I’ve been posting about food a lot lately, over on my Facebook Page, and I’ve gotten quite a few comments from people, saying they’d love to change the way their family eats, but their partner is SO picky. They say they’d love to try to eat less meat, but their partners will never go for it. It got me thinking, and I realized that I have seen about a million articles about getting picky kids to eat, but never one about how to get your picky partner to expand their horizons. I suppose it is just assumed that, because someone is an adult, that their tastes are fixed and there is no hope of getting them to try new things. Which is complete crap. If you are a grown-up, you should always be willing to try new things. That’s part of what is awesome about being a grown up!
I know what it’s like to cook for a picky partner. Chev is crazy picky about food. But I’ve learned to work around it, and I thought I’d share some of my secrets with you.
Let’s start by talking about Chev. She’ll love that. Chev is very much a “meat and potatoes” kind of person. If it were up to her, all of our dinners would consist of a meat (beef, chicken, or pork), a starch (potatoes, rice, or pasta), and maybe a vegetable (corn, peas, or broccoli). Maybe with the occasional pizza or taco night thrown in. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with eating like this; millions of people eat like this every day. As someone who likes to cook and try new things, however, it is soul-crushingly boring. Plus, I have borderline high cholesterol, so eating meat every day isn’t going to fly. Oh, and meat is crazy expensive. Seriously, one of the easiest way to cut your grocery bill is to cut back on meat. But I digress…
Chev is picky. Oh, so picky. The list of things she doesn’t like is a mile long, ranging from the exotic (curry of any sort) to the commonplace (tomatoes), and it makes my life a heck of a lot more difficult when it comes to meal planning. I have discovered something, however, that has made my life much easier. There is a difference between what she doesn’t LIKE and what she absolutely will NOT eat. Think about it for a minute. This holds true for most people. I don’t really care for brussel sprouts, but I’ll eat one or two if they are on my plate. But there is no way in hell that you are going to convince me that liver isn’t just glorified dog food. We all have our limits. Find your partner’s limits. Figure out the things that they don’t even want to look at, let alone eat. Those are your deal breakers. Don’t even bother trying to sneak them in. For Chev that would be fish. She hates fish. She’ll eat shrimp, scallops, crab, ect, but if it has fins and swims, forget it. Except tuna from a can. Apparently that is so far removed from the fish that it’s ok. I don’t even try to understand it anymore.
Now that you know what is completely off limits, take a look at what is left on the “dislike” list. Is there a way to prepare some of those foods that your partner might find more palatable? Chev hates squash, because she doesn’t like the squishy texture they get when cooked, but I have a recipe for zucchini fritters that she really likes. Why? Because they are crispy, not mushy. This works for a lot of foods. I don’t like cooked cabbage (I think it tastes like farts smell), but I love raw cabbage (crispy crunchy goodness!). So if your partner says they don’t like mushrooms, but you know that the only mushrooms they’ve ever eaten are the nasty canned ones that get put on top of pizza (shudder), try adding some fresh baby bellas to your next stir fry or pasta dish and see what happens. I’d be willing to bet that you can cross a few more things off of the list.
By now you should have a much more manageable list of foods that your partner won’t eat, so let’s talk about modifying recipes. You can almost always change a recipe to accommodate different tastes. There are a bunch of ways you can do this, from leaving out certain ingredients to changing the ingredients to something more acceptable to the picky party. I’ll give you some examples….
Shallots: onions for people who don’t like onions. These little beauties are quite possibly the least oniony onions I’ve found. I use them in place of onions for every recipe I make. They still give dishes the proper base, without horribly over-powering everything else.
Paprika: just say no to black pepper. Chev HATES black pepper. We don’t even have it in the house. Leaving pepper out of your recipes can make for some seriously bland food, however, so I use paprika. It has a nice, mild flavor so it won’t conflict with any other herbs or spices you are using.
Herbs instead of salt. Neither of us are big on salt, and its really not that great for you anyway, so I use a lot of herbs in my cooking. Don’t be scared of herbs! Just keep a few basics on-hand. Remember, basil goes with everything. Thyme and oregano go with Italian. Cilantro is great with Mexican. Sage and rosemary are great with roasted meats (but go easy on the rosemary….a little goes a long way!)
Sauces are replaceable. Sometimes you find a great recipe, but then you start reading the ingredients for the sauce that goes with/over it and you think, “Well so much for that. S/he’ll never eat it.” I hear you, my friends, but don’t chuck the whole recipe! We eat a lot of stir fry, but I never make the sauces that go along with the recipes. Chev doesn’t like ginger. Or vinegar. Or anything else with strong flavors. So this is what I do; I replace the sauce with one I know she’ll eat. I keep a bottle of her favorite Asian sauce in the fridge; if she doesn’t like the sauce I made, she can always put some of that on her food. Similarly, she won’t eat vinegar-based salad dressing, which seriously limits what kinds of pasta and grain salads I make. Well, it did before I discovered a trick…. I add mayo to the vinaigrette. Poof! Her brain thinks, “Yum! A creamy dressing!” and she eats it. Seriously, I wish I had figured this out years ago.
The same tricks you use on your kids can work on your partner. Shredding zucchini into sauces, using a smooth tomato sauce instead of a chunky one, pureeing veggies so they are less noticeable, and being all around sneaky can help you get different things into your partner without them even realizing it. Chev hates chunks of tomato in her spaghetti sauce, so I buy smooth sauce (or chuck it in the food processor if I’m making my own.) It’s the same thing, but made a little more picky-person-friendly.
I know what you are thinking. “That’s all well and good, but there is no way my partner is going to willingly stop eating meat every day.” I’ll be honest, it was a big shock to Chev’s system when I told her that we were only going to be eating meat every other day. Its a lot less than that now. We eat approximately four to five meat dishes in a two week time span. The trick is to make food so hearty that they don’t miss the meat. Load up on beans, legumes, hearty pasta dishes, quinoa (try the rainbow variety, it tastes better), and casseroles. I found recipes for bean bolognese, veggie pot pie, veggie chowder, and so much more on Pinterest
Don’t go crazy with new ingredients at first; ease your partner into change. Don’t make a big deal about things. Just start substituting something new for something old. Tuesday night is usually pasta night? Great! Instead of meat sauce, try a creamy spinach sauce. Do you like to make casseroles? Awesome! Instead of a chicken rice casserole, try broccoli quinoa casserole (one of Chev’s favorites). Looking for something quick, but sick of sandwiches? Try hummus melts (so easy, but so good.) Just start adding some new stuff into your rotation and see how it goes. Chances are, the less of a big deal you make it, the less your partner will object.
My final bit of advice is to tell you to put your foot down. We have a rule at our house; no matter what I put in front of Chev, she isn’t allowed to say bad things, make yucky noises, or icky faces. Why? Because I’ll be damned if she is going to pass her pickiness along to the girls. I have also made it clear to her that, while I will try to accommodate her pickiness, sometimes I just want to eat green beans with dinner, and she needs to deal with it. She’s a grown woman, and sometimes that means sucking it up and eating what is put in front of her…. or making her own darn dinner!