How to Introduce New Foods into Your Diet (for Picky Eaters)

We have all probably known someone who seemed to only order chicken strips and fries no matter what restaurant they are at. They could be at a Michelin Star restaurant and still only order the plainest food on the menu. You might even be that person yourself.

Picky eating is a very common thing in children, but it is also something that can follow us into adulthood for various reasons. Maybe you’ve had some kind of bad experience with food before, like choking or getting sick after eating something and as a result ended up developing some kind of an aversion to that specific food. There’s a lot of people that struggle tolerating certain textures, smells, and appearances of food. You might even fear the newness itself. Whatever the reason for your eating habits, it can become quite a weight on your shoulders to feel so much hesitance revolving around something so vital to life, and can even affect your socialization in a lot of ways. I’ve personally dealt with a few of these issues myself and I know how unfun it can be.

If you feel like your picky eating is interfering with your daily life, it’s always a good idea to talk your primary care doctor or a counselor to try to get to the root of why you might be experiencing these issues. Otherwise, picky eating might be nothing more to you than an annoyance, or something that you want to challenge yourself to overcome. All of these methods I’m about to share have helped me at one point or another, and are still things I do when I want to introduce or reintroduce a new food into my diet. I hope at least one of these tips can help you as well!

  • Pick a new food to try. The first step in actually trying a new food is choosing something. I know the endless amount of options can be overwhelming but “new” doesn’t have to mean something that is totally unfamiliar to you, or even something you’ve never tried before. You can start with something really simple. You can pick something that you have already tried before, or try something that is NOT super foreign to you. For example, if you know you like french fries, try a baked potato instead. If you know you can tolerate strawberry ice cream, try fresh strawberries. If you like canned green beans, try some fresh green beans. If you like bread, try a different type of bread. You probably get the point. Trying a different form of a food you already know you can eat is a great way to ease yourself into expanding your diet. Even trying the same kind of food from a different brand can be a good start. Small steps are key.   
  • Accessorize: Again, take baby steps, and don’t feel like if you choose to try carrots you have to start by eating a whole raw carrot. If you have texture issues blending the food you want to try into a sauce or making it a smaller part of a bigger meal or recipe can help ease you into a new flavor or texture you’re not used to. For example, if you want to try a banana but the texture bothers you, baking it into a muffin or loaf of bread might help with that. This method can also help if you find the temperature of food to be a problem for you.
  • Start slow, like really slow. There are so many ways of gradually incorporating a new food into your diet. Maybe you’re worried about the physical reaction you could have e.g. gagging, choking, aversion to taste, etc. It might help to start by touching the food, putting the food on your lips, or holding the food in your mouth and then spitting it out if you need to. This is still a step to actually eating the food and might help alleviate some of the fear of reaction. The thought of trying a new food can come with many different worries for different people, but there is also more than one kind of accomplishment. Maybe that particular day your goal was to hold a piece of food in your mouth- woohoo! You did it! Now maybe the next day you will feel more confident and relaxed to eat the food, and eventually even getting to enjoy the taste of it!
  • Take the focus off of food. Being in the right kind of environment can help you feel more relaxed when trying new food. If you feel super anxious when you are trying a new food you will be more likely to have a negative experience with the food itself. You don’t have to be sitting at your dining room table glaring over a bowl of broccoli trying to figure out how the heck you’re going to stomach it. You don’t necessarily have to make it about the food at all really. You’ve done the planning, chosen what food you’re trying, something semi-familiar to you, and the way in which you will incorporate it into a meal or recipe. So you’ve done most of the heavy lifting there. You can plan a picnic with a friend or eat while you’re watching your favorite TV show. Maybe you’ve been out all day running errands and decide to come home and try the new food while you’re unpacking groceries. You can make it as planned and structured or as casual and spontaneous as you feel comfortable with.   
  • Find someone to try new food with: As I mentioned above, having someone who you trust around you when you’re trying new food can make the experience more positive and help to take some of the focus off of the food itself. You could even get a friend or family member with the same picky eating habits to try new food together! Having that support can really help to encourage one another to get out of your comfort zones and make it a more enjoyable, bonding experience.
  • Don’t give up! It’s not unreasonable in the slightest to assume that you might not like the food you are eating when trying it the first time. It makes sense; there might be a lot of other things happening in your brain at the time like, “Wow, this thing is slimy”, “I don’t like the texture”, “It tastes so unfamiliar”, “Is it hot in here? I’m sweating”. If you really want to expand your diet make sure that whatever foods you try you continue to eat often and have more exposure to, like when you’re out at a restaurant, hanging out with friends, grocery shopping, etc. Liking the taste of a food is a learned thing, so enjoyment isn’t going to be swirling around right away and that’s ok. Just know that just because you don’t love it the first time, or the second time, or even the third doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to tolerate or actually like that food. It just means that you are going through a process of acceptance. It takes time for taste buds to adjust to a new flavor and for your brain to catch up to the fact that the texture of an orange isn’t a que to feel panicked.
  • Be kind to yourself: This is the most important part of the process. Being a picky eater and having a hard time accepting new foods into your diet is not something you should be embarrassed or ashamed of. Also know that while it is a real challenge you are facing, like other fears in life, you can face it and change the way you approach it when you have the right tools. I am sending you the most support and good luck your way. Cheers to facing fears! 

If you feel like your eating habits are affecting your daily life, or if you feel like you need it for any reason, please reach out to a counselor. They can help you better understand the root of the obstacles you are facing and support you in taking the proper steps to overcome them. 💜

If you are having trouble finding help in your area, here is a psychologist locator. You can type in your city, state, accepted insurances and more to narrow down your search. 

https://locator.apa.org/?_ga=2.269167857.1687459435.1583367216-1119468697.1583367216

If you’d rather look for a psychiatrist, here is the link for that:

http://finder.psychiatry.org/?_ga=2.106236292.642979732.1583367196-1023798505.1583367196

*A psychiatrist is someone who can prescribe medication and is usually more diagnoses and treatment focused.

*A psychologist is someone who focuses more on emotional well being, behavioral therapies, and talk therapy.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment

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