Category Archives: Charlotte Talks

Confessions of a Picky Eater Turned Foodie

Are Brussels sprouts your worst nightmare?

Did you feed your dog Brussels sprouts under the table as a kid? Stage negotiations with your mother – five more peas in exchange for dessert? Maybe as an adult you’ve skirted menu items to avoid mushrooms or suffered chicken salad at a picnic so as not to offend your host. We all have our particular food aversions; some more than others, but what makes a picky eater? Stephanie Lucianovic knows first hand. Now a self-proclaimed foodie, she considers herself a picky eater in recovery. She’s written a book about her conversion called Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. Ahead of her appearance on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, we spoke with her about the science of picky eating, how you can broaden your palate and we got some advice for parents of picky eaters.

Stephanie Lucianovic is the Author of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate

WFAEats: I hate mayonnaise and I get this look of shock and dismay from people when this fact is uncovered. But we all do this, we’re so skeptical when we hear someone doesn’t love a food we love. What’s with all the judging? Not everyone likes everything.
I get into an almost philosophical discussion about this in the book. Why does it bother us so much what other people don’t like? It doesn’t affect them. Personally, I think if you love somebody and you offer them food because you happen to love that food. ‘This is an amazing ___ and you’ve got to try it!’ They try it and don’t like it and whether you realize it or not, it feels like a rejection because they’re not joining in on your excitement. So you feel a little bit rejected and you start to blame them – like, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ For some reason, food, because it is such a community thing, such a social thing, its more of an area of judgment than music or art, which obviously people have differing opinions on but they certainly don’t break up with people because someone doesn’t like modern art. And yet, I’ve interviewed people who have talked about picky eaters being a major problem in romantic relationships.

Would you break up with someone over broccoli?

WFAEats: Like breaking up with someone over broccoli?
Exactly. It’s usually nothing so obvious like that. If you’ve got an adventurous foodie and a non-adventurous person, it can really affect what they share. I talked to a marriage counselor about it and she said you just have to find other things you enjoy together – don’t make it all about food. If you have an anniversary, don’t have it hinge on some great restaurant, make it something else you both enjoy.

WFAEats: Is picky eating a choice or hard-wired?
It’s definitely not a choice. I believe as a former picky eater and I have it backed up by scientists – it’s hardwired, whether it’s your biology or genetics or what they call your ‘learning history’ because you developed a learned aversion to something. It’s preference.

WFAEats: Do our tastes change over time? Why did I love pickles as a kid but hate them now?
Your preferences change. It’s not that our taste buds change. One of the scientists I spoke with at Monell Center [Chemical Senses Center of Taste and Smell] said its not that our taste buds really die or change because we’re constantly sloughing them off. They have a ferocious cycle, overturning every 14 days. Your taste cells are dying but they’re regenerating. In advanced age, they do start to die and not regenerate.

Does your kid refuse to eat anything green?

WFAEats: What advice do you have for parents of picky eaters?
My first word of advice is one that no parent ever wants to hear – relax. And I don’t like hearing that advice by the way, as a parent. If your pediatrician isn’t worried about your child’s health or development, then you shouldn’t be overly worried about it either. You should not listen to other parents who don’t understand or don’t have picky eaters who say ‘you should do this or that.’ It’s not necessarily what you did right or wrong. Sometimes if you don’t have a picky eater, you just got lucky. You could have a parent who does everything right with the breastfeeding, with what you’re eating in utero, how you’re exposing them to food, and you’re still going to have a picky eater. That can happen. I went 27 years barely eating any vegetables and no grains and I was basically Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare, and I’m fine. I didn’t have any health or development problems.

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The Science of Flavor

How the heck do they get watermelon bubble gum to taste the way it does? That particular flavor doesn’t exist in nature, but it does remind me of watermelon. The same for strawberry, cherry, orange… but grape – that tastes nothing like the plump little things you pull off the vine. Recently on Charlotte Talks, host Mike Collins and his guests examined the science of flavor – how flavors are created, the extraordinary variety of flavors and the business behind it.  Listen here.

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Sustainable Seafood on Charlotte Talks

Michael LaVecchia brought some Outer Banks scallops with brown butter and parsley on Carolina-grown blue grits. At Charlotte Talks' Spirit Square studio.

Michael LaVecchia in his Iron Chef shirt and 'fish slinging' boots. He's the 'Chief Fish Guy & Butcher' at the Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market.

America’s love for seafood is threatening some species due to over-fishing. Some fish are even ‘harvested’ from fish farms. Do you make an effort to seek out and buy sustainable fish? Wednesday, Charlotte Talks took on the subject to find out how to shop more consciously with Chef Peter Reinhart from Johnson & Wales University and Carrie Brownstein, Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods. Michael LaVecchia also joined us, he’s the so-called ‘Chief Fish Guy & Butcher’ at Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market. He even brought us some samples. Find out how our habits are affecting the health of the oceans and fishing populations and what questions consumers can ask to become more educated about what we’re eating.

Listen to the show.

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Weighing Healthy Choices In The School Lunch Line

Students line up for lunch in Highland Creek Elementary School's cafeteria.

WFAE’s Charlotte Talks recently devoted an hour to examining and grading school lunches. Listen back here.

A sign in the cafeteria kitchen.

Cindy Ayers takes great pride in her kitchen. She keeps everything clean and well organized. She has to – she feeds hundreds of Elementary school kids every day. Ayers is the Cafeteria Manager at Highland Creek Elementary and oversees the preparation and serving of about 800 meals daily, including breakfast and after school snacks. But the real haul comes at lunchtime when 600-700 kids buy a school made lunch (out of 1200 enrolled). We visited the cafeteria on an ordinary Tuesday to see how it all goes down.

All about choices. Students enjoy their hand selected lunches.

Inside the cafeteria kitchen.

Cindy Ayers (left,) Cafeteria Manager at Highland Creek Elementary and Glenda Shepardson, Northeast Area Supervisor for CMS

While taste is of utmost importance for the kids, parents and educators alike are hoping for a little healthful nutrition as childhood obesity becomes a very real problem. Child Nutrition Services for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools uses guidelines set by the USDA to develop their menus. Every elementary, middle and high school system-wide follows the same menu. Four week-long menus are set and rotate on a monthly basis. (See the menus for March here.)

How Child Nutrition Services describes lunch service at CMS schools on their website:

A complete lunch consists of an entrée, two sides, and milk. Students may select a minimum of an entrée and one side to have the purchase count as a meal. By offering a variety of nutritious choices, students can select a meal made up of foods they enjoy. The menus follow the nutrient-based guidelines established by the USDA and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which assure meals average no more than 30% of their calories from fat.

Critics still say there is too much salt, saturated fat and cholesterol in many of the meals. USDA guidelines for school lunches continue to evolve; First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced they will aim for more whole grains, low fat dairy and fruits and vegetables.

On this particular day, (Tuesday March 27) Highland Creek Elementary was serving chicken nuggets, spaghetti casserole or chef salad with mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, side salad and bread along with fresh pears, grapes, strawberries and applesauce. Also available were milk, chips, a variety of ice cream novelties, cookies, cupcakes and juice boxes.

Three ice creams, a juice box and chicken nuggets comprised this child's lunch.

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