As a dietitian I always try to design meal plans that suit people’s food preferences as well as their medical conditions, intolerances and lifestyles – but it’s always pretty challenging when I have a client who states that they don’t like complete food groups. You’d be surprised how often I hear “I don’t like any fruits or vegetables”. Let me promise you a mango tastes very different to a carrot, which tastes different again to an onion.

Obviously, the greater variety of foods that you eat, the easier it is to cook new and interesting dishes. Believe it or not, you can learn to love new foods. Let me show you how….

Step 1: Determine the reason why you don’t like it.

Do you have memories of drinking sour milk? Were you force fed Brussels sprouts as a child? Do you hate lentils purely because your mum hated lentils? I don’t like coffee. I wish I did. I love the smell, and I love the coffee culture, but for me, I can’t tolerate the bitterness. Even if someone uses the same spoon that they’ve been stirring a coffee with in my drink, it makes me wince. If there’s just one or two foods that you really don’t like, and you have a good reason for it, then don’t worry, but if there’s no good reason, move on to step two.

Step 2: Focus on the benefits.

Many of our dislikes are a case of ‘mind over matter’. We have told ourselves that we don’t like them for so long, that we are determined not to. When I run workshops at schools, I will often do ‘blinded taste tests’. We will blindfold a few willing volunteers, then get their buddy to select a food from the tray for their blinded companion to taste, describe and guess. Not only is this activity a huge amount of fun, but kids often remark on the fact that they now like a food that they previously thought that they didn’t.
If you ‘don’t love’ broccoli, focus on how the glucosinates in broccoli have been found to decrease your risk of developing cancer. If you’re not a fan of yoghurt, remind yourself how important the good bacteria is for your digestive system. Also, remind yourself that you don’t have to love a food to eat it. You really wouldn’t feel very good if you just ate chocolate all day every day (for starters you’d be very constipated!). Sometimes, you need to consider what’s good for you, as well as your food preferences.

Step 3. Prepare it differently.

There’s more than one way to cook an egg/aubergine/fish/capsicum…. Just because you don’t like spinach in salads, doesn’t mean that you won’t like it stir fried, or wilted in a salmon and white wine pasta or in a hearty spinach, cannellini bean and cauliflower soup or combined with fetta cheese in cannelloni. Prepared differently, every food tastes unique.

Step 4. By the best.

If you don’t really like bananas, buying a barely ripe, almost green banana is not going to encourage you to try them again, nor is eating an overripe, mushy one. If you are trying to encourage yourself to eat a new food, make it easier on yourself by buying the best you possibly can. A trick that I often use with clients is getting them to taste it at restaurants, before trying to prepare it for themselves at home. There’s always something special about eating out, so if you order tuna at a great restaurant, then there’s a good chance that they’ll cook it for you well, increasing your chance of enjoying your challenging food.

Step 5. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

Have you ever noticed the way that toddlers, put new foods in their mouth, then spit it out again? The reason for this process is not that they don’t like the foods, instead, it’s part of their development, tasting and experiencing new flavours and textures. It can be the same with adults. If you dislike a food, sometimes, you just need to try it a few more times until you become accustomed to the flavour and texture. If you dislike, pumpkin, forcing yourself to eat a bowl of pumpkin for dinner is not going to make you like it. It will only bring back memories of being left alone at the dinner table, forbidden to leave until you’d finished everything on your plate. Instead, encourage yourself to try just one mouthful on regular occasions. Research shows that we sometimes need to try a new food up ten to fifteen times before we get used to it.

So, before you turn your nose up at a food that you don’t like, give it another go.

To do: Choose one food that you haven’t liked in the past and try it again this week.