Counseling someone who thinks they don't like vegetables can be a challenge. I want my clients to love every bite of food, but of course, it's kinda hard, nee, impossible to be healthy without veggies.
So when a client tells me they've sworn off the color green, I teach them about the trainability of tastebuds. The Standard American Diet (SAD), with it's massive quantities of sugar, salt and fat, trains buds towards an unnaturally sweet, salty and fatty favor. That training starts even before birth!
Taste buds first develop around 8 weeks gestation. Around 12 weeks, a baby can taste flavors from the mothers diet through the amniotic fluid. Yup, babies can taste the pickles and ice cream! Studies done on newborns indicate an innate preference for sweet and salty flavors (maybe from the ice cream and pickles?) and a dislike of sour and bitter flavors. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Sweet flavors indicate energy from carbohydrates and salt indicates a food contains needed minerals, while bitter or sour flavors may indicate spoilage or poison. Tastes preferences are further developed through breast milk, which also carries flavors from the mothers diet.
When a child starts eating real foods, taste preferences are developed even further. Acceptance of a food is determined by many factors. A child is more likely to enjoy a food first encountered in a pleasant situation (cake at a birthday party) versus one introduced in a negative situation (mushy carrots while detained at the kitchen table by an angry and frustrated parent). On average, it takes 15-20 exposures before a child likes a new food, so if a parent gives up after a few tries, it's unlikely a child will ever develop a taste for it.
You might be thinking since taste preferences are developed so early, you're kinda stuck with them for life. Not so! In fact, taste buds can be trained to enjoy nutritious, whole foods simply by eating them more frequently. Sounds simple, but it's a difficult task for non-vegetable lovers.
So, how to get past that hump? Start cooking vegetables in ways that enhance flavor and make them taste delicious. I find most people who think they hate vegetables tend to prepare them by steaming or boiling - the two least appetizing ways to cook a veg! Here are my favorite tricks to make veggies taste great:
- Add fat. Cooking vegetables in a healthy oil rather than boiling brings out their natural sugars. Roasting and sauteing are foolproof methods. Extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil and organic, grassfed butter are my favorites for cooking. Walnut oil, sesame oil and flavored olive oil are awesome for drizzling. - Grill it. This is how I got past my zucchini aversion. I remember my dad begging me to try his beautiful grilled zucchini - and my pleasant surprise when I realized I actually liked it! Grilling imparts a great smoky flavor. Squash, corn, eggplant, peppers, onions and even cabbage are especially awesome on the grill. - Sneak it into something you love. You're more likely to eat a vegetable if it's layered in a lasagna, hidden in a spicy chili or diced into meatloaf. - Add cheese. 'Nuff said.
This recipe is proof that tastes can change. Cauliflower was on of those vegetables you couldn't pay me to eat as a child. You could have bribed me with all the My Little Ponies in the world and I still would have spit it into my napkin! The only time I was served cauliflower as a child in that awful frozen California mix as part of my school lunch. No wonder I thought cauliflower was supposed to taste soggy and bland. It wasn't until I accidentally tried a pureed cauliflower and parmesan soup, thinking it was potato, that I realized cauliflower could be delicious. Now it's a strong contender for my favorite vegetable!
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets.
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or spelt flour
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mix of choice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Steam the cauliflower until fork tender, about 8 minutes.
- Place in a large bowl and let cool slightly.
- Add the egg, scallions, flour, spice mix and salt/pepper to taste.
- Mash into pea-sized pieces with a potato masher.
- Heat an oven to 200 degrees and place a baking sheet inside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat.
- Scoop up the cauliflower mixture using a 1/4 cup measure.
- Form into a ball with your hands and drop into the skillet.
- Add another few fritters, making sure to leave about two inches between each fritter.
- Flatten each fritter slightly using the back of your spoon.
- Cook for about 5 minutes, flip, press down slightly again then cook another 4 minutes until golden brown on each side
- Transfer the fritters onto the baking sheet to keep warm and repeat with remaining cauliflower mixture.
- Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.