When we only had one child, we had the "one bite rule" at mealtime: You had to try at least one bite of new foods. At the time, we called it the "No Thank You Bite," and it worked well. My son, an easygoing kid with that first-born drive to follow rules and stay in line, complied. Sometimes he even took two or three bites to decide if he liked something. We thought we had it all figured out.
Then along came son #2, who was stubborn and contrarian and didn't like to be told what to do, especially at mealtime. A request to take a bite of new foods was met with anger and tears and enough negative energy to suck all enjoyment out of family mealtime. Not only would he not take a bite of new foods, he also wouldn't eat the familiar foods either. You know, just to spite us.
I learned a few important things from this: First, if you think your parenting is brilliant because your first-born excels at sleeping/eating/behaving/potty training, your second child will come along to prove that you actually know nothing. Second, as food sociologist Dr. Dina Rose pointed out to me, the "No Thank You Bite" actually implies that your child won't like the food and won't possibly want a second bite (duh, why hadn't I thought of that?). And lastly, the "one bite rule" can work—for some kids.
The logic behind the rule makes sense. It encourages kids to taste foods instead of rejecting them outright—and if they don't like it, there's no pressure to eat a bunch of it (or secretly feed it to the dog under the table). It can open kids up to discovering new favorites and expanding horizons. But temperament plays an important role too. If your child sees this rule as a threat to her independence, it may create a negative association with that particular food and with trying new foods in general.
So I scrapped the "one bite rule" at our table. I still casually say "Why don't you try it?" when serving a new food. My older son usually will. My younger son usually won't because, as is his personality, things have to be on his own terms. That's okay. I keep offering different foods and striving for a positive, pressure-free vibe at the dinner table. And sometimes we play games that secretly advance the cause. When my younger son was a toddler and preschooler, we turned the bite rule on its head and teased him with the very earnest plea, "Oh no, don't you dare eat that!" which made him giggle—and then take a bite (read more about it here). These days, I sometimes enlist them as "recipe reviewers," asking them to rate recipes on a scale of 1-5 for taste, appearance, and aroma. And I take their feedback to heart: If a recipe gets a low rating on appearance, for instance, I might try serving it in a different way next time.
If you like the concept of the "one bite rule," a fun re-branding might encourage your kids too. Check out Aviva Goldfarb's list of ten alternatives to the "No Thank You Bite," including the "Adventure Bite" and "Touch It With Your Tongue".
Do you have the "one bite rule" at your table? Does it work well with your kids?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
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Image: Young girl eating via Shutterstock