Is the One Bite Rule the Answer?
When kids are dead set against trying new foods, it can drive parents crazy. One talked-about solution to combat this is the one bite rule. Also referred to as the no-thank-you bite.
When I hear parents talk about it they usually say: “I don’t force my kids to eat anything but they do have to try at least one bite of everything served.”
Sounds great right? Well, it depends.
Let’s take family A. Their two girls are a little older, school aged, and they have a one bite rule at meals. Their kids respond well to this, sometimes they like the food, other times they don’t. Meals are pleasant and the kids don’t feel pressure.
Now let’s check out family B: These parents have one child, Charlie, who is a preschooler. He is picky and also has issues with textures. When they first started this one-bite rule Charlie stayed at the table for two hours refusing to try green beans. His parents stood their ground and Charlie finally took an itsy bitsy bite of the green beans. After this, Charlie hated coming to the table and often gagged on the food his parents made him try.
Clearly in family B, the one bite rule is backfiring, making Charlie less interested in trying new foods — and eating has become a chore.
Why the difference? Katja Rowell at Family Feeding Dynamics has brought this topic on her blog and she makes a great point. The temperament of your child makes a big difference. Is the child stubborn, easy going or something in between?
In other words, some children will view a one-bite rule as the push they need to try new things while others will be totally put off by it. And as I pointed out in a previous post, every child has a different food personality.
Some are more adventurous while others take a longer time to learn to like a variety of foods. Another key factor involved is age and the related development. Kids under the age of 6 display almost obsessive compulsive behavior about things including food and eating. For example, Big A will only eat French toast if the egg is not visible. One time I told her to close her eyes while eating — that didn’t work!
According to the textbook, The Developing Person (my nightly reading — sad, I know), this OCD type of behavior starts to dissipate around age 6, right around the time kids start kindergarten or move on to first grade. This is also the time many experts say kids open up to food.
So if we fight kids during this stage, even with a seemingly harmless one bite rule, we may risk creating negative dynamics with eating. While I’m not saying parents should have a one-bite rule with older kids, my guess is that it goes over a lot better.
If we make it our business to get our child to try a food — even just one bite — she gets the message the we don’t trust her to learn and grow, and the lack of trust takes the joy of accomplishment away from her. If a food is presented over and over in a neutral fashion, sooner or later a child will taste it, and in most cases after she tastes it lots of times, she will like it. if you try to speed up the process, you will in fact slow it down. In a child’s mind, the response is something like this: “If they have to make me eat that, then it must not be so good.”
My biggest problem with the one-bite rule is the fact that the child has to take the bite. What if they refuse? Will they have to sit at the table until they eat? And I agree with Satter, I think it is powerful for children to try foods on their own — and I don’t want to take that sense of mastery away from them. But I also understand, firsthand, how frustrating the process can be for parents with late-blooming kids.
I’m also not a big fan of rules at the kitchen table. Once the meal is made and available to everyone, I want to relax and enjoy. The last thing I want to do is enforce rules of them taking a bite of everything . When I experimented with rewarding Big A for using a big girl cup for milk, I realized this kind of thing is not for me – or her.
In the end, it comes to knowing your child and yourself. You may not view your feeding style as pressuring but if your kid sees it that way, that’s all that matters. Just like we tailor our parenting to different kids, we need to do the same with feeding.