Overcoming the Fear of Trying New Foods

If you read my July 2020 Food of the Month posts, you know my green bean tastings did not go well at all. I did not like green beans when I thought I would, and it was incredibly disappointing. It has gotten to the point that I have not considered yet what I want to do for my August Food of the Month (I am writing this on August 4, so I’m very behind!). When I start getting down, I tell myself something that others have said to me in the past. Just because you don’t like that food doesn’t mean you won’t like the next. Just keep trying! But sometimes trying can be so tiring, especially when it feels like it gets me nowhere fast. I need to remember that even though I seemed to fail this month, that doesn’t mean this journey is pointless. Sure, I don’t like green beans, but peppers were a huge success and are now a regular part of my diet! I need to keep pushing through and trying new foods.

Falling Into My Slump

Finding the next Food of the Month was hard for me this past week. I couldn’t get past the feeling of defeat or the thought that my progress has stopped. I searched through Pinterest and watched cooking shows to see if anything jumped out at me. Eventually, I had to tell Drew I had no idea what I was going to do. He immediately suggested we walk around HyVee and see if anything jumps out to me. I was still so down I couldn’t see any potential with the food around me. Drew would point out food left and right, giving ideas and suggestions, and asking if anything sounded good to me. I said “no” to everything we saw. I was still so obsessed over the failure that was my July Food of the Month attempt that I didn’t even want to try.

Trying green beans
Gathering the courage to try green beans

This is a pretty normal feeling for me. Growing up I’d try a new food, hate it, then avoid new foods for weeks at a time. When I’m stuck in these moods, I struggle to imagine that I’d like a new food, so I don’t consider it. Poor Drew had to accept the brunt of my frustrations but thankfully took it all in stride. He knows me enough to know that if I’m down, I struggle to pull myself out of it. So he worked hard to lift me out of my slump, but I couldn’t get out of it.

Co-occurring anxiety and a lack of interest in food are two warning signs/symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). These two symptoms were on display as we wandered HyVee for what felt like hours as I rejected one food after the next. Like I said, this has happened to me a lot over the years, which only increases my suspicion that I have this disorder. I know others feel this way too, so I want to be totally vulnerable with this issue so that others know they are not alone and have someone to reach out to for support! I was able to get out of this slump eventually, but it took a few days to do it.

Co-occurring anxiety and a lack of interest in food are something I have struggled with a lot in my life. They also happen to be two symptoms of ARFID.

Finding My Next Food of the Month

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com
Photo by Mona Sabha Cabrera on Pexels.com

After quite a few days of only eating food I like, I was able to clear my mind enough to approach August’s Food of the Month differently. I realized that I could continue with some food I already kind of like, but want to continue to work on. It was Saturday, August 8, and Drew and I had just come home from a morning fishing trip. I was famished and couldn’t stop thinking about my mom’s egg dish that she makes every Christmas morning. Then it hit me, I finally tried that dish last year (2018) and was excited that I started to like eggs and ham. I then reached out to my sisters and asked for the recipe – eggs were going to be my Food of the Month.

I was so relieved when I decided this. Not just because I finally decided on my Food of the Month, but because it is a food I sort of like, but there’s still have some room to improve. I am excited to get to work on these tastings and sharing it with you!

What You Can Take From This:

  • Pay attention to your picky eater’s feelings. If they are anxious, down, or disconnected, then be sure to check in on them to make sure they’re ok. Maybe they just need a break from trying new foods, and that is ok! Everyone needs a break at some point, so let them have one when they need it.
  • Be ok with taking things slow. One thing I have been doing is jumping in feet first on totally different foods that I wasn’t 100% sure on, and I got dinged for it. Now I’m taking it slow to work on a food that I kind of like but am still a little wary of. 
  • Follow along as I work on liking eggs! I bet there are picky eaters out there that are just as interested in eating eggs as I am. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to see how my tastings go and learn a thing or two about eggs along the way!


