“I’m trying to do low carb [with/for/as] a picky eater. What can I do?”
We get variations of that question regularly on our Low Carb Zen Facebook community, and it’s an extremely hard one to answer. Because by definition, a picky eater is PICKY! Which means, I don’t know what your picky eater (or picky eater you) likes or is willing to eat!
I can make a few observations that might help, though.
How to Low Carb with Picky Eaters
- Low carb works best when you find ways to integrate it into your life, in a way you are content and comfortable with. If you can, start scoping out recipes and meal or snack ideas that are as similar to the picky eater’s preferred diet fare as possible. Don’t focus on direct fake-out replacements because they may well pale in comparison to “the real thing.” But look for similar food choices. Give yourself some time to build a list of options and gradually start introducing them into the menu rotation.
- Look for low carb ways to “doctor food up.” If someone isn’t generally big on veggies, can you dump on more seasoning, butter or cheese? Can you sneak it in a casserole? Can you add it to soup or stew? If someone is stuck on a high carb option, can you start taking the carbs down by subbing out some of the ingredients? Or replace even part of a high carb ingredient with a lower carb counterpart. Take this approach with cutting carbs or adding healthful options over time to make a smoother transition. Be creative, and go slowly if you need to, but do go and be persistent about it.
- If we’re just starting low carb with picky eaters, stick to induction religiously for at least two weeks, even if it’s super hard. I cannot overstate this point. This is especially important if said picky eater has a sweet tooth–and I’m sorry, because I know this can be rough, but it’s super important. Two weeks without any added sugar to foods does a LOT to change tastes. You will be able to taste the natural sweetness in foods again. Tastes begin to change. I accidentally took a bite of ketchup at the end of a strict induction, and I was totally blown away by just how sweet it was; two weeks after living the “more sugar the better” life, I could actually call fruit “dessert” without laughing manically and added sugar wasn’t appealing any more.
- Begin stepping back from the highest carb preferred foods immediately. I know sometimes people go all cold turkey in making the transition or worse, carb it up with “one last dance” of the stuff they love before hopping on the wagon. This has the unhelpful side effects of turning up potential carb/sugar withdrawal symptoms making the first week or so a whole lot harder than it needs to be, on top of making low carb feel more like a punishment than something important and kind to do for one’s body and health. It can introduce a vibe of martyrdom and suffering into the whole system when really, who needs that?
- Don’t sweat menu repetition. If all your picky eating low carber is interested in is broccoli and ranch dressing today, then broccoli and ranch dressing it is. Ideally, we’re looking to move to a varied diet long term, but in the meantime it’s certainly better to be munching out on low carb foods, even the same ones over and over, than higher carb options. Just keep stocked on multivitamins to make sure those nutrients are getting in there, too.
- As time goes on, test foods again. Low carb actually changes our tastes over time. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I used to hate this vegetable but after low carbing a while, I found out I love it!” I’ve found it true for myself as well and still occasionally discover a taste for foods I used to loathe before low carb. It’s a real thing and it can help expand the picky eaters’ menu over time.
- Also know, sometimes food cravings are driven by nutritional deficiencies. (For example, chocolate cravings can be stimulated by magnesium deficiency.) This means that as a person’s diet improves, cravings that drive the picky eater now may not persist.
- Nobody’s gonna starve, so don’t stress over it. People who have access to food will eat when they are hungry enough, even if it’s not the preferred options.
- Remember why you’re doing this. This is maybe the most important point. But if you’re a picky eater or you’re low carbing with picky eaters, there is probably a very important reason why you’ve decided to do this. When the challenges crop up (and they will), go back and use that reason as a touchstone to get your over any humps. Yes, it’s no fun to make significant changes and yes, sometimes it’s very uncomfortable. But these changes? There are reasons for them, and darned good ones! Don’t lose sight of the “why” to your low carb plans.
Essentially, successfully low carbing with picky eaters requires imagination, persistence and dedication to the outcome–always coming back to the reasons why you’re doing it in the first place when you get stressed about the extra challenges presented. It does help to bear in mind, low carb really DOES alter food tastes over time and what feels impossible starting out will most likely not be an issue within a relatively short period of time. So don’t lose heart!
Any other tips y’all have for adjusting to low carbing with picky eaters? I’d love to hear ’em below!