Category Archives: Healthy Eating

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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Yes, I Can… Vegetables

By Tamra Wilson

Canning season has come early this year. Pee Paw’s garden is overproducing, Syl says. She picks and stems the beans; I own the canner. We share the lids, rings and the jars.

This all began last year when we decided to eat more local and healthy. I invested $99 in a  pressure canner and attended a canning clinic at Home Extension.

“Follow the rules,” the agent advised. “Treat this like a science project,” which meant scalding the jars, sterilizing the lids, discarding rusty rings.

“Botulism can kill you. You must process properly to kill the varmints inside the jar.”

Varmints? That sounded scary, but not so much as the canner looked with its vents, locks and gauge – taunting me to come closer.

My mother did not can. Like most women of her day, she kicked all semblances of home canning to the curb with the warning that it’s old-fashioned and dangerous. The canner can explode. Improper seals could breed botulism, a slow death by poisoning. Her grandmother died after eating home-canned corn. Enough said.

But for me and many like me, risk-taking pressure canners are a new frontier.

I read the pressure canner instructions with trepidation.

Boil the sealed jars in the canner with lid closed until steam, like white smoke announcing a new pope at the Vatican, swirls out for 10 minutes. Place the petcock over the vent. Wait until the pressure reaches 11 pounds. Process for 25 minutes. Don’t take calls, knit, text or watch TV. Watch the canner. Monitor the gauge.

When the process is done, place the hot jars on a clean towel and cover them with another towel to prevent jars from breaking in a cool draft – as if anything vaguely cool could exist in this hot kitchen.

Photo by Flickr/Sommer Poquette

Pressure canning green beans takes three hours, 26 minutes per jar, not to mention the cost of energy and supplies.  This is a pricey undertaking, even with freebie.

It was then that I noticed the green bean smell inside the canner. Don’t ask me the physics, but the pressure bath smells of green beans, a musky old-time odor I hadn’t encountered since dining years ago at the Green Parrot Cafe in Rochester, MN, where Mother scheduled an annual physical at the Mayo Clinic. “Take No Chances” should have been her middle name.  Though she had no known ailments, every June, we kids tagged along to “Mayo’s” for three days of utter boredom in the waiting room.

The Green Parrot, our kitchen away from home, served home-cooked green beans with plated entrees, also boring. The service wasn’t particularly fast either. After lunch, we’d return to Mayo to draw pictures, read or watch people while waiting for Mother’s appointments to check not for a miracle cure, but a blessing that nothing was wrong in the first place.

Why did my mother insist on Mayo? They’re the best, she’d say, the same reason I sit by my pressure canner.

Patience = quality. I am my mother’s daughter.

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Summer Squash and Zucchini Galore!

If your garden has supplied you with a whole boatload of zucchini and squash like mine has, you may be wondering what to do with all of it. You’ve pawned it off on your neighbors and co-workers but you’re still flush with squash. Well, we have a few suggestions.

  • Roast or grill it with other vegetables. Just a touch of olive oil and your favorite spices and herbs. Great with steak or chicken and couscous. I like roasting or grilling it because it helps eliminate some of the sliminess you can get when cooking zucchini or squash.
  • Zucchini bread. It’s sweet, light, moist and has a serving of vegetables! (I’ve even heard you can pass it off on children – they won’t know the difference.) Add walnuts for a little crunch.
  • Oven-fried squash and zucchini. I love fried zucchini and squash (who doesn’t) but if you’re trying to watch the fat, try this. It’s much better for you and fairly passable if you’re craving the deep-fried stuff.
  • Zucchini or squash Parmesan. We’ve also eaten it as a meat-substitute on meatless Mondays. Cook good-sized chunks of it on the stove and toss with sun-dried tomato pesto, pasta and Parmesan for a faux Chicken Parmesan. You could even do this with the oven-fried zucchini if you want to get really crazy.
  • Zucchini Lasagna. Throw in some diced zucchini or squash to add more vegetables to your regular lasagna recipe. Or to make it super low-carb, try replacing the noodles with long slices of zucchini. Yes, I’m skeptical too, but willing to give it a shot.