July Food of the Month – Green Beans

Even though it’s already a third of the way through July (where is the time going?!) it’s time to announce my July Food of the Month!

Like many picky eaters, green veggies have never truly appealed to me. Sure I learned to like lettuce and spinach when salads were the only thing I was willing to try, but that’s as far as I was willing to go. As for green beans, peas, brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, you name it, I stayed far away from those! But it was hard not to notice the pattern of these kinds of greens showing up to my favorite foods at restaurants. Like peppers, I figured this was a sign that I should maybe/possibly/kinda/wanna focus on green beans because they’re almost always part of a meal. But I definitely need picky eater-friendly recipes to do so.

Photo Credit: Freddie Collins

Drew was the one to bring up the idea of me trying green beans as one of my foods of the month. I once tried Szechuan green beans at a restaurant per a table mate’s urging and kind of liked them. Side note: this was the second time I ever met this person and first time I ever ate with her. She had no idea of my picky eating so I let her “encouragement” for me to try them slide.

Drew has a recipe he thinks I’ll love, but I have to be honest I was nervous when he first brought it up. But then he revealed how he well he knows me.

I believe our  conversation went something like this:

Drew: I have a green bean dish I used to make all the time that I think you’ll like!

Me: Eeeh…

Drew: They’re cooked completely in bacon!

Me: 🤤 OK, fine.

Photo Credit: Michelle @New Layer Photography

I’m a firm believer that bacon makes everything better. It might not be my Noom coach’s opinion, but I won’t back down!

So, the very first recipe I plan to make and try in July is Drew’s bacon green beans! After that I’m going to try out similar recipes to the Szechuan green beans I tried before, then probably go for some fried green beans. I really don’t have a desire to try fried green beans, but I’m sure it’s one way for parents of picky eaters to give to their child. So I’ll follow suite and send along any tips I come up with! I’m thinking a hot dipping sauce will be a good sidekick for these beans.

If you have a green bean recipe you think I’ll love, leave a comment or link below! I’d love to see what you guys are cooking for your picky eaters. Just one request, no green bean casseroles! Even if I liked green beans I would probably ask to skip that dish 😅


But I Thought You Liked That?! Didn’t You Eat That Before?

When I’m asked that question I often want to respond with, “There’s a difference between eating a food because I have to versus eating a food because I like it.” But I’m too passive aggressive for that. Instead, I use one of my well-worn responses that I’ve honed over the years to get away with not actually answering this question: “I ate a big lunch.” “I don’t want to fill up before dessert!” “I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian.”

Ok. I’ve never actually used that last one but I’ve definitely thought about it!

So, when we get to the qualifiers of “What do I eat” and “What do I actually like to eat,” you need to be ready to hear more details than you bargained for.

You see, there are plenty of things I’ll eat if I need to. Whether it’s to avoid offending a host or just avoiding talking about my picky eating, there are plenty of times I choke down a few bites of food before claiming I’m full. But enjoying that food is another story entirely. When you know you’re eating with a picky eater, recognize that just because they ate a certain food one way at one point in life doesn’t mean they’ll eat it in any form again.​ Even better, don’t ask why they aren’t eating it if you thought they liked it! That puts a heavy feeling of being judged and shamed for not eating something prepared for them, even if that’s not what you intended at all. Chances are they’ve had people judge or shame them for not eating in the past and it’s all too easy for those feelings to come back when someone asks an innocent question. 

These kinds of questions can bring back feelings of shame and embarrassment for your picky eater.

After more than 27 years as a picky eater, I’ve learned to fake it ‘til I make it. Someone thoughtfully prepares a chicken dish for me not realizing I don’t like bone-in wings? I’ll eat the skin around it and maybe get a little meat in there. As long as I don’t see bones or tendons I’m good! They prep cheesy potatoes I know I won’t like? In the past, when I was actually allergic to dairy, I’d plea lactose intolerance and get away without eating something I knew wouldn’t get down my throat easily. I even rejected homemade brownies once because they were made with sour cream and I had no idea what they’d taste like. Easy out: I was lactose intolerant so I didn’t touch a single brownie. Unfortunately for me, my body now produces lactase – the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose – so I’ve lost that convenient excuse. Darn you properly functioning digestive system! 

