Table for Two: Picky Eater Dating

I had a friend in high school who was the pickiest eater I have ever met. Anytime we ordered pizza as a group hers had to be topped with cheese, nothing else. At restaurants, she never strayed from ordering a classic grilled cheese sandwich or chicken fingers. With her limitations, ethnic restaurants were off-limits. On the rare occasions when we dared to coax her into trying something new, we inevitably failed.

When I first met this friend in middle school I thought it was just a phase. At the time, it did not seem as awkward to still be ordering off the kids’ menu when dining out. Yet, by the time we reached high school and nothing changed, I became a little worried. Considering all the proms, celebrations and Friday nights to look forward to, I wondered if there would ever be a time when my friend would actually eat the food on plate in front of her.

Oftentimes, I would joke to her that if she ever got married, I imagined being served crust-less grilled cheeses and plain cheese ravioli with minimal marinara sauce at her reception. But beyond the humor, the comment addressed a greater concern: how to find and fall in love with someone willing to put up with such pickiness.

With her limited appetite and unwillingness to expand her palate, my friend admits that dating has certainly has it challenges. Dates, especially the first, are always filled with anxiety, and this feeling is only compounded by concerns about whether or not the date’s chosen restaurant will have something able to satisfy a picky eater.

For those unadventurous palates or those who have dietary restrictions, eating out on dates can be quite the challenge. Arriving at a date without an appetite can certainly be a deal breaker, and the same can be said about ordering minimally. No one wants to start off a date by looking over the menu, finding nothing suitable, and then simply ordering a house salad with the dressing on the side. Though it might seem like a safe and inexpensive choice, a plate of greens does little to promote sparks between diners.

On occasions when my friend cannot find her children’s menu favorites on the regular menu, she says she often gets creative with her selections. Chicken soup usually is an option, so long as there are no strange greens like escarole; mozzarella sticks seem to taste the same ordered everywhere; and at Italian restaurants, the decision is easy: whether to order the spaghetti with meatballs or the chicken parmigiana.

When dates cheerfully tease her about her choices, my friend uses the opportunity to share her childhood memories of the gooey combination of bread, butter and cheese. As a young girl, she always ordered a grilled sandwich when dining out with her mom and dad in restaurants. Since her dad’s passing, she says that each bite of the sandwich serves as a simple reminder of past warm memories. Food is often a way to share memories and personality traits, and here she’s found that even her limited palate makes her this allowance.

And while my friends and I had little success encouraging our picky eater to sample new things, my friend says that dating, especially in her college years, has expanded her palate substantially. When a cute guy offers a bite of his steak or a taste of his risotto, the polite–and flirty–thing to do is accept it. While she admits there have been occasions when she has declined dates’ offerings, those times she did oftentimes led not only to another forkful, but also another date.

Bethany Imondi is a junior studying Government and English at Georgetown University. Having spent the last spring semester abroad in Italy, she is still waits for the bus half-expecting Italian men to drive by and honk incessantly.

Originally posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

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