You can retrain yourself to like healthy food

Consistently tasting once-rejected food, such as vegetables, can help that food ‘grow’ on the taste buds


We eat foods we learn to like. Yes, learn to like. For anyone interested in improving or changing their food choices, this is really critical to remember. We should expect to struggle a little and accept that introducing new tastes requires time and multiple tastings. I frequently hear blanket statements such as: “I don’t like vegetables” or “vegetables are tasteless”.

These assertions are often bolstered by food beliefs, constructed years beforehand. Remaining open-minded and challenging our thinking allows us to change. Consistently tasting the once-rejected food can actually help that food “grow” on the taste buds.

Five a day
While many of us claim to have “healthy diets”, the reality is we don’t. The World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend we eat 400g of fruit and vegetables every day (not including potatoes), where one serving is about 80g, hence the “five a day”. In Ireland, the average combined intake of fruit and vegetables is only 192g per day, less than half the suggested intake. As little as 9 per cent of 18-64 year olds and 15 per cent of those over 65 years meet the target.

In an adult nutrition survey, 41 per cent of participants ranked taste as the most important factor when making food selections, while 36 per cent ranked health first. The findings suggest that while many of us place great importance on health and nutrition, we are reluctant to compromise on flavour. And why should we?

Wanting to lose 7kg of weight over seven weeks is a realistic goal for many, but the real question is what are we prepared to do to get there? Personally, I love spending time strolling around a farmers’ market. They provide a great opportunity for us to buy seasonal produce and if it is in season, the flavour is much better too. Compare a dark red, vine-ripened tomato still warm from the summer sun with a winter greenhouse tomato that’s barely red and lacking in flavour – you get the point.

Seasonal foods
When foods are in season we are also rewarded financially (Bord Bia has a seasonal calendar online at There’s the argument too that seasonal foods are typically less processed. Foods that have been picked too early won’t look as appealing, so chemical ripening agents, wax coatings, and other preservatives may be more frequently used.

Boring salads are boring. Colourful, nutritious and seasonal salads are anything but! While I often stick to mixed leaves, some nuts or seeds and a nutrient rich veg if I need something quick, I’ll also spend a little more time dicing and slicing if the recipe looks good.

I tried out this coleslaw and beetroot salad from Liz Nolan’s cookbook My Goodness. The verdict is “big on taste and nutrition”.


This recipe makes a large quantity, which holds well when kept in the fridge. It’s delicious served with the beetroot, basil and hazelnut salad. (Serves 8)

1 orange
2 tbsp raisins
Small sweetheart or savoy cabbage
2 medium carrots, grated
1 medium courgette, grated
2 sticks celery, sliced thinly
1 small green pepper, sliced thinly
1 small red pepper, sliced thinly
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 eating apple, grated
Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Cashew mayonnaise
100g cashew nuts
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp agave syrup or honey
1 heaped tbsp Dijon mustard
tsp Himalayan or sea salt
5 tbsp water
1 handful chopped parsley
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)

1 Finely chop the zest of 1 orange and put into a small bowl.
2 Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice from one half into the bowl. Add the raisins and leave to soak.
3 Put the cashews into a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for about 15 minutes while you prepare the vegetables.
4 Quarter the cabbage and slice as finely as possible. Rinse and drain.
5 Mix with all the other vegetables ingredients in a large bowl.
6 Stir in the raisin and orange mix, and the pumpkin seeds. Set aside while you make the dressing.

1 Put the oil, lemon juice, syrup, mustard and salt into the food processor. Drain the cashews and add.
2 Process for about two minutes, add the water and process again for another minute.
3 Check the consistency - it should be like a thick sauce and very slightly grainy from the cashews. Add a little more water if necessary.
4 Pour the dressing over the vegetables, add the apple and mix well.
5 Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle over the chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds if you can get them - they look like little jewels!

(Serves 4-6)

50g hazelnuts
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
6 small/medium cooked beetroots
1 small red onion
2 sticks celery
10 large basil leaves

1 In a small dry frying pan gently toast the hazelnuts until the skins are darkened. Let them cool and then rub off the skins with your hands. Don’t worry if all the skin doesn’t come off. Set aside.
2 Make the dressing by whisking together the oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard and honey.
3 Chop the beetroots into small chunks and put them into a medium-sized bowl.
4 Finely dice the onion, thinly slice the celery and finely shred the basil leaves. Add to the beetroot.
5 Crush the cooled hazelnuts a little by putting them between two sheets of kitchen paper and pressing a rolling pin over them. Add to the beetroot.
6 Pour on the dressing. Stir well and spoon into a serving dish.
7 Decorate with a basil leaf or two.

Paula Mee is lead dietitian at Medfit Proactive Healthcare and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. Tweet @paulamarymee

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