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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Can you give me guidance for dealing with my friend who is a very picky eater?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (31979points) 1 month ago

I have a very good, close friend that I’ve known for more than 2 years. We have grown close in that time, because we have a lot in common.

He is a very picky eater. He is also very vocal about it. He will often make comments about food that he won’t eat. I usually counter it by making noises showing my pleasure at anticipating the good food.

He is very knowledgeable about food and is a good cook. He can often name the ingredients of dishes.

Some of his dislikes baffle me. He hates butter, for instance. I can’t even fathom that.

I have several questions.

1. What makes someone a picky eater? Is there a cause?
2. Is this something that I should talk about with him? He acts like his picky eating is something to be proud of, but in my experience, it belies a lack of maturity or perhaps just a lack of adventurousness.
3. When he comes over for dinner, should I take his tastes into my plans for what I’m preparing?

I understand having likes and dislikes. This is not that. This is deeper.

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21 Answers

Inspired_2write's avatar

Ask him to cook, and see what he makes and how he prepares it.
Sounds like a budding chef?

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I am not sure. I know when I was a kid, I was picky and it drove my mom nuts but that is the tastes of a child. I think I have read that the taste bud differences between a kid and an adult are significant.As I’ve grown older, I will eat things now that I stubbornly would’ve refused back then.
Since he is a good friend, I’d ask him. He might surprise you with his answer and be more gracious than expected (if you are inviting him to a dinner you’ve made)
If he makes a rude comment about what is served, shut him down in a kind way.
Or he could show himself to be a food snob and use the opportunity to elevate himself into the stratosphere with his ultra refined culinary tastes, in which case, ask him to bring some frozen tv dinners with him if he ever decides to come back down to earth.:)
If he were my friend, I’d consider what he likes and try to provide some of that as I would with anybody else.
On second thought, maybe make something he is not familiar with and see what happens.

chyna's avatar

I’m a very picky eater. I was picky as a child and it carried over to adulthood. I’ll be honest, when I think back, I was probably doing it for attention. I was the youngest of 3 older brothers and I figured out if I didn’t eat dinner, my dad would sneak a peanut butter sandwich in to me after I went to bed. I got my dad to myself for those few minutes. But I do know a lot of my pickiness is due to color of food and texture. Without even tasting something, if I didn’t like its looks, I would refuse to eat it and say and think I didn’t like it. A lot of my friends would make negative comments about my eating habits so I didn’t go out to dinner a lot with them in my 20’s and 30’s. I didn’t want to hear their comments. But as I am getting older, I am trying new foods and finding that I like them. I’ve missed out on a lot of good food over the years.
I also think asking him might be the way to go. At least you would know. But I would not try making him taste something he absolutely does not want to taste.
I do have a weird aversion to green foods, but I’m trying.

cookieman's avatar

I can’t speak to number one, but yes, I would talk to him. Not so much about his picky nature, but about his need to vocalize his displeasure. A food version of “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” I find people telling me what they don’t like about certain foods an appetite killer and I wouldn’t be thrilled s our eating with them.

As for number three…yes, I would take his tastes into consideration to a degree, within reason. You can’t entirely change your cooking style.

Also, I like the idea stated above of letting him cook more.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It may actually be a disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum or worse. Have you noticed other oddities? Whatever the cause, he has probably been diagnosed and told. It would be difficult to arrive at adulthood without a school or parent dragging the poor kid in for diagnosis.

JLeslie's avatar

If you have him over I would say try to accommodate his pickiness. What does he like? Can you make a simple salad with steak? Or, some sort of pasta? A sandwich? Maybe it’s easier to just go out. Unless he’s over quite a bit, then you’ll want to have some items in the fridge for him. Maybe go to the market with him in that case. Maybe have some pantry or freezer food you know he likes.

I also prefer you don’t use butter when you cook for me, so I’m with him on that. I don’t hate it in small quantities, I add it for taste sometimes, you would be surprised how little you need to add to get the butter taste into a dish, but I don’t want the cholesterol. In big amounts I think it’s gross. I don’t like any fats in large amounts.

