and carrots that were on the verge of spoiling. And, I've been eating them. It turns out thinly sliced pickled carrots taste like the spices they've marinated in and not like carrots at all. They go well on ramen. Speaking of ramen, I've also taking to slicing the store-bought kimchi more thinly before tossing it onto my noodles.

I don't know how I'm going to handle my corn harvest because that's coming up. I can't abide corn. I can't eat it off the cob. I don't like it piled up and cooked with butter, or concealed as whole pieces in cornbread, or hidden in burritos. I'm going to try cutting up the tiny kernels and pickling them. If that proves edible, then I may do the same with broccoli and the collard greens. It's easier to try new vegetables I'm not already predisposed against due to first impressions when I was a child. Meaning, new fruits and veggies are fair game. It's the USA household staples I struggle with.

If you're a picky eater, or you're somebody trying to help a picky eater break out of their comfort zone, here's what works for me:

  1. Thinly slicing the food and mixing it into something with a stronger flavor, like soup

  2. Adding undesirable produce to shakes

  3. Spicing and preparing that food so that it no longer tastes or feels like it does when prepared normally, like pickling

  4. Trying unfamiliar alternative foods there is no predisposition against

I've been told to wash difficult foods down with other strong flavors, or to hold my breath and swallow, but the gag reflex is great. I've tried many foods against my will. Gradually, I have expanded my palette. The list of vegetables I won't eat is shrinking. I've been trying new seafoods. I continue to supplement my limited diet with multi-vitamins.

There are definitely those who, upon hearing my story, feel my parents failed me in accommodating this unhealthy lifestyle. While I see the logic there, I was a very stubborn child. I would have stopped eating if the only options weren't of my liking. I also wasn't above stealing, if it came to that. My parents had their issues, and yes, they could've provided healthier, more diverse meals. That doesn't mean I would've eaten them.

Every now and again I'll see some rant about the immaturity of adult picky eaters. I get it. It's annoying being pressured to accommodate a peer's limited diet. I try not be a burden. I won't order anything off the menu that would require an alteration. My current diet is diverse enough that it's very rare I'm in a situation where there are no safe foods available. Beyond that, it's weird to me that a stranger would waste their energy getting mad about how I feed myself in private. Don't date a picky eater if you can't abide their limitations, I guess? I'm not trying to inconvenience others. At worst, I'm denying myself necessary nutrition, but I am actively working to mitigate any deficiencies. I don't even live somewhere with accessible state-sponsored healthcare, so it can't be argued that tax payers are funding the treatment of ailments I've caused myself.

Anyway, I hope any of this was interesting of helpful. Thanks for stopping by. I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

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