Being a picky eater (especially when it comes to broccoli) has always been a huge struggle for me. Whether a friend is making dinner or we're picking a restaurant for a night out, I often feel a sense of embarrassment when I'm the one hold-up for the rest of the crew that's trying to go somewhere fancy or unique.
Over time, I've figured out a few hacks for finding things to eat at non-traditional restaurants without making a scene, but I've always wondered if there were a way to train myself to genuinely stop being such a picky eater—not only for the convenience, but for the health aspect as well.
I was inspired to do some research... and I found that there might just be a way. According to Women's Health, sprinkling something that you do like (parmesan cheese, soy sauce, etc.) on top of a serving of a food you don't like will help to mask the taste and allow your brain to form a positive association with that food. Bon Appétit recommends masking any flavor you find to be off-putting or unsavory by sprinkling sugar on the food, and then slowly removing the sweetener over time.
Intrigued by both ideas, I decided to test the science behind picky eating and train myself over the course of one week to like broccoli. (Before writing this, I was making a pile of broccoli on the furthest possible corner of my dinner plate.)
Spoiler alert: there may actually be some light at the end of the tunnel. Read on to follow my dramatic and life-changing journey from a girl with an aversion to veggies to a broccoli connoisseur.
Day 1: No hope in sight
For day one, I thought I would just try facing the broccoli head on with no added flavors. My supportive suite mate tried to help me out by steaming the broccoli with a little bit of butter, salt and pepper and also staying by my side for emotional support (read: she had to force-feed me the broccoli).
I tried to have a brave attitude, but everything in my brain was screaming to give up on this article before I even started. I stared at the broccoli as the broccoli stared at me, and when I took my first bite, I basically looked exactly like Kevin from The Office.
I immediately went across the street to buy a chocolate bar, and I swore off broccoli and science for life. Who needs to be healthy and adult anyways, right?
Day 2: Masking the flavor
On day two, I was still emotionally traumatized by my brief encounter with broccoli the day before. I powered through, though, for the good of the Spoon-iverse and decided to test one of the online suggestions, which said that sometimes, picky eaters can be encouraged to eat their veggies by putting a little sugar on them.
I was skeptical that simply adding sugar could change my mind, but I was shocked. I poured a hefty amount of sugar into a bowl and dipped the head of the broccoli into it repeatedly, until it looked white instead of green (probably more than was suggested, but I did what I had to do). Judge the excessive amount of sweetener if you please, but I actually ate an entire piece of broccoli and genuinely enjoyed it.
The flavor of the broccoli was masked, but my usual aversion to the texture was not as pertinent as it had been the day before. I started to see the glass half-full and thought that maybe this experiment had a shot after all.
Day 3: I can't believe this might be working?
Day three came around, and I decided to keep a good thing going and, yet again, try a cold piece of broccoli with sugar to slightly mask the unsavory taste.
I used significantly less sugar than on day two and was shocked that I still managed to stomach an entire piece of broccoli relatively painlessly. I attempted to eat a second piece, but that was pushing my luck. The essence of broccoli was already coating my mouth and there was nothing a little extra sugar could do about it by that point. Still, I would say day three was a win. Zoe: 2, Broccoli: 1.
Day 4: Progress is progress
I wanted to try a new tactic for day four. While still masking the flavor of broccoli, I thought that instead of sugar, I would try it cooked into a chicken stir-fry with teriyaki sauce, courtesy of the Wash U Village Dining Hall. By now, it was time to start slowly removing the added sweetness to the vegetable.
While bites of small pieces of broccoli mixed in with the rice tasted satisfactory (dare I say even good?), large pieces on their own did not have quite enough sauce for me to stomach the flavor.
Despite my hesitation to eat these larger pieces, I was proud of my progress thus far: Less than a week ago, I would have pushed aside every last bit of broccoli from my stir-fry to the furthest regions of the bowl.
Day 5: Doubt creeps in
Five days in, I made a grilled chicken salad with honey-lime vinaigrette and peanut sauce, lettuce, spinach, carrots, corn and, of course, the celebrity of the week: broccoli. For the most part, the dressings and other flavors kept my contact with the broccoli strictly texture-based, but there was definitely an unmistakably bitter broccoli aftertaste.
My reaction to this salad was similar to the previous day's stir-fry: I could definitely eat and enjoy the salad, but when the flavor of broccoli shined through, I was not always thrilled. I could now say I had totally conquered the texture issues I used to have with broccoli, though, which is a feat of its own.
Day 6: This isn't so bad
I decided to continue trying broccoli covered in yet another sauce, although by this point, I was getting pretty confident that I would soon be able to handle it on its own. I had gnocchi with broccoli and rosé sauce from the Wash U on-campus restaurant Ibby's.
I found myself unconsciously mixing broccoli into bites of gnocchi and not being as alarmed when the flavors shined through. The rosé sauce certainly helped, however, even when there wasn't much sauce or when I took a bite without any gnocchi. I was thoroughly enjoying my vegetables, which was a completely foreign concept before this meal.
Day 7: Eating an entire serving of broccoli
On the final day of the week, I decided that I was ready to try broccoli as its own side dish to my meal. I mixed the broccoli with a bit of olive oil and garlic and ate it alongside grilled chicken. To my complete disbelief, I ate the entire side of broccoli before touching my chicken.
Moral of the story: if you, like me, are just a picky eater trying to make your palette more sophisticated, then have no fear. I never thought this taste-bud change thing would work, but in just one week, my least favorite food became a welcome staple in my everyday diet.