I don’t like fresh tomatoes, whipped cream, cream cheese, cheese cake, cold cheese, blueberries, cream dressings like ranch, most pies, I don’t want mayo smeared on a sandwich, and cilantro tastes like soap, all of which most Americans love. I eat a large variety of food though, so I am only picky in particular American households that tend to serve those things. Put me in a house with Italians, Cubans, or Greeks, and no problem.

What makes someone a picky eater? Most children, and some adults have many more taste buds than average and food has too much taste and it’s unpleasant. That’s why children tend to like “white foods” like pasta, potatoes, chicken, and bread. Also, people with very little experience tasting a variety of flavors tend to have trouble with new flavors. Some things like hating broccoli and cilantro are genetic predispositions to tasting those things differently than the average person.

Some of us are thrilled to not like some of the foods we don’t like (like me) and don’t want to acquire a taste for them for health reasons. Plus, as I said above, some of us only seem picky in certain environments, and the same person can seem to eat practically everything in another environment.

JLeslie's avatar

Just curious, what foods does he like?

jca2's avatar

To me, this person sounds like he needs and wants a lot of attention. I would divert the attention away from him. I find it hard to tolerate people who are constantly seeking attention and talking about themselves (in this case, his likes, his dislikes, his opinions of the food).

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Sounds like control and and manipulation of the situation when food and eating is involved !

JLeslie's avatar

@jca2 That’s possible, but maybe he’s just frustrated?

I was at Japanese hibachi two weeks ago and forgot to say no butter and a stick of butter was added to the vegetables (being made for 6 people). The look on my face was obvious disappointment; my friend to my left asked if it will be ok; she knows I worry about my health. I had ordered white rice instead of fried rice thinking I’d avoid the extra oil and butter, but this restaurant adds the butter to the veggies. I worry about shortening my life. If I were vegan or some type of modified kosher it would be a problem too. It tasted fine, but it tastes just as good to me without the butter. Restaurant eating is more and more depressing to me, but I like eating out. I like being out with friends and not cooking or cleaning. Chefs are taught to add fat, and I want just the opposite, and most Americans probably should be eating less fat.

I don’t like Parmesan sprinkled on anything, I don’t like the taste, and that’s not easy to take off of food. I don’t understand why it’s automatically sprinkled on salads and some Italian dishes by the kitchen rather than letting people add it themselves.

I’m definitely NOT wanting the attention, just the opposite. When I was younger I was embarrassed. As an adult I try not to order anything that I have to change two or more things on the dish. If I can order without any changes it makes me very happy to be low maintenance. At a new restaurant I almost always have to ask questions though, I hate it. Do you put mayo on the sandwich? Is there cheese on the salad? Is there sour cream on the chili? Do you put whipped cream on the hot chocolate? Is there egg in the vinaigrette? Some cuisines it’s not a problem.

It would be interesting to see if his friend comes up with something to complain about even when the food is seemingly made to his specifications.

I wonder if it’s only taste the OP’s friend is complaining about, and not other reasons.

@chyna I recently read something about how people tend to fall into one of four categories regarding food texture. Creamy, crunchy, and I don’t remember the other two. Creamy people like things like yogurt, cheese cake, sweet potato pie, all things I hate. Lol. I hate anything soggy too, maybe that’s part of creamy? I don’t use bread to sop up gravy, or dip a sandwich in au jus, and I don’t want bread put inside of my French onion soup.

jca2's avatar

@JLeslie: My impression was not that this friend of HJ’s is asking for specifics from the chef in a restaurant, he’s talking about his likes and needs with HJ when he is with him. To me, that would be tiring. To me, that’s different than asking the kitchen at a restaurant to leave out the butter or put something on the side. My impression was this friend is saying “I don’t like this, I don’t like that, this tastes good to me, that tastes bad to me.” Maybe I’m mistaken.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Thank you, all. I’ve learned a few things here, and I appreciate it. My friend is mostly very jovial, and he’s smiling when he talks about what he will and won’t eat. I counter that by making little jokes, and it’s become a regular thing for us. We often kid each other by talking about butter in food. It’s not oppressive or done in a mean manner.

