I have a lot of food anxieties. In my youth, I was very picky, had a lot of foods I really didn’t like, and sadly a huge appetite. I would often find myself in awkward social situations where assumptions would be made, like every kid loves peanut butter and jelly or scrambled eggs or macaroni and cheese, and I’d be screwed.
I remember so many sleepovers or afternoons being stuck with unsympathetic friends and their parents, or in restaurants that didn’t get the idea of a completely fried egg or no gravy. It was one thing to eat at my house, where my finicky eating was understood, although always condescended to with a comment of “you don’t know what you’re missing.”
We were encouraged at an early age to learn to cook. I was quite proficient at making the light fare that I wanted and that more importantly met my palate’s criteria. I was able to fry an egg to my own liking easily enough, make awesome french toast as well as probably the world’s best chocolate chip pancakes.
But outside the home, the world scowled at my requests to hold the raw tomatoes I found so loathsome from sandwiches, not to mention the cheese or mayonnaise. I remember the first time I went to Subway and ordered just turkey and lettuce on wheat. The guy looked at me like I was crazy, but frankly I didn’t even want the lettuce.
McDonalds was always tricky because all I really wanted was a giant mountain of fries. The fact that they put mustard or, god forbid, salad dressing on the burgers was total blasphemy. A plain burger with ketchup was all I needed, but seldom ever got made correctly.
College forced my hand a bit when it came to a few foods I’d previously avoided. The cafeteria plan I relied on provided such bland options that I had to reevaluate my fussiness just to find something that worked. I got over my aversion to gravy and macaroni and cheese. I resolved my issues with scrambled eggs, but not anything with a runny yolk.
As time went by, I found that certain things like mayonnaise and guacamole could be tolerated, even enjoyed if made properly. I came to love creamy salad dressings as well. I embraced cheese on sandwiches, but still no tomatoes.
My foray into the new and unfamiliar worked well with the advent of the Internet for searching out menus and intranet lists. Restaurants adopted the “have it your way” mentality, and were often more accommodating when it came to special requests. Dining out became friendlier.
Still, these adventures were not without peril. Getting accommodated in a large group, through a drive through, or with a waiter who doesn’t write your order down does not cast odds in your favor. I have developed a rule of threes when it comes to special requests. This means that the entire table can ask for only three special orders before you get into the red zone of certainty that most will not be made, if any.
It’s important to know who you’re dining with to ensure that if there’s more than one fussy eater, each person can get what they want, correctly prepared the first time, and not piss off the waiter. I always try to order first or last so my request stays fresh in the waiter’s mind. I usually engage the table before ordering to find out what everyone else is having to determine if I can make changes to the dish I want.
I try to avoid adding anything, if possible. Usually, I ask to remove elements like sour cream or the hated tomatoes, or switch fries to a salad. I typically won’t do this if I know there will be a lot of other modifications made from other people at the table. I made the mistake once,and the person next to me basically built an entire entree that didn’t even exist on the menu. To my surprise the entire thing came out right, but I think it was because the waitress wrote it down.
As I try new things, I find great pleasure in ordering things right off the menu as they were intended. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel far less anxiety and the days of just turkey and lettuce are long gone.