I have a confession to make: I, a food blogger, restaurant reviewer and general scoffer, used to be a fussy eater. And when I say fussy, I mean really fussy. Amongst the things I did not eat unless coerced were the following:
Any vegetables other than carrots, peas and potatoes – with a particular aversion to broccoli, aubergines, celery, sweet potatoes, broad beans, leeks, parsnips, mushrooms, squash, courgettes and spring onions
Salad leaves other than iceberg lettuce
Any condiments other than ketchup
Any cheese apart from cheddar or Brie
Any pulses or beans except baked beans
Anything containing even the smallest amount of chilli or curry powder
Any fish or seafood apart from battered cod
Sandwiches with more than one filling
Dishes from any cuisine except English and Italian
Desserts not made by my mum
It was a bit of a miserable way to live, if I’m completely honest. I was a fussy child and a fussy teen, and I dreaded eating out, whether at restaurants or other people’s houses, knowing that I would have to pick through everything on my plate, avoiding all the things I didn’t like. Although I liked to eat, I only really enjoyed my food when I knew exactly what it was, which pretty much confined me to the dishes made by my mum on a regular basis (although there were quite a few of hers that I didn’t like either – sorry Mum. I think you probably noticed that I wasn’t wild about moussaka.)
Even when I went to uni and started cooking for myself, I stuck to a few familiar dishes - in fact, I was probably even less adventurous, because no one was making me try new things. I remember the slight panic of being invited out for someone’s birthday dinner and discovering it was going to be at a Thai restaurant, where I was sure I wouldn’t find anything familiar on the menu – and if I didn’t know what was in something, I didn’t like it. It was almost entirely a psychological thing, where I had firmly decided in my head that all of the things on the list above were completely unpalatable to me.
The weird thing was, as soon as I managed to get rid of that preconception, I discovered that I actually did like almost all of those flavours – I’d just never let myself notice before.
What did it for me was spending a fantastic year living in Paris, where most of the things on the menu were a complete mystery to me. I spoke French of course, but in France the language of food is highly specialised and often quite technical, so although I could sometimes pick out the key ingredients I often had no idea how they would go together in a dish. I was lucky enough to work for a company which offered its employees a heavily-subsidised restaurant serving a huge range of freshly-prepared food, which you could choose from different counters. So for the first time, I could see and smell the food before I knew what was in it, and that really helped me to start trying delicious things without any preconceptions. I started to enjoy trying new things and I realised that a good chef can be trusted to combine ingredients and processes in a way that results in something delicious, even if you’re not sure about it yourself. I’ve since tested this many, many times (I’m now a bit addicted to trying new stuff) and now hardly ever come across something I dislike.
So this is my message for fussy eaters everywhere – I know how easy it is to rule out all the things you don’t like, but I also know how exhausting and boring that is. So consider this: there’s a pretty good chance that it’s all in your head. And if you can get past your preconceptions, you’ll discover how exciting it is to try new dishes and flavours. Parents, if you’re dealing with a fussy teen, there’s hope yet; I was one of the worst, but now there’s barely anything I don’t like.
Most of all, the important thing is to try and change your mind about food, because the psychological factor is so crucial. It might seem tough, but honestly, the end result is so worth it. The reason I started this blog was to document my own adventures in food and cooking, and I want to encourage other people to dive in and have a go. That’s why I do my best to make sure my recipes are accessible – I don’t want to focus purely on ‘easy’ food, but I do want to introduce my readers to different processes, ingredients and cuisines in a way that’s not intimidating! A good meal is something we all need every day, but rather than a simple refuelling exercise it can also be a fantastic adventure and something truly enjoyable. So whether you’re a fussy eater, you have to cook for one, or you’re just a bit stuck in a rut as far as eating habits are concerned, I hope you’ll give some of my recipes a try. Experiment, have fun, and get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.