Trying to lose weight as a picky eater can be frustrating. It’s like bowling with a ball of rubber bands: You just don’t have the nutritional heft you need to knock inches off your waistline.
Vegetables, fruits, and seafood are all heavyweights in terms of vitamins and minerals, but according to University of Pennsylvania researchers, they’re also the three foods picky eaters are most likely to avoid.1 And ultimately, that leads to less-healthy diets overall, according to surveys from the same team.2
Truth is, adventurous diets can be good for you. Rejecting foods based on color and texture can rob you of the micro and macronutrients you need for peak metabolism. But by eating a wide variety of nutritious foods in smart portions, you can improve your body’s ability to quell aches and pains from inflammation, boost your energy levels, and even reduce pesky fat around your belly.
If you’re a picky eater, you have a hurdle to overcome. But you can do it: With methodical dietary upgrades, you can still build a weight loss meal plan that works. Here’s our guide to healthy eating for picky eaters.
1. Try one new food every week.
Set a weekly date to eat something that you’ve generally avoided until now. Maybe it’s tomatoes or spinach. Maybe you’ve always been hesitant about trying cottage cheese. Your challenge is to designate a “new food” day to incorporate at least one of those items into a meal.
Photo by Anne-Sophie Benoit on Unsplash
Saturdays and Sundays are good days for this because you probably have more flexibility for food prep. But here’s the challenge: If you try something and don’t like it, try to mentally frame your aversion as, “I don’t like this food prepared like this.” In other words, don’t blame the tomato or the spinach. You can try it again, later, prepared in a different way.
By designating one day as your new-food day, you’ll stay accountable to your goal of expanding your palate, and at the same time, you’ll have a full week between meals to strategize how to make the next dish enjoyable.
2. Incorporate new foods into classic dishes you already love.
Worried about your new-food day? Start by adding the questionable item into a dish you already know and love. For instance, if you’re adding spinach to your diet, don’t just eat a big bowl of raw leaves. Instead, add a few pieces to a homemade pizza or blend it into your favorite fruit smoothie. (Check out these 7 Brilliant Areas to Add Spinach for more ideas.)
Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash
This principle holds with other foods as well. You can sprinkle berries over yogurt or add okra to your stir-fry. The point is to think of new foods as ingredients, not stand-alone dishes.
3. Experiment with spices.
A familiar spice blend — like curry powder, Cajun seasoning, Old Bay, or any other blend you enjoy — is a great way to create familiarity across foods. So say you have a blend you already put on your chicken. Try sprinkling it over grilled asparagus to see if it makes the vegetable more agreeable to your taste buds. (You can also learn more about flavor-matching here: Perfect Vegetables and Spices Pairing.)
And if you’re not sure where to start, go with heat. Research suggests that by gradually increasing the firepower from spices like chili pepper, you might ultimately come to crave sodium less.3 That could help you eat fewer salty foods like chips and French fries while making room for healthier foods like roasted carrots and Brussel’s sprouts. Here’s how much sodium you should actually have in a day.
4. Start a weight loss plan built on familiar foods.
The reality is that even non-picky eaters struggle a little when it comes to new foods. Unfamiliar vegetables, grains, and cuts of meat present new cooking challenges, and if you haven’t seen the food prepared properly, you don’t know how it should look or taste.
That’s where it can be useful to subscribe to a meal plan that surprises you with new dishes cooked, seasoned, and assembled properly. You’ll introduce yourself to foods and flavors prepared the right way, which can help your preferences acclimate quickly.
Jenny Craig's weight loss program works with real chefs to incorporate healthy ingredients into familiar foods — think pizza, pasta, and waffles — without overpowering the dish. We launched 20 new menu items this year alone, and you can shop our meal plans here.
5. Trick yourself!
Sometimes it helps to simply pretend the new food isn’t new at all. This works particularly well with vegetables — shredded cabbage and grated carrots will essentially disappear into stews, meatloaf, or spaghetti sauce. And try replacing the pasta with zoodles, the spiralized zucchini strips that function like noodles.
Other options are tater tots (made with broccoli) and buffalo chicken bites (which are actually cauliflower).
By conscientiously expanding your palate, you’ll open yourself up to a wider spectrum of nutrients that will ultimately help you look and feel your best. Discover more ways Jenny Craig can help you on your weight loss journey, including diets for picky eaters. Get delicious meals delivered to your doorstep today!
Clint Carter is a reporter with more than a decade of experience in health, nutrition, and fitness, and his stories have appeared in Men's Health, Women's Health, Shape, and other fitness-driven magazines. His reporting is driven by the belief that foods are rarely ever "good" or "bad," but rather, their value depends on how they fit into an overall diet. His favorite meals are those consumed at a campsite, and much of his time is spent cycling and hiking around his home in New York's Hudson Valley.
Favorite healthy snack: sardines and avocado on toast
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including a scientific, peer-reviewed paper. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
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