Learning to love healthier food  

It has taken me a while to learn to love eating healthy food – especially vegetables. I’m nibbling on cut up orange bell peppers and sundried tomato hummus as I write this. That would never have happened five years ago!

 As a latchkey kid I grew up eating a wide variety of “TV dinners.”

This meant my primary exposure to vegetables were those horrific pea and diced carrot concoctions that occasionally harbored a wayward lima bean. This congealed mass of green and orange always seemed to be located in the upper right side compartment of the formed aluminum tray, right next to the dessert (spiced apples or chocolate brownies were my favorite).

How could any kid learn to love vegetables when they came in this form?

How could any kid learn to love vegetables when they came in this form?

As such, I never really developed a taste for vegetables. The more brightly colored they were, the less interested I was. Potatoes, iceberg lettuce, corn, and mushrooms or zucchini sautéed in lots of butter – that pretty much encompassed my entire vegetable universe for most of my life.

In restaurants I would always try to order last because my order was so high maintenance with instructions to eliminate or substitute most of the vegetables. When eating at a diner I always had a little pile of vegetables off to the side (pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato) that I had picked off my burger.

After moving to the Pacific Northwest I found myself surrounded by all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables.

This was a big difference from the small mining towns in Colorado and Wyoming where I had grown up. I remember going to my first Farmer’s Market and being fascinated by the array and variety of produce – who knew there was purple colored cauliflower or rainbow colored beets? Of course, at the time I wasn’t interested in eating any of the vegetables I saw. But, they sure looked pretty as I walked past them and wound my way through the crowds to the cookie/brownie bakery stand!

Eventually I decided that I needed to learn to like vegetables and to try new things.

Glenn and I go out to eat a lot, so I decided that every year I would pick a vegetable on my “I don’t like that” list and force myself to order it anytime it was on the menu. The first year I tackled the tomato, the second year it was bell peppers, the third year it was beets, then peas, etc.

And, you know what…now I LOVE those vegetables.

I actually crave them, have grown them in my garden and get excited when I see them on the menu. Well, except maybe eggplant. I’ve gotten to where I can tolerate eggplant, but that is about as far as my love affair has gone. Still, if eggplant is on the menu then I make myself order it.

Tomato plant in my garden. The first vegetable I tackled!

Tomato plant in my garden. I used to order everything with “no tomato” – what was I thinking?

I recently read an article about how picky eating is all in our heads. The article talked about something called the “mere exposure effect.” Basically, this is a physiological phenomenon where we develop a liking for something (store brands, shapes of people’s faces, images, food, etc.) simply because we are more familiar with it. Maybe by repeatedly exposing myself to these offending vegetables I became more familiar with them and gradually developed a taste for them?

Now I can’t imagine why I ever thought the sweet velvety taste of beets was more akin to dirt, or that brussel sprouts smelled like feet!

By tackling the vegetables on my blacklist, I have also found myself more willing to give new vegetables a try. For example, I had never tried kale until I was almost 40 years old and now it’s on the top of my list of favorites. I’ve even tried that purple cauliflower from the Farmer’s Market (turns out it tastes just like the white stuff, but it brightens up the plate a bit).

Years ago I never would have eaten this - eggplant, roasted red peppers, olives and spring greens.

Years ago I never would have eaten this – eggplant, roasted red peppers, olives and spring greens.

So, if you too struggle with eating your vegetables maybe give the “mere exposure effect” a spin! Pick one you aren’t fond of and try eating it more regularly. You may discover a whole new culinary universe.

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Roasted veggie pita with eggplant. Eggplant huh? Well, if it’s on the menu then I guess I’ve gotta order it. And it was yummy!

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