I have been preparing my own meals for many years. Like most people, I suppose, I would fix only familiar dishes.
That has changed. For health benefits, I began eating more fruits and vegetables, including some that were unfamiliar. I tried many foods that were new to me, for example, whole grains, and various types of beans, seeds and nuts. Many of those became favorites.
I began to more often use unfamiliar ways to prepare food. A few of my favorites are pesto (pureed greens and oil), raw foods that are normally eaten cooked, and unusual combinations such as bread with peanut butter, covered with pizza sauce. Eating became more interesting, more enjoyable, and more of an adventure.
The circumstances of my life encouraged a varied diet. Making do with a small amount of money gave me a liking for oatmeal, beans, and other very low-cost foods. Growing up on a farm and having a garden each year provided new fruits and vegetables to try and enjoy. Having been raised to ‘waste not, want not’, helped me not to pass up unusual foods: gifts such as my sister’s ‘beans ‘n’ greens’, the landlord’s pierogies, a neighbor’s gift of venison, and my son’s homemade deer jerky. Some of those unfamiliar foods were not enjoyed at first because they were so unfamiliar and were unrecognized as a ‘goody’. For me, that recognition is typically made gradually by many small trials. But it seems that the more often I attempt to enjoy an unfamiliar food, the more success I will have.
The process of trying new foods and having them become enjoyed fare, turns eating into an adventure. Eating becomes more interesting and more enjoyed. Meals become more than a time to enjoy what I have enjoyed before. Awareness is heightened by experiencing the unfamiliar. There is anticipation of discovery of a new enjoyment. Meals become pay-off times of previous experimentation efforts. The food is more appreciated for having creative effort invested in it. Perhaps I have gained a health benefit, saved some prep time, saved money that can be used for some other purpose, and have added to my repertoire of pleasure.
A cookbook will give you ideas about what new foods to try. A recipe book about a particular ethnic food or some other unfamiliar category of food would be particularly helpful. Buy one or get one from the library. Some ethnic categories are Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, African, soul food, Southern, and Mexican. Other categories are health food, quick and easy recipes, weight loss diets, vegetarian recipes, and using food from the garden. You might even enjoy some obscure categories such as pioneer/early American food, Native American food, wild food, early European food, food from storage, and low cost food. I particularly like quick and easy recipe books.
If you need help becoming comfortable with trying new foods, try small changes:
– Eat breakfast foods at lunch or supper. Or try a vegetable at breakfast. If you normally have a sandwich at bedtime, have a salad instead.
– Try different brands from the ones you normally use.
– Leave out one or more ingredients from your standard recipes. Or change the proportions – a little more of this or a little less of that.
– Substitute a similar ingredient for a usual ingredient, for instance, orange juice concentrate or lemon juice instead of vinegar on a salad.
– It may help to eat smaller portions but include a greater number of foods at each meal. That may help you develop a liking for variety.
– Try unusual combinations such as cooked chicken and raw fruit cut in small pieces and mixed together…or pizza sauce on a peanut butter open-face sandwich…or a teaspoon of honey or pancake syrup on a dark green, leafy salad.
Salads are great to experiment with. Use another type of greens instead of or in addition to the standard iceberg lettuce. Add various amounts and combinations of any vegetables that you enjoy. The vegetables can be proportioned to subdue or enhance particular flavors – use less basil to lessen its pungent flavor, use more carrot to boost its flavor and texture. Add ingredients that are not normally thought of as salad ingredients such as nuts, peanuts, coconut, cereal, raisins, whole wheat flour, baked beans, sugar, and fruit. Try something different for a dressing such as plain oil, pasta sauce, or peanut butter softened with oil.
Use small quantities of an untested food to begin with until you know how well your body deals with it. The body will adapt to some foods over a period of weeks or months but results vary from food to food and, I suppose, from individual to individual. A couple of years ago eating one spear of raw asparagus was more than I could tolerate. Now I can cut up two ounces of raw asparagus and add it to a salad without any problem. Any food has limits; it’s just that raw foods tend to have more immediate penalties for exceeding the limits.
To develop a liking for a new food, eat it at the beginning of a meal when you are most hungry. Being hungry greatly improves ones ability to appreciate the taste of a food. Eat only a small amount of the new food at each sitting. For some foods, a tiny bite, just enough to sense its flavor, is enough to handle at first. Don’t give up easily on a food that at first seems too strange to be enjoyed. Some foods will require dozens of ‘get acquainted’ trials.
Other strategies for liking new foods:
– Read about nutrition and health to know the benefits of a changed diet.
– Make a decision to increase the pleasure in your life. Your success in enjoying new foods will encourage you to try other kinds of new pleasures.
Have reasons in mind to try unusual foods:
– to be able to enjoy healthy foods.
– to enjoy low-prep-time foods.
– to use what you can grow in your garden.
– for the satisfaction of acquiring new pleasures.
– to increase your enjoyment of eating.
Know why liking new foods is difficult. This is the know-your-enemy principle. It seems to help me. People have an instinctive protection against eating toxic foods. Nature has provided you with mistrust for new, unfamiliar food. If the food is enough different from what you are used to, it will not be immediately liked. This is a necessary instinct that keeps you from poisoning yourself by eating the wrong mushroom, for example. Evolution along with chemistry eliminated the gulp-down-anything individuals from our gene pool. The little-by-little taste-developers survived.
If it’s the sugar, salt and spices you depend upon to enjoy food, other flavors will go unappreciated. To help your fondness for new foods come easier, ease up on spices, salt, and sugar. That encourages your taste to appreciate a greater variety of flavors. You then can more appreciate the sweetness of cherry tomatoes, the sweetness of fresh fruit, and the sweetness of sweet potatoes, for example. You can enjoy the mild flavor of raw chestnuts, the richness of nuts, and the subtle starchiness of cereal grains. Your palate will be more adept at experiencing the pleasures of subtle flavors. A great many foods that previously seemed mostly tasteless, can then be enjoyed for their unique flavors.
Your enjoyment of strong tasting food will also be helped by reducing sugar and salt use. You will be switching from depending on saltiness and sweetness to getting pleasure from a greater variety of flavors.
Finding new foods:
– Browse at a health food store, a farmers market or an ethnic food festival.
– Take the time to look at all the items at a local supermarket.
– Browse at local ethnic food markets: Middle Eastern or Greek, for example.
– Try raw foods, whole grains and other unprocessed foods. Typically, they have more texture and flavor. These foods are higher in fiber and so produce more intestinal gas. Limit portion size to reduce gas production. Load up when gas will not be a problem. I allow myself to pig-out at a before bedtime meal. If the meal is low in calories, that large meal doesn’t keep me from having a good night’s sleep.
– Do your own cooking. Restaurants have menus that appeal to a majority of people, not to people wanting something different. Even the person who cooks for their own family may be unlikely to prepare other than familiar and popular food.
– Have a garden, if you have the time and space. Every year I can try out new recipes and a new vegetable or two. Otherwise, take advantage of the variety the large supermarkets offer.