My desire for more information is because I’ve never met anyone as vocal as he regarding his food desires. I’ve never met anyone who talks about it with so much importance.

I know my friend quite well, and he has some abuse in his past. I’m beginning to wonder if this is related to anxiety. I’m sad for him, because he’s missing out on a lot of really good food.

What further baffles me is he’s a very good cook often making things from scratch.

I think I will talk to him about it in a non-threatening manner. I don’t want to change him. I want to understand. We talk about everything, so this conversation won’t be awkward. I will keep it light.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake -Maybe you could suggest getting together for a drink and a new, untried recipe to cook together? That might be good for some laughs and a surprise if it turns out well!

JLeslie's avatar

@jca2 It could get tiring with how you described it. My husband and I avoided eating with my family when we were all together (my parents, sister, aunt, and grandma) because the various diets and food likes and dislikes were tiresome.

Zaku's avatar

I haven’t time now to read the answers here, but from the description by itself, I would tend to think that a good cook who is a picky eater may tend to have a particular palate, which is often not merely a matter of experience and adventurism, but can also be because they experience flavors differently.

I have an extreme flavor / gag reaction to asparagus and Brussel sprouts, for example.

Some people don’t like butter or grease.

Many people have had experienced certain preparations and/or industrial versions of food (e.g. canned or frozen vegetables) which in some cases may have given them an aversion (and seemingly even continued dislike of) even to fresh well-prepared food of the same type.

raum's avatar

I think if your friend has experienced abuse in his past, he may want to exert control over other areas in his life. Food may be how he does it.

He’s lucky to have a good friend. Hopefully you both can find a different way for him to explore food in a healthy way.

Good luck!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Some kids are just picky eaters but if they’re left alone, they kind of grow out of it by adulthood. But some people simply can’t leave it alone and put extreme pressure on the kids to eat. The parents created food issues for their kids. I think those tend to hang on into adulthood. Sounds like at some point somebody made a big freaking deal over something about butter and that’s his association.

Maybe you could try…absolutely nothing? Don’t do the opposite, don’t do or say anything at all.

And of course if you have him over, be sure to have at least one dish that he likes.

Patty_Melt's avatar

I’m another who dislikes butter except in certain circumstances. I don’t use it when frying. Instead, I use water to keep the food from burning, and if it is something I want browned, like chops or burgers, I let the water cook down so it will brown.

It could be that some of his talk is subtle hinting, that he would like to see you eat healthier, but since it started when you were first getting to know each other, it could be he was nervous about what to say and food was something he knew. It isn’t a danger topic like politics. If you have amusing moments as a result, he may see it as something of a bond.
If it is getting on your nerves you need to let him know. Just tel him that you feel like food talk has staled for you. Use the pun. It will keep humor in the conversation.
It doesn’t sound like a result of any psychological trauma.

Dutchess_III's avatar

His friend told him he suffered abuse in the past. People who are abusive get frustrated easily, and food is a common, easy trigger.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Have you ever been to one of those Hibachi Sushi Country Buffets that are so popular in Western NY? They have an incredible array of foods: hot, cold, meats, veg, raw, cooked, cakes, ice creams, etc. – none of which is particularly high quality but still enjoyable. Lunch here is “all you can eat” from 11:00 until 2:30 and only costs $7.99. Fantastic. I go maybe twice a year and always enjoy it. There are so many things to try.

At these types of buffets he would have the freedom to choose whatever he likes and place it exactly where he prefers. Discretely watch what, and how he puts the food on his plates. You might learn something about him. Does he prefer: dry vs, runny, food touching or separate, meatless, veg heavy, etc.? Don’t mention this experiment as it might affect the results.
John Pinette is a buffet expert.

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