The Long Answers

But back to the question of “What Do I Like to Eat?” When I think about my answer to that question all I can think of are qualifiers. If you ask that question you can expect answers such as: 

  • I like chicken wings…but only if they’re boneless, fried, and dripping in sauce 
  • I like tomatoes…but only if they’re finely chopped and mixed in with another food, preferably something cheesy 
  • I like ham…but only if it’s a small serving, hot is a bonus, honey baked is a double bonus 
  • I like turkey…but only if it’s smoked turkey and has other salty foods with it – sure I’ll have it in a sandwich, but it should be only one or two small slices. PLEASE do not give me a big wad of meat in mayo-soaked bread! 

Do you see a pattern? “I like_____…but” is a constant phrase for me, and probably is for other picky eaters too. You see, just because I like a food a certain way doesn’t mean I like it every possible way. It’s not likely that just because you saw me eating the only food provided at a company dinner means that I actually like the food. I’ve been getting better about eating less-than-desirable food that I have no option but to eat. It’s gotten me through various work functions where only a few apps were provided, many missions trips where a few bites of salad got me through a long volunteering day, and countless dinners at friend’s houses where their parents pulled together what I can only imagine was a great meal! But I couldn’t enjoy it like I wish I could. 

What You Can Take from This

So. Before you ask a picky eater what they eat, consider rephrasing to “What’s your favorite quick dinner?” Or “What’s your favorite afternoon snack?” or even “if you could eat anything you could for lunch, what would it be?” Then you will get real, accurate answers that will actually give you the information you’ve been looking for! Even better, your picky eater will see you as someone they can trust with opening up about their eating habits. Building this trust is essential for making mealtimes more comfortable. 


Food Fail: Beef Goulash

There I was, sitting in the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague waiting for lunch to be served. I should have been enchanted with the idea of eating a meal in a historic palace half way across the world, I mean COME ON who doesn’t want to be served in a palace?! But instead I was filled with dread because they just announced the meal: beef goulash.

That’s right.

Beef.

Goulash.

I had no idea what it was, but I pictured brown, indistinguishable chunks of meat floating in brown broth, and I felt nauseous. I immediately hated palaces and all who cooked in them. To make it worse, my trusted meal buddy, Cassie, who understands my “particular” eating habits was in a completely different room with a table of friends who wouldn’t push her to try anything new if she didn’t want to. But I made the mistake of admitting I had never tried beef and didn’t want to. My table mates wouldn’t let me off the hook that easy.

For at least five minutes my table mates suggested some interesting psychotherapy of how I could trick myself into actually liking the beef when I tried it. Anything from pretending it’s another food to saying “it’s just food! The worst than can happen is you won’t like it, that’s it.” Well, as noted in my first post, not liking a food I try is one of the worst things that can happen to me.

Lobkowicz Palace is the tan building on the far left.

The food was served and didn’t look anything like the floating mass my fears cooked up in my mind. There were three pieces of (I assume) well-cut beef in a gravy with potatoes. So, finally I gave in and tried it. And guess what? No matter how much I tried to pretend it was chicken or plug my nose (super classy way to eat in a palace, I know) and swallow quickly, I didn’t like it.

Yes I was disappointed that I didn’t like the beef, but I was honestly more relieved that the conversation was over. No one was pressuring me to try the potatoes because I lied and said I liked them but wasn’t too hungry so I was fine not finishing them. In reality I was fighting back the urge to gag from the salty taste left over in my mouth and counting down the seconds until I could sneak out one of my protein bars.

I need to stop here and say I don’t blame my table mates for doing what they did. It’s what most, if not all, people do when they hear about my picky eating. It’s just that I was so over the conversation before it happened because I’ve had that same conversation hundreds of times throughout my life.

