How chef overcame picky eating to become 'Meat on the Side' advocate

Until she was 20 years old, Nikki Dinki didn’t eat a single vegetable or protein. Now a Food Network chef and cookbook author, Dinki has become an unlikely champion for healthy eating.

When she was 9, Dinki was such a particular eater that her nickname was “Picky Nikki.” Frustrated, her mother told her she could eat whatever she wanted.

"I really just ate a lot of bread and cheese,” Dinki, 33, told

In her 20s, Dinki realized her digestion was off, her energy was low and her diet made it difficult to eat meals with friends, so she taught herself to like vegetables— one at a time.

“I had to eat them 20, 30, 40, almost 50 times to go from hating it to loving it,” Dinki said. “Once I learned that you can develop a taste for things, [that] you can actually learn to like different ingredients in foods, I realized I could do that with everything.”

Dinki expanded her palette to include chicken, meat and fish and noticed a difference in how she felt.

“Suddenly I didn’t think about my stomach anymore— everything was working the way it should be,” she said. “My skin felt different, my hair felt thicker. The stuff we put into our body is what is going to make our bodies run… in very different ways depending on what we eat.”

Dinki named her culinary point of view “Meat on the Side,” which is also the title of her cookbook. The idea is to make veggies the star, but still incorporate meat at no more than four ounces per serving. For example, her spin on sloppy Joes has two-thirds veggies, like mushrooms, peppers and onions, and a third of beef.

Mushroom + Beef Sloppy Joes

Makes 4 sandwiches


1 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces ground sirloin

1 pound portobello mushrooms, stems discarded, caps finely chopped

1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

8-ounce can tomato sauce

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

4 hamburger buns

Finely chopped dill pickles, for serving

Sliced pickled banana peppers, for serving

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sirloin, breaking up with a spoon or spatula, and cook until it has browned, about 5 minutes. Then, if the skillet is too dry for sautéing the mushrooms, add a bit more oil. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until they are brown and tender, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the bell peppers, onion, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the black pepper to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook until all the veggies are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, vinegar, sriracha, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.

Add the tomato paste and thyme to the mixture in the skillet and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes. Then stir in the tomato sauce mixture and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the veggies and meat and all the flavors come together. 5 to 7 minutes more.

To serve, spoon the Sloppy Joe mixture onto the bottom half of each hamburger bun, dividing it equally, and dot with some pickles and banana peppers before adding the bun tops.

“I’m giving you such a plethora of veggies in each meal, without you having to think about, ‘Ugh I have to eat a salad,’ or ‘Ugh, I have to eat my veggies.’ At the end of the day they are in your system and they are going to make you feel— guaranteed— that much better,” she said.

Dinki, a new mom to daughter Ivy, also included notes in the book to help moms with picky eaters make a dish the whole family will love.

For more, visit