Like the rest of me, my taste buds are maturing

The older I become, the more I appreciate cooking – and eating – good food. And by “good,” I not only mean a meal that tastes delicious, but also one that is healthier for me.

For example, my mouth waters at the thought of pan-fried asparagus (unheard of only a few years ago.)

Growing up, I didn’t much care for vegetables, except for broccoli (weirdly, I’ve always loved broccoli.) The other green ones, such as lima beans, peas, Brussels sprouts and spinach, never really appealed to me. Mom would always try to force squash down my throat, but I found – and still find – the texture revolting (cue sour face).

But on the other side of my plate, the mashed potatoes doused in butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a slab of medium-rare steak drenched in barbecue sauce or A-1, never stood a chance. It’s like a magic trick (watch it disappear).

I don’t hate all vegetables, though. I do enjoy corn, especially corn on the cob, and in recent years, I have come around to string beans. Carrots are OK, but only if they are cooked. I also learned last year that I like celery, something I would have never touched in a million years growing up.

Recalling my childhood, I can remember getting into my grandmother’s refrigerator every time she babysat me. At Grammy Jean’s, my go-to snacks were Ritz crackers slathered in cream cheese, and lettuce. I only ate the lettuce by itself – no dressing, no other veggies, just lettuce. I enjoyed peeling apart that big leafy vegetable and popping it in my mouth like it was chocolate.

Today, though, I tend to serve up my lettuce with other vegetables and toppings: green peppers, tomatoes, sometimes carrots, radish, boiled eggs, fresh avocado and almonds (as an example). And instead of my salad swimming in ranch dressing, I now tend to use lighter, and much healthier dressings, such as balsamic vinaigrette.

It’s funny how things change.

While I haven’t warmed up to all vegetables, my taste buds are finally maturing. I never thought this day would come. I can recall times where I would trick my mom into thinking that I actually ate those icky lima beans, when really, I was just giving the dog an under-the-table feast.

Not everyone likes every vegetable, or fruit, or any kind of food. But as we age, we start to appreciate that food is not just about taste, but what it does to our bodies and how it makes us feel.

Personally, when I eat asparagus, I feel like I deserve a gold medal. After all, it provides the body with an array of vitamins, including A, C, E and K, and is a good source of dietary fiber. Some would disagree, but it tastes good, too.

While I try to prepare well-rounded meals, such as baked boneless chicken breast, potatoes (or rice) and a veggie, I often crave comfort foods. Especially after a busy day at work or when I want to relax, macaroni and cheese is just oh-so-tasty. I have my moments. I admit it: I’m an emotional eater.

I am no longer the paper-thin gal I was in high school. The days of the “Freshman 15” have also passed. So now any weight I gain can’t be blamed on college.

Approaching 26 years old this June, I’ve really begun to think about how I eat. And thanks to the number on the scale, any warm, sunny days going forward will be spent riding my bicycle, going for runs or just being outside. By the same token, I will start eating healthier, cooking healthier foods, and simply think “healthier.”

While I binge on some foods every once in a while, over the years I have also become more mindful about portion sizes. These days, I may be consuming all the food on my plate – vegetables included – but I also don’t take more food than I can eat. After all, my eyes are bigger than my stomach.

According to MedicinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “the number of taste buds decreases as you age. Each remaining taste bud also begins to lose mass (atrophy). Sensitivity to the four tastes often declines after age 60. Usually salty and sweet tastes are lost, followed by bitter and sour tastes.”

That explains it.

In addition, Mayo Clinic reminds us, “As taste and smell begin to decrease, be mindful of your eating habits. Some people eat less or begin to eat in unhealthy ways when they lose these senses. Eating three nutritious meals a day, as well as healthy snacks, is important to staying healthy and preventing some common health problems associated with aging.”

That’s exactly my point. It seems like my taste buds are changing every day. What could have been discarded in the trash yesterday may be tomorrow’s favorite provender – including asparagus.

I may even throw some steamed spinach in there, too.

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