Our choir singing in a ballroom of the Lobkowicc Palace

Looking back, from the very start of this meal I was set up to fail. I let my imagination get away with me, ultimately making me more anxious and fearful of whatever plate would be set in front of me. I let others press me to try something I was very, very nervous about and had absolutely no desire to try. And I wasn’t even proud of myself for trying to food. That’s the biggest failure in my mind. It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, but trying something so outside my comfort zone should have been an exciting moment for me. It should have been something I look back at and be happy that I gave it a chance. But I don’t. I look back at the meal and wish none of it had happened. I honestly don’t even remember what we did the rest of the day because that meal stands mars the day as a negative memory.

You see attention, stress, and peer pressure is not the way to convince someone to try a food they’re terrified to eat. It sets them up to fail. The more anxious someone is to eat something the much less likely they are to like it. Parents of picky eaters, how many times have you sat in front of your crying kid at the dinner table, making them stay there until they tried the food on their plate? Of those times, how often did they actually like it?

I’m not telling you to not encourage your kids to try new things, even if they’re adamant about not wanting to try it. I’m saying the approach to convincing someone to try the food they’re terrified of eating has to change. If they’re scared, crying, cringing, or worse, then it’s time to connect with them. Say “Hey, I know this is really scary for you, but I will be so proud of you if you try just a tiny bite of this beef. That’s all you need to try, a tiny bite. If you like it, then great! If not, that’s ok. You don’t need to like it, but you should really give it a chance.” That will make a huge difference in their willingness to try something new.

Creepy picture of choir members eating because there isn’t one of me (what’s a girl to do?)

Now parents, it’s time to get real. I can’t tell you how much I see that common trope of the crying kid at a dinner table with the domineering parent telling them that they can’t go to bed if they don’t eat everything on their plate. If you find yourself in this situation then you need to stop and ask yourself if you want them to try to food because you really want them to like it, or if you want them to eat it because you told them to eat it? Are you trying to help them learn to like more foods and expand their palate, or are you trying to teach them who’s boss? I’m sure once you answer this question your opinion of them trying new foods will change for the better.

How to Create a Positive Space for Trying New Foods

Parents of picky eaters, if there’s anything you get out of this blog I hope this is it. You must create a positive atmosphere to increase the chances of your child liking a new food.

  • Don’t put the child on display while trying new foods. As you’ll see later, for me I absolutely hate it when people stare at me when trying new foods. It’s so uncomfortable and makes me want to abort immediately.
  • Don’t give them the ultimatum that if they “don’t try the food, then they’ll lose dessert, go to bed early, need to stay at the table”…you name it. That immediately increases the fear they are already experiencing and decreasing any positive vibes they may have had towards the food.
  • Don’t say “you’ll never know if you don’t try it!” I hate that saying. Not because I think it’s wrong, but because it’s so overused it has completely lost its power and meaning. I’ve personally heard it thousands of times over my 27 years on this earth and it’s changed nothing for me. Just stop.
  • If they don’t like the food, don’t say “well you only tried a little bit” or “really? I thought you’d love it!” That makes the eater feel wrong and guilty, not encouraged to try something else. I have felt wrong for years because I don’t like foods. It is an awful feeling that has literally left me crying on a bathroom floor on a missions trip praying that God would finally take the picky eater out of me (that story is for another day).
  • Do give them the option of trying a new food. Yep. The OPTION. This gives them the feeling of control and, hopefully, comfort at the table.
  • Do encourage them to play with the food without the expectation that they then must try it. I don’t mean throw it across the room. But move it around with their fork, pick it up with their hands, look at it at all angles. For me personally I don’t like surprises in my food. The more I can examine or investigate it, the more comfortable I become around it.
  • Do explain to them what kind of food this is like in relation to what they already like  (for instance, pulled pork is like pulled chicken because the texture is the same and the taste isn’t too different, especially if covered in BBQ sauce).
  • Do tell them that it’s okay to not like the food. If they try it, that’s good enough.

