Should You Make Your Kids Take “Just One Bite”?

One Bite RuleMy husband has a story from his childhood about eating a bite of lima beans.  Or rather, not being allowed to leave the table until he had taken a bite of lima beans, and stubbornly sitting there long after dinner was over. When his mom left the table to clean up and he tried to sneak that dreaded spoonful of lima beans back into the serving dish, his older brother ratted him out.

I hear from a lot of different parents with a lot of different feeding styles, but many of them have one thing in common: The One Bite Rule. On paper, it seems like a reasonable compromise: Kids are asked to try only one bite of a new food. They have to actually taste the food instead of rejecting it outright–but if they don’t like it, there’s no pressure to eat a whole portion of it. Some parents say it works brilliantly with their kids, who have discovered new favorite foods this way. But it’s not always successful. (After all, my husband never did learn to like lima beans!)

We used to do the One Bite Rule in our house too. My older child happily took nibbles of unfamiliar food when asked to—sometimes even two or three bites before he rendered his verdict.

You know how this story goes, right? Along came my second child to prove that I know nothing about parenting! As a toddler, he boycotted dinner for days on end and refused foods we all knew he loved (read Dinner Drama). Asking for “just one bite” challenged his independence and immediately put him on the defensive. It also wrecked the mood at the table, made him dig in his heels even more, and put us all on edge.

So I dropped the One Bite Rule from our dinner routine. I still encourage both kids to try new foods–or foods they don’t think they like. But instead of “You have to take a bite”, I say “Why don’t you try a bite?” and it’s made all the difference in the world. Both kids will usually take a bite, though it might be very tiny. If they don’t want to take a bite, they don’t have to. But it never, ever escalates into a battle–which to me, is the most important part.

If the One Bite Rule works well in your house, by all means keep it. For some children, it encourages them to branch out, discover new flavors and new favorites, and keep their minds open. But I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. So if it doesn’t work with your kids, I encourage you to back off and try a different tack. Some ideas:

Here’s one rule that DOES work for us: Read The Dinnertime Rule That Will Change Your Life.

Do YOU have the One Bite Rule at your dinner table? If so, does it work well with your kids?

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. “Do you want to try it?” has worked so much better for me with my now 8 year-old vs. “you have to take one bite.” My mom called it a “learning taste” growing up and I DETESTED anytime I heard that phrase because in my kid brain, it translated to “it won’t taste good.” Probably since we had so many other issues to deal with when my daughter was younger (she’s on the spectrum and has sensory issues), I never pushed the veggies or made her clean her plate once she stopped eating everything and became more selective around age 3-4. Rather I keep the veggies out even after dinner (usually when they are raw like carrot sticks, tomatoes, etc.) and she often comes back for them AFTER the occasional dessert on her own. For myself, I shudder to think of eating broccoli after a sweet treat but she does it naturally. But like you said, this is what works for us and doesn’t mean it’s what works for other families.

    • says

      Deanna–Thanks for sharing that. I used to call it a “No Thank You Bite” with my older son until Dr. Dina Rose kindly pointed out that you’re basically telling your child they won’t like it by calling it that. (Why didn’t I think of that?!) Like you, I notice my younger son will have some dessert and then sit back down and have a few more bites from his plate. Strange but hey, whatever works! We almost ALWAYS keep his plate out even after cleaning up after dinner.

  2. Kat says

    At our house the one bite rule gets modified. We give her a healthy portion of what we are eating (plus some fruit if we know there might be trouble), and say she has to have one bite if she wants more of the other things (like her favorites milk, fruit, or bread). It keeps it from being so harsh, she gets plenty to eat, and we all stay happy. Right now she is almost three, let’s see if it continues to work 😉

  3. says

    I’ve definitely seen the one bite rule back fire too many times! Sometimes if you act like you don’t care at all whether or not a child eats a food then they want to try it on their own out of genuine curiosity. But I agree it can work too, depending on the child.

