How traveling cured a picky eater

How traveling cured a picky eater


Growing up, I was a picky eater. It’s an awful side effect of being an only child. I would only eat bananas and cucumbers if they were “thinly sliced.” I refused most green vegetables. In high school, my mom demanded I write a list of the vegetables I would eat–and the very short list is still posted on my family’s refrigerator (see above). I didn’t like spicy food, fish, anything burnt–the list goes on and on.

Watching the kids on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution made me extremely worried about the future of America, yet I could see myself in the chubby hands demanding chicken nuggets. While I played sports and luckily had a fast metabolism, I threw away the healthy lunches my mother lovingly packed for me and bought greasy pepperoni pizza or french fries for lunch. I mastered the art of pushing things around on my plate long enough so that I could be excused, and then would insist on a bowl of cereal before bed.

When I was 16, my mother sent me to live with family friends in Provence for the summer. For the first time, I couldn’t pull the “picky eater” card to get out of finishing my plate. That summer, I tried avocados, escargots, zucchini, figs and endives for the first time. I fell in love with eggplant and cheese other than cheddar (including Brie, Camembert and Rocquefort).

In short, I was forced to try new things–and I benefited from it. Even so, I stopped short when #TNI asked what the most adventurous food that I ever tried. Adventurous? With food? Me? I mean, I really like sushi. There was my escargot adventure in Provence. I try to buy a new vegetable every time I go to farmers market. But as I read the list of answers, I was disappointed in myself for not trying more. If I hadn’t opened myself to trying new things, I never would have discovered les moules marinière in Nice, Hungarian goulash in Budapest, truffles in Italy. So why haven’t I tried oysters, scallops, olives?

The great thing about travel is the chance to try new things. It’s a chance to see what other cultures enjoy and what they consider delicacies. Meals are also a key bonding time, an opportunity to prove yourself to natives–like when I took shots of homemade apéritif (otherwise known as the strongest liquor known to man) with a group of French teenagers my first summer in France.

Even if you don’t have a chance to travel, try something new. Order something off the menu that you haven’t tried before. Go to farmers market and find a vegetable you’ve never seen before, and ask how to prepare it. Don’t get sucked into a world of chicken nuggets, pizza and the chicken-and-veggies staple you rely on five out of seven nights for dinner.

What’s your favorite food you’ve discovered while traveling? The most adventurous? Any interesting foreign mealtime stories to share? I’d love some words of encouragement before I embark on an adventure to try new things–including, perhaps, Vegemite.

  • I also used to be a really picky eater as a child. Traveling and just general maturity have made me much more inclined to try new things. Sometimes it really forces me to push my boundaries (I hate fish, but I'm going to Asia so I suspect I'll have to let that prejudice go).

    Except mushrooms. I still loathe them.

  • magicant

    Wonderful – not trying new foods while I'm traveling has been one of my biggest regrets and one of the things I've vowed to change for future trips. I may never be a foodie, but food is definitely part of the culture I want to absorb.

  • Haha love that list there! 😉 I think we all focus too much on sweet, salty and sour foods, and totally miss out of all the other flavors!

  • Hey Christine thanks for the shout out, oh and don't worry you'll be trying vegemite 🙂

    Since deciding to travel I've adopted a no regrets policy. I will say yes to everything instead of no. I can't wait to get out there and sample everything Europe has to offer me.

  • I'm pretty lucky in that I've never been really picky but I am a Heinz ketchup addict. On this trip I resisted the temptation to bring a bottle or even packets. One week into my RTW and I'm still alive 🙂

  • LostInCheeseland

    I think you and I are twins separated by an ocean. I wasn't an only child but I grew up never being FORCED to eat variety. It would take me forever to finish my bowl of corn, most of which ended up in a napkin (surreptitiously of course). I wasn't a big fan of veggies, Caesar salad was about as far as I'd go in terms of greens, and any fruit besides bananas and apples got a shake of the head. It wasn't until I moved to Paris and found myself going out to restaurants where I liked virtually NOTHING on the menu and dating a Frenchman with a more adventurous palette. With the exception of certain foods (I don't eat pork but that's by choice, I don't like lamb or duck, nor artichokes unless in dip form, peas or beets) I've vastly expanded my diet and am grateful I've evolved!

    Traveling can make a world of difference in more ways than one!

  • I haven't been a picky eater (that was always my little sister), but I haven't been very adventurous or daring until recently. Travel has definitely changed me in that sense!

    Also, I love that you still have the list of veggies that you would eat as a kid!

  • Yes to everything? Hah! Good luck with that 🙂

  • camorose

    Luckily, I still like all the veggies on that list–and my mom still refers to it when I come home. I think I might have to add a few more so we have some variety in our meals!

  • camorose

    So true! France has been the location for many of my new food experiences. I've loved some, like figs and duck, but can't stand others, like foie gras. I'm hoping to maintain an open mind once I show up in Nice: there is a lot of seafood that I haven't tried before and I'm hoping I love it all!

  • camorose

    That's great! One of my picky eater habits: I hated condiments. I refused ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, relish, any sauces. I'm still not beyond wiping mayonnaise off my sandwiches, but I've gotten better about testing different sauces out instead of refusing flat-out. Can't wait to hear more about your RTW and the crazy foods you get to try!

  • camorose

    That's a great attitude to have! I'll try to have the same openminded attitude, but it might take me some time before I can say yes to everything!

  • camorose

    Excellent point–any flavors in particular you recommend?

  • camorose

    Food is such a huge part of every culture–it can tell you so much about people and what they value. I also regret not trying more on previous trips, but I hope that being willing to try new foods will enhance my future travel experiences 🙂

  • camorose

    I hated fish growing up, but now it's one of my favorite foods–both cooked and raw! I hope that you fall in love with fish in Asia 🙂
    And I don't like mushrooms either. I accept that I'm not going to like everything–but as long as I try it, I can't regret anything!

  • When I come visit–and then you come with me to visit Iceland–you can try putrified shark…maybe some ram testicles that I never got the chance to try? Oh and some blood pudding that I also didn't get to try? Y-E-S. THOSE will make some fantastic stories (and pictures! 😉 )

  • OH and of course, some smoked puffin. Duh.


  • camorose

    I don't how I feel about this. I'm tackling seafood first, and then we can talk about blood pudding. I'm proud of you for trying all those crazy things though! Very good way to learn more about Icelandic culture 🙂

  • suzyguese

    I could really relate to your foreign food experience. Seldom do I try something new, but when I lived with a host family for the first time when I was 18 in Italy, I had to eat whatever they put in front of me. Suddenly that mystery meat could not just be pushed aside. I think travel makes you more open to new things, specifically food wise. I'm not very adventurous when it comes to food but I did try this seafood pasta my host dad made with octopus, etc. I had no idea what I was eating, but it was experience nonetheless.

  • camorose

    I think living with a family really pushes you to try new things, since you don't want to be rude! That's definitely what motivated me to try new foods when I was living in France at 16: I knew my mother would be mortified if I refused to eat something I had never tried before when our family friends were nice enough to host me! PS thanks for the stumble 🙂

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