I truly believe this is essential to trying new foods. If you are the picky eater, don’t let pressure or stress be the driving force behind your decision to try a new food. That only sets you up to fail. Instead, only try foods around people who are patient, understand your picky eating, and aren’t looking to be “the ones” who convince you to try a new food. Those kinds of people aren’t looking out for you and your growth, they’re looking for a win for themselves.

I typically only try new foods with my fiancé, Drew, my former roommates who have seen me eat daily and know my struggle, my immediate family and some close cousins, and Cassie — you’ll hear a lot about Cassie in the future. We bonded over the fact that we are both picky eaters and quickly became each other’s safe place for any and every meal in college. When I try a new food, they all know not to stare at me as I try the food. They do watch me, but it’s different from staring. When watching, it’s the same as if we were in a normal conversation. By staring, I mean no blinking, watching my every move, and waiting for my reaction the moment it happens. That’s soooo disconcerting. I don’t like being the center of attention, especially when I try new foods. So when I feel like I’m being stared at I get nervous and the classic signs of ARFID go overboard. My throat closes up and I get hot and sweaty. This discomfort often translates to my opinion of the food, setting me up for failure.

Please be patient with your picky eater. The best way to encourage trying new foods is being encouraging. This means having a calm, kind attitude and understanding if they don’t like the food the first, second, fifth, or tenth time around. Just because you like it doesn’t mean they will, and that’s okay. 


What is ARFID?

As I said in last week’s post, I have dealt with picky eating my whole life. It went beyond pure childlike stubbornness (though I don’t doubt I was guilty of doing that once or twice in my life) and didn’t end after I got out of my parents’ home and into the adult world. This felt wrong. Being a college student with school-made meals should have pushed me to eat different foods simply because I was too hungry not to eat! I should have been more comfortable with trying new foods at this point, something that became increasingly apparent to me when I went on a trip to Europe and half my suitcase was packed with protein bars, crackers, dried fruit, and more American snack food. I was that typical American that didn’t want to try another culture’s food, and that really bothered me. But, I felt stuck, as if there was nothing that could explain my food block and that I just needed to live with it.

It took me until I was 26 to find out that there is an actual eating disorder that I can identify with, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). The National Eating Disorders website has a great definition of ARFID that I totally relate to:

ARFID is often described as being a form of “extreme picky eating.” Dr. Kim DiRé, a trauma and eating disorder specialist, states that: “Avoidant/Restrictive Eating Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder like no other. The fear of food and/or the consequences translates in ARFID individuals as “if I eat that, I will die.” The physiological constriction of the mouth tissues, throat, and digestive tract from the fear stops the ability to eat a variety of foods. 

From https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/what-exactly-arfid

When I discovered ARFID I immediately sent that description to my family, fiancé, and friends who have seen me sit through countless meals I didn’t like (shout out to Cassie!!). Their first response: well yeah, we always knew there was something more going on with you.

That was when I decided I wouldn’t be ashamed of my eating issues anymore, but instead would work to try and hopefully like new foods. Like many things in my life, if I don’t make my goals or ideas known to others then I give up after a week or two. That’s why I decided to start this blog! It is an incredibly public way for me to not only try to push my food boundaries, but hopefully help other parents of ARFIDs, kids with ARFID, and even other adults who still deal with it every day.

However, as the definition notes, this disorder is rooted in fear. Instant regret filled me as people came up with new ideas for me to try or what they think I should do first. Even worse, I made the flippant comment that if I gained 1 million followers I would try a hamburger. THAT got my roommates excited (they used my grill more than I did!). Right after I told my fiancé and roommates I’d do this, I wanted to back out. The reality of trying new foods more frequently filled me with dread. Even worse I said I’d try hamburger-of all things! Why would I want to risk ruining a good night out by trying something I don’t like? Why waste money on food I might not eat?