    • says

      Heather–That worked like a charm with my younger son–we’d play a fun game and say “don’t you dare eat that!” and he’d laugh and take bites. We were having fun and so was he–and he always initiated the game, we weren’t trying to trick him. All kids are different, that’s for sure, and different things work for different kids. 🙂

  4. says

    Love reading your perspective on feeding kids and seeing what works for you – and reading the comments to see what works for others too. We don’t do the “no thank you bite” or “just one bite” in our house either, and i often have to tell the grandparents to stop doing that (they also tell the kids they have to finish their plate before they can have dessert, which irks me!). Instead we talk about not using words like “yucky” or “gross” and not saying “i don’t like it” without trying it. The kids know they should at least try something before they state an opinion. We were recently at dinner with another family, and one of the other kids said “i don’t like it” and one of my daughters told him “you have to try it before you say you don’t like it!” I told her each family does things in their own way and that’s our rule, but it was very cute and I was beaming on the inside 🙂

    • says

      Thanks Jessica! That’s a funny story about your daughter. 🙂 You are so right that each family does things in their own way and that’s okay. With my kids, I find that even though they may try something and say they don’t like it (or even outright refuse it), but may still eventually come around to eating it. My younger son would literally recoil at the suggestion that he try guacamole. Now he takes huge bites of it on a chip. All without interference from me!

  5. says

    Fun reading other’s comments on this! We do the same thing as Jessica at our house-there is no “one bite” rule, BUT there’s also no commenting on liking/disliking a food unless you’ve tried it. So far, I think it’s worked out well. My daughter, now 14, seems to be getting a teensy more adventurous with trying new things, and I always remind myself of the foods I love now {i.e avocado} that I refused to eat as a kid. Fortunately both my kids have loved avocado from the start 🙂

    • says

      EA–It’s fun to see how much progress kids make in trying new foods, isn’t it? And like you, I didn’t like avocado as a kid either. In fact, I think I was too freaked out by it to try it!

  6. says

    The one bite rule keeps it manageable and reasonable, and has been very effective both in my practice and in our home. That being said, every family is different, as are the reasons kids have a hard time at meals. One thing that I do to prevent lengthy battles is to decrease the bite size until it is manageable. I find that knowing there is only one bite to conquer decreases the overall anxiety about trying something new. I don’t like to condemn any one approach, and always tell families that the most important thing is finding what works for them…what takes away the stress, and meets their goals for mealtimes.

    • says

      Kristin–that’s a great idea to decrease the bite size! I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t condemn an approach if it’s working for them–if people like the One Bite Rule and it works, awesome! But if it’s turning dinnertime into a battle, it’s time to try something else. 🙂

  7. Shawna says

    I have pioneered a foolproof strategy to get my kids eating virtually anything with absolutely no fuss whatsoever. I don’t mess with the “just one bite” ruse, instead the adults at the table refuse to permit the child to try the dish. In fact, when a new dish appears on the table we immediately inform the child he/she cannot have any — it is only for grown ups. Then we proceed to enjoy the dish while carefully ignoring the obvious interest of the child. Doing this over the course of several meals usually does the trick. One meal sometime later the child proudly announces they are grown up enough to eat it and, even when they are disappointed with the flavor or texture there is no complaining or crying or tantrums. Works like a charm.

    • says

      Shawna–love it! I am totally trying that. I tell my older son that skipping the kids’ menu in favor of the regular menu is a very grown-up thing to do, which of course makes it much more appealing to him!

Trackbacks

  1. […] In addition to using nutritional yeast, this is the first time I added greens to the soup. As a kid, I DEPLORED when my mom made me take a bite of the escarole in her homemade Italian wedding soup – so much so that I thought I hated that soup for years. (Side note: Sally of Real Mom Nutrition wrote a brilliant post on this very issue recently: Should You Make Your Kids Take “Just One Bite?”) […]

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