If, like me, you have struggled to eat a balanced diet, you know that there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. For some people, it’s that you never eat enough fruits and vegetables, others just don’t know a lot about cooking or food science, and ultimately, we almost all suffer from a lack of diversity in our diets because we don’t know what we like, and don’t want to waste money on new foods we might not like. If any of this rings true to you, check out the video above, or the article below, for 5 tips to make the process easier.
Try New Things
There are about 200 different fruits and vegetables in the average American grocery store produce department. You almost certainly haven’t tried all of them, much less the options that also come in different forms, like canned, frozen, pre-cooked, or just plain pre-washed. You don’t have to force yourself to eat foods that taste bad. All you need to do is find another food that you like (or can tolerate) and start including that in your meals. If you don’t have a lot of money to “waste” experimenting, buy small amounts to start. Many produce grocers will even give you a sample if you ask about a fruit or vegetable that’s new to you, so long as it’s edible fresh and doesn’t require cooking. This is how I tried dragonfruit, star fruit, and mangoes for the first time! Your friendly local grocer might not be into this, so if they decline (or don’t offer) don’t be too disappointed. Just buy a single piece of fruit and try it at home.
Change the Food
Food preparation is often a matter of chemistry. The most basic chemical function we have is adding heat, AKA cooking. When we cook foods, we are sometimes just breaking down some of the cell walls, like wilting greens to put in a dish. Other times, we are out to break down the structure of the food, like when we boil potatoes to make mashed potatoes. But a lot of times, people forget that there is a middle ground. There are many cooking techniques that rely on applying more or less heat, for more or less time, in different kinds of pots and pans. If there’s a flavor in a fruit or vegetable that you don’t like, it’s possible that that food will lose that flavor when cooked. Other compounds, such as acids, might be neutralized in the process of cooking, because they bond with other ingredients. Many acidic vegetables, when cooked in oil, become much more palatable to those who aren’t used to the flavor of the raw food.
You can also change the shape of the food for a big impact! By slicing, dicing, shredding, mincing, or blending your food, you can make the individual pieces less of a dominant factor in the dish. Some foods are great when chopped fine and added as an accent flavor, even if you wouldn’t normally eat that food alone. For example, carrots, onions, celery, and garlic are all aromatic foods, which mean they lend a lot of flavor to a dish by adding small amounts of them to the dish. If there’s something that you find unpleasant to bite into, but like the flavor of, you can puree the food and add it to soups, sauces, and countless other dishes without ever having to bite into it. Mushroom is a good example of this, because many people find both raw and cooked mushrooms to be to rubbery, to soft, or any number of other complaints. When I cook with mushroom, I will often cook with large chunks in the dish for flavor, and then blend them with the liquid of the dish to incorporate them into the dish in a way that doesn’t suffer from the pitfalls of cooking with mushrooms.
Keep a Food Journal
This one might seem silly at first, but I assure you, it’s a powerful tool! All you have to do is record the foods you like and don’t like. By doing this, you can look for trends. Do you like apples and pears, but not oranges and limes? Maybe it’s sourness, or acid, or texture! By identifying what you don’t like about a food, you can find ways to replace that food in a recipe, or change the food to avoid that part you don’t like.
Experiment with Friends
For this tip, all you need is one friend (or more) who is willing to eat with you. You make a dish that they haven’t had, they make a dish that you haven’t had. Since you’re both (presumably) making food you like, you can try each other’s dishes without risking anyone going hungry, or food going to waste. If you do this with more friends, you can try many dishes in a short period of time to help you fill in your food journal, or just learn about dishes you like in general.
Ask Family and Friends
One of my prized possessions is my grandmother’s recipe collection. I don’t just prize it for sentimentality, however. It’s also a catalog of everything she cooked when I was growing up. This enables me to quickly refer to dishes I liked or didn’t like to get a lot of information about foods I should try. For example, I thought until a few weeks ago that I didn’t like pasta salad. But when I made my grandmother’s pasta salad, I really enjoyed it. The big difference? The recipe my wife uses calls for red bell pepper, and my grandmother’s calls for pepperoni. It turns out I love pasta salad, I just don’t like red bell pepper. Swap out one ingredient, and now I’m eating more vegetables overall, even if the dish itself has fewer veggies than my wife would like.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Quit Trying!
Whenever we try to make healthy changes, it’s normal to have days when we aren’t “perfect”. We have extra dessert, fewer fruits and veggies, or just too much food in general. That’s okay! Improving your diet one meal a week, and going to two meals a week a month later is perfectly valid. It’s also understandable to have a “backsliding” day, where you eat according to old habits, and have to rally. Just keep moving forward. You didn’t fail. You didn’t give up. Just try again next time, and you’ll get there eventually.
I hope you found the video and/or article helpful. I’m not a dietician, but these 5 practical tips for eating better each made a big difference for me as I’ve moved away from a lifetime of poverty and food insecurity. Anyone can make better choices, and it can happen at any time in your life. I’m still working on it, and you might be, too. That just means we’re still trying, and that is what I call winning.