But this is something I’ve dealt with since I was a kid and always hated. So. Here I am almost a year after the idea of this blog came to me and I’m finally starting it. I’m committed now, whether it truly gets me to trying a hamburger or not, I will work on this blog and myself in the process. I hope this helps anyone out there who either deals with ARFID personally, has a child with ARFID, or just needs new ideas to get their picky eaters to eat.

I will be constantly researching ARFID as I go, reading any book I can find on the topic and following other food blogs.

First book on my TBR list: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: Children, Adolescents, and Adults by Jennifer J. Thomas and Kamryn T. Eddy

One note: I am not an expert in eating disorders or mental illness. I am simply a woman trying to work past this roadblock in my life and want you to follow along! I will be continually researching ARFID as I go, so stay tuned for any new tidbits I find interesting as I learn!

Second note: though I believe I meet some criteria for ARFID, I have definitely not experienced every symptom or definition. I’m lucky in that I have had family and friends come alongside me even before I found out about ARFID and have been trying to help me through my eating issues. I am starting from a very good place compared to where others are. If you believe someone in your life has a worse degree of ARFID and needs professional help, please encourage them to reach out to a professional

Feel free to comment below or email me any questions you have for me. I can’t promise to answer everything, but will do my best to help you out!


About Me

Hi all! I’m Laura Kessler, a notorious picky eater who has made some serious strides in expanding my palate over the last decade. Let me tell you a little about it.

Growing up, I always struggled with trying new foods. My parents dealt with me spitting out foods I didn’t like, crying in public over the food set in front of me, and outright refusing to even discuss trying new foods. It had gotten so bad I couldn’t sit by foods I didn’t like the look or smell of (I’m looking at you Swedish Sausage). How my mom ever got me to try new foods is a miracle — though I must admit, some minor bribing took place for things like oranges (ew) and bacon (OMG why did I fight it?!).

There’s always room for ice cream!

Many people attribute a child’s picky eating to them being stubborn to just not want to try new foods, whether they have an actual disorder is out of the question because they’re just trying to get attention. Though for some children this is true, for me it was the exact opposite. In fact, I believe I have the true eating disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Eating Disorder (AFRID) that makes trying new foods a painful, and sometimes traumatic, event for me.

Thankfully, as an adult I no longer have the “if I try this food I will die” mindset, but trying new food is still an extreme fear of mine I haven’t been able to shake on my own. Parents of children with ARFID and adults with ARFID can get treatment to help work through it. I have not sought treatment, but instead have figured out a process I like to try new foods.

Though I’ve made some progress in trying new foods, I still find it difficult to be excited at the idea of going to a new restaurant, going out to eat with new people, or doing anything food related with people outside my close friends and family. It has been so bad that an anxiety has formed around food for me to the point that it’s unusual if I don’t feel nauseous at the idea of going out to eat at a new restaurant.

Baking after a run

That being said, I’ve looked for help, ideas, resources, etc. to try to expand my palate. When preparing for this blog, I’ve googled picky eater blogs to try to see what others are writing about and get a general idea of my approach. However, I haven’t found nearly as many that offer tips/tricks for parents of or picky eaters themselves. I’ve typically found recipes and ideas on “food even your pickiest eater will love!” that, honestly, I wondered if they asked a picky eater to try it before posting it (for example, spinach and snow pea pasta?? No thank you!). Most blogs or recipes I’ve found have been written by parents of picky eaters, not the eaters themselves. Now, that’s not to say all posts/blogs I’ve read were unhelpful – on the contrary I found some I’ve agreed with quite a bit – I just struggled to connect with these writers in a way that would make me trust their suggestions or recipes.

That’s why I thought I’d begin this blog – to give other picky eaters or their parents an insider’s look into how I am managing my eating habits and am working towards expanding my palate. Through this blog, I hope to help others understand how picky eaters (including those with ARFID) view food, give tips and tricks to make trying food more appealing, and (hopefully) greatly expand my palate as well!

I must note, I am not a licensed dietician or chef by any stretch of the imagination. I am simply a woman trying to earn my Un-picky Eater status one blog post at a time.