A lot more recipe ideas from Health Magazine and

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Strawberries Arrive Early

Ripening Strawberries. Photo by Flickr/sigusr0

By WFAE’s Jennifer Lang

Strawberry pie. Strawberry shortcake. Strawberry jam. Strawberry margarita. Strawberry ice cream. Strawberry cheesecake. Strawberry smoothie.

This Bubba Blue-like moment is brought to you by my giddy anticipation of strawberry season. If, like me, you enjoy strawberries in their many delicious concoctions, rejoice! Thanks to a La Nina winter the strawberry crop will come early and abundantly in most areas of the state according to the North Carolina Strawberry Association.

Kevin Hall of Hall Family Farm in Charlotte said their u-pick fields will open April 15, or even a few days before. This will be earlier than the Hall’s have opened in the past few years.

Don’t miss getting your share of the first ripe berries. They’re going to be here soon! Use this Strawberry Farm Locator as your guide to juicy strawberry goodness.

I’m a sucker for simple recipes calling for few ingredients (five is my absolute max!)

Strawberries - best enjoyed plain. Photo by Flickr/tamburix

My favorite-

Fresh Strawberries

  • 1 Strawberry patch
  • 1 Sunny day
  • 1 Clean t-shirt

Find ripe strawberry. Pick. Inspect for bug(s). If found, blow off. Wipe strawberry on the tail of t-shirt you are wearing. Pop in mouth and savor*. Repeat until full. Or your grandmother chases you out of the patch.
*Do not attempt this recipe at a commercial strawberry farm until purchasing the berries.

Kids enjoying fresh picked strawberries. Photo by Flickr/Michael Bentley

What’s your favorite strawberry recipe? Share with us in the comments.

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A Pizza For Your Health

Okay so THIS isn't exactly "heart healthy" but read on, we can help. Photo by

By WFAE’s Jay Ahuja

[pullquote]We don’t usually think of pizza as being “heart healthy” but there’s almost always a way to make your favorite foods more diet and heart friendly – like this recipe for ‘Meat on Wheat’ Homemade Pizza.[/pullquote]

A few years back, I was diagnosed with extremely high cholesterol.  So my wife, Karen, and I came to an understanding.  Despite the fact that I am very well insured and probably worth more dead than alive, I’d get back into an exercise routine by walking our dogs more regularly, start taking two types of prescription medication and fish oil capsules every day.  I even tried adding flax seed to my food for a short period of time, but that was a non-starter.  Moreover, I began eating seafood and fowl for dinner, I frequently have salads for lunch and, despite a weakness for bagels and cream cheese, I even eat some heart-healthy cereal or a breakfast-bar for breakfast from time to time.  I’ve minimized my consumption of egg yolks and I just about eliminated red meat (especially pork sausage and bacon) and nearly anything fried from my diet.

You see, I was one of those guys who played softball 4-6 days a week.  Depending on the season, I played softball, volleyball, basketball and even flag football into my 40s.  But I was also one of those guys who had a bacon, egg & cheese sandwich nearly every weekday for breakfast at the Charlotte Observer cafeteria.   For lunch, it was usually a burger, bratwurst, fried chicken sandwich, or chicken wings.   Without a moments’ thought, French fries were my “go to” side dish at lunch.  Every now and then, I’d switch it up and have something “healthy” like mac & cheese.  Long after I left the newspaper, the notion of having something green or, heaven forbid orange, on my plate, was still completely foreign to me.

I thought the fries would be a bigger issue, but I barley even miss them.  If I get a severe hankering, baked Tater Tots are a very occasional, yet worthy option (especially with the world-class, turkey burger at Bad Daddy’s).  Eggs are no problem either.  In fact, on weekends, Karen and I routinely prepare and share an omelet that consists of two eggs and a half-cup of egg substitute.  With the ham, mushrooms sautéed in sherry, tomatoes, etc., you can barely tell the difference.  Cheese, however, was not negotiable.   Admittedly, my doctor doesn’t love that idea, but as long as I take all the aforementioned steps, he cuts me some slack.

Karen's 'Meat on Wheat' Homemade Pizza. Click for recipe.

