By Leia Kedem
If you know a picky eater, chances are he or she probably doesn't like too many vegetables.
It's not just stubbornness (although some folks probably are); several kinds of vegetables have compounds that can have a bitter taste.
For example, the chemicals in broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts that give them that stinky, sulfurous smell also are partly to blame for their flavor. To the young palate, they can taste downright awful — and I'm betting that based on childhood memories, many readers would agree.
Luckily, most people grow out of these taste aversions. Our taste buds change as we get older, making us less sensitive to bitter flavors. Case in point: In high school, I thought blended coffee drinks were bitter. These days, I drink my mochas with three shots of espresso.
Learning to like (or maybe just tolerate) vegetables also is helped by simple exposure. Studies show that kids become more accepting of unfamiliar or disliked foods the more times they try them.
Some people might never learn to like the more bitter vegetables. Blame it on their taste buds: They might actually be more sensitive to bitter because they have a higher concentration of taste receptors on the tongue. These supertasters have a heightened sense of taste.
You might be one of these people if desserts are often too sweet or if you have a low tolerance for spicy foods. If not, well, there are things you can do about it.
A study recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that kids were more likely to eat vegetables when paired with a flavored dip. Although the veggies are masked by more familiar, pleasant flavors, some of the vegetable flavor will still come through. Kids will be exposed to these flavors more gradually, perhaps allowing them to overcome their previous aversions.
Although the researchers did not include adults in this study, this would probably work for older picky eaters, as well. There are tons of low-fat salad dressings out there.
Hummus, guacamole, creamy dill dip and even peanut sauce are great options, too. Not surprisingly, the most popular dip flavors in the study included ranch and pizza. Try these tasty homemade dip recipes to get more veggies into your picky eater's diet:
Homemade Ranch Dip
1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 envelope ranch-style dressing mix
Mix ingredients together and refrigerate. Serve with carrot sticks, broccoli, bell pepper strips, etc.
Yields 2 cups; recipe adapted from the National Dairy Council.
Garlicky White Bean Dip
1 can (151/2 oz.) great Northern or cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor, blending until smooth. Can be made up to two days ahead of time and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving with veggies.
Yields 1 cup; recipe courtesy of Texas Beef Council.
Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.