Nine years. It took 9 years before my husband even considered trying cauliflower. Thankfully, he had opened up his palate to lettuce, kale, and carrots somewhere between years 5 and 9. Let’s just say the lone (canned) green bean stood tall for half a decade and he had no intention of adding to the party of one.
Do you know what? My amazing, clever, kind, ingenuitive husband left adolescence with some significant food aversions. He once told me, “What my parents did for meals worked for my sister and brother – just not for me.”
Years ago I didn’t have a lot of empathy for his aversions. It wasn’t that I didn’t care – I did. I loved him! But, I really didn’t understand. Unless I had the rare stomach flu, I really didn’t have any concept of getting nauseous thinking about a food.
Empathy is beautiful because it opens the door to connection. But I’ll admit, I was slow to realize this. Knowing the definition of empathy is one thing, but putting it into practice when it affects a topic that makes me come alive – food, cooking and exploration in the kitchen – that’s something I didn’t realize I was signing up for. But, it’s been a lesson that has produced beautiful fruit.
A Healthy Family Eats in Peace and Love
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Food preferences can create tension within a healthy family unit. I know this from first-hand experience and from the countless clients I have counseled who tell me the same thing, “My partner doesn’t want to eat like me.”
There are reasons why we enjoy, detest, or tolerate certain foods. Reasons why someone is closed off to make a change or why the idea of trying a new food makes another person cringe. There is a reason. In fact, there most likely are several reasons.
And this leads to the question, “What is the solution?”
Forgoing your own personal food values can lead to resentment. Trying to please everyone can leave you overwhelmed and frustrated. So, how can we practically navigate this conundrum to create more peace around planning, preparing, and eating food?
For over a decade I have been collecting ideas, testing out strategies and finding more productive ways to communicate with my husband on the topic of food. While your family dynamics are unique to you, these are some of the most valuable strategies I have learned to walk the line of choosing love without surrendering my own personal food values.
Make a Master Meals List
When I was feeling utterly frustrated eating the same meals over and over because my husband’s food preferences were so limited, Holy Spirit inspired me one day to make a list. It was simple – using a pen and a legal pad, I listed every single meal that we would both eat. At first, I listed the most common ones… tacos, roast chicken and sides, spaghetti,… and then I remembered a few other meals I had forgotten. In fact, I recalled 20 different meals! Add in a few nights of leftovers, OYO (On Your Own) nights and a weekly date night and to my delight the list supplied us with an entire month of different meals.
A brainstorming session only requires a few minutes and may provide some fresh perspectives if you are feeling stuck in a rut. Bonus: This quick strategy doesn’t require a single conversation with your partner and yet it can transform a boring meal plan.
Present New Recipes
New recipes can add some spice and variety to a list of old favorites. If you ask a selective eater what they want to eat, they will likely tell you the same meals they know and love. I quickly found it wasn’t productive to ask such a general question like that and expect him to tell me he was craving a grilled cauliflower steak with a balsamic glaze or even some roasted carrots with parmesan.
Instead, I began finding 3 different recipes each week that I thought I could make work for my husband and his food preferences. Once a week while I was creating a meal plan I would present these recipes with my adaptations and ask him to choose the one he was most interested in trying.
This strategy did several things:
- Set the tone of trying new recipes and adding variety.
- Allowed my selective eating husband to share his preferences and make the final decision.
- Required me to think ahead to find new recipes that I wanted to try and how I could modify them.
- Eliminated the unproductive questions like, “Can we try something new this week?”
Ask Good Questions with Empathy
Many individuals who have had some negative food experiences have difficulty believing that their next new food experience could be enjoyable or tasty. These stories are connected to people, places, and feelings – much more than how a food tastes.
As I began asking my husband about his past food experiences with the mere goal to know more about him, my empathy grew and so did my knowledge. This strategy worked best when it wasn’t mealtime and we were simply spending time together. But I was also reminded not to make it a counseling session. Ask a few questions. Show empathy. Take note. Then move on.
By engaging in some conversations with curiosity and empathy, I learned some valuable information about my spouse:
- Texture is a really big deal.
- Hiding food in a meal is a recipe for mistrust.
- There were some foods he might consider trying and others that were totally out.
- He cares about his health too.
- Patience is everything.
Over time, I was actually able to capitalize on his texture preferences by choosing vegetable recipes that were similar to others he enjoyed. He will now boast that Parmesan Kale Chips and Silky Mashed Cauliflower are two of his favorite veggie recipes (my young daughters also gobble them up!).
Share the Responsibility
While it is normal and natural for one person to take a higher responsibility in the planning and prepping of the meals, it can feel overwhelming trying to cater meals to meet the approval of all. Consider inviting your partner to share in the responsibility and the process. This can relieve some of your pressure and, in turn, allows your partner to develop empathy for you and how you are working hard to serve your family.
Figure out what might be the most helpful for you and then ask for help. This might look like asking your spouse to sit down with you for 5 minutes each weekend as you select meals from your Master Meals List, or simply explaining what feels so challenging and asking for some ideas to create an easier meal planning system.
Yes, this requires relinquishing some control. But then, you didn’t get married to do everything on your own, did you?
So, what’s the play call?
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. –Wayne Dyer
From day one, my husband and I had a pretty big dilemma – I was a nutrition and dietetics student eager to try new things, and he was a guy with some pretty significant food preferences. Resentment simmered in my heart for years and then I finally woke up to the truth that I could move forward. I didn’t have to be stuck if I didn’t want to.
The change didn’t begin with clever nutrition strategies. It began with confession and softening my heart to the man that I love, believe in, pray for, and cherish.
If you and your partner aren’t on the same page, I encourage you to take one step forward today. Don’t surrender your personal food values and don’t devalue your spouse for theirs. Decide that progress is possible, teamwork is how you live, and connection is worth kindling.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10 (NIV)