Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Help! I have Food Neophobia!

FOBBELKNOCKERS! How did you get it? Did you catch it at school? Did you catch it from your little sister who is always crawling around on the kitchen floor? Or maybe your dog passed it on to you - you know how he always eats the food scraps from the dining table?

Well, there is good news! Food neophobia is not catchy and you can actually do something about it. The word "neophobia" (also known as "caitonophobia") comes from the Greek words "neo" meaning "new" and "phobia" meaning "fear." Yeah, you got it - fear of something new! As it relates to food, it is the fear of trying out new food. Or more simply put - a super-picky eater. Not so scary after all, right?

So, we've got to ask, what do you do when you are afraid of trying our something new in ordinary life - say for example - trying out a new summer camp - or joining a new soccer team? Do you just walk away and say, "NOPE, not gonna do it!" Do your parents let you just take a pass and not experience what might be the greatest thing you've ever done?? I doubt it. So why do you do it with food? Well, for starters, we are not born to want food other than sweet food because our mother’s milk was sweet. We must learn to like savory foods. And, scientists think that, for some people, a fear of trying new foods is genetic. Finally, there’s this thing about the texture of food. It might not even be the taste of the food. Some foods are crunchy; other foods are soft or even squishy. How you prepare the food might have a lot to do with whether you might give it a try or not.

Food neophobia is not uncommon. Tons of kids have it. Many overcome it and become great food adventurers. Others stick to what they know and miss out on a world of fantastic stuff - like roasted cauliflower, salmon burgers or mango salsa. When it boils down to healthy eating, not surprisingly, kids who are afraid of eating new things eat less vegetables, fruits and protein - the stuff that makes your mind and body grow and be strong.


Scientists have studied this issue and have found that children who are exposed to a food over and over again (up to 50 times) will eventually eat that food. Here are a few ideas:

(1) PICK UP AND TOUCH NEW FOOD: Ask your mom or dad to take you to the farmer’s market or grocery story. Let your imagination run wild! Choose your favorite color and go find fruits or vegetables in that color that you have never tried before. Pick them up. Touch them. Find out the name of that fruit or vegetable. Maybe even ask your mom or dad to buy it so you can try it out!

(2) SMELL NEW FOOD: Even if you don’t want to eat a vegetable on your plate, pick it up and smell it. What does it smell like? Would it smell different (better) with mustard or butter or cheese or hot sauce? Maybe ask your mom or dad to find a recipe next time that will incorporate some other ingredient you love, like peanut butter or tomatoes (not both)!

(3) LICK NEW FOOD: At least give a new food a chance at you eating it! Sometimes smell is deceiving. Broccoli smells DISGUSTING! But it tastes fabulous. Papaya smells super gross too. But have you ever had papaya with lime juice squeezed on it? It is so delicious and it is one of the best fruits around for tummy problems.

(4) HELP COOK NEW FOOD: Like picking up and touching new food, cooking new food helps familiarize you with it. When your mom brings celery root home for the family dinner, ask her if you can scrub and peel that knotty-looking veg. Notice how sweet it smells (and how much like celery it smells)? Ask her if you can sauté it or cook it in the stock for your soup. What other vegetables might taste good with it? Perhaps you can ask if you can find a recipe on-line for it that interests you?

(5) TASTE AND EAT NEW FOOD: Finally, take a deep breath and give it a go! Everything you do today that is routine was once new to you. That’s the same with food. Food that you will enjoy when you are a teen or an adult will once have been a new food that you might have been afraid to try. So try it out. If you don’t like it this go-around, politely ask your mom or dad if you can “take a pass today.” But don’t close the door on tasting it again next time!

So kick your neophobic habit. Like trying to boogie board or meeting a new person, trying a new food can be scary. But if you don’t try it, you might never know how wonderful it is! And you might never benefit from its amazing nutritional benefits. Take the challenge: If you don't eat the following foods already, ask your mom or dad to put them on your next week's grocery list:

  • cauliflower
  • celery root
  • beets
  • anchovies
  • kiwi
  • plantains
  • coconut milk or coconut water
  • quinoa
  • pumpkin seeds
  • dates
Tell us what you are afraid to eat and what you have done or will do to try and overcome your fear. Maybe we can pass along a tasty recipe for you to try!

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