It should be noted that hard cheeses, like Parmesan and Romano are generally considered OK for folks with high cholesterol, but softer cheeses are on the “bad list,” so I found it easy enough to scale back considerably on cheese as a snack and even use less cheese in those Sunday morning omelets.  But let’s face it; some things, like pizza for example, are hardly worth eating without a generous amount of cheese.   In fact, Karen makes homemade pizzas from time to time.  And, while fresh mozzarella is essential to a good pie, we both agree that there absolutely has to be at least three different kinds of cheese on our pizza.

Growing up in New York, there were basically two kinds of pizza: cheese and pepperoni.  Somehow, even the plain cheese pizza had a glistening sheen of grease that ran down your arm as you folded a slice and devoured it, so it was clearly not exactly heart-healthy.  Karen grew up in the suburbs south of Chicago, so years ago she turned me on to incredible, Chicago-style pizza with layer after layer of flat pork sausage, gobs of cheese and a thick golden crust.  And, at some point along the way, I discovered “meat-lovers” pizza with sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, ham, and who knows what else on it.

Needless to say, those are not the kind of pizzas made at our house these days.  Recently, however, Karen whipped up a pie that was reminiscent of the old meat-lovers and if I hadn’t seen it being made with my own eyes (I also helped out, but this was truly her creation), I would have sworn it was loaded with the sausage and pepperoni I so fondly recall from home.  So, whether you are looking out for your own cholesterol intake or somebody else’s, here’s the recipe.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to let them know it doesn’t have an ounce of red meat.

Recipe for Karen’s ‘Meat on Wheat’ Homemade Pizza ‘below the fold.’

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Cooking With Quinoa

By Jenny Brulé
Republished with permission from Finding Tasty

Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlicky Collards. Click for recipe.

Quinoa has been around for thousands of years, but is just recently becoming a kitchen staple. It appeals to several different diets: It’s gluten-free, has balanced amino acids therefore being a complete protein (great for vegetarians) and is easily digestible. It looks like couscous, but unlike its North African twin, has a very slight crunch and is not a starch.

The trick to preparing quinoa is embellishing it with lots of flavor. Quinoa itself has very little flavor, but it takes on flavors its paired with. Cooking quinoa in stock and adding layers of flavorful veggies will transform quinoa into a fabulously delicious entrée.

If you have a health food store near you, I’ve found that this is a great place to buy quinoa from the bulk section. It’s much cheaper and fresher than buying packaged quinoa.

Recipe for Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlicky Collards ‘below the fold’

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In The Weight Loss Battle: Fighting Your Own Biology

Have you ever lost weight, only to have that number on the scale creep back up months or years later? Well it turns out your body might be plotting against you.

By WFAE’s Roger Sarow

You know it is winter because the TV airwaves are filled with celebs touting weight loss plans. Pitch persons range from Marie Osmond to Charles Barkley.

Some health professionals treat weight control as though it’s the world’s simplest math problem – lose more calories through exercise than you add through eating – and the weight should automatically drop off.

The painful truth is that more Americans struggle with their weight than not. Many dieters say if weight loss were simple, they wouldn’t be tempted to shred their calorie counter booklets.

But wait. Or weight.  The really hard part is keeping the pounds off. There are now serious experts saying that repeated weight gains after losses – yo-yo dieting – may bring additional health hazards.

There is increasing speculation that your body’s metabolism may work against you to ratchet your weight up. That makes sense to those of us who have experienced sudden cravings for fatty or sweet foods, or overwhelming urges to eat heavily when placed near large amounts of food.

I want to call your attention to a recent Talk of the Nation show on WFAE. Neal Conan interviewed Tara Parker-Pope, a New York Times writer, about her insightful piece called The Fat Trap. It looks at the science behind weight gain and weight management and specifically, a unique study conducted in Australia.

Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. But Proietto [a physician at the University of Melbourne] suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss.

The study followed 34 obese men and women on a very strict low-calorie diet. After losing an average of 30 pounds each, most of the participants regained some of the weight in the following year and they also reported feeling more hungry than before the weight loss.

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost.

Find out how the researchers explain this reaction in ‘The Fat Trap’ from The New York Times here. It’s a complex issue and there’s more research to be done; but in the meantime, let’s hope that our approaching Spring – and the chance to enjoy more outdoor exercise – will lighten our spirits as well as our bathroom scales.

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