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Four Expert Opinions on “The One Bite” Rule

I’ve previously written about why I think it’s important to let kids be in control of what they put in their mouths. Part of this means, letting them choose if they want to take a bite of a new food or not. My thinking is that forcing a child to eat something they don’t want may increase their fear of new foods, as well as lead to a general distrust of the eating experience.

While I believe that children should have the ultimate right to not try a new food, that doesn’t mean that they (or you) get an easy out. I believe that children need enthusiastic encouragement to try a new food, knowledge on the proper way to say “no thank you” to a second bite, as well as good vocabulary to describe what they like or don’t like about a new food. In my opinion, giving children control over their eating situation will make them much more likely to try new foods in the long run, even if you strike-out on one…or two…or seventeen meals.

When I’ve shared my opinion on this in the past, I struck a nerve with many of you. Some people expressed total, utter relief about it, telling me things like “it’s taken such a weight off my shoulders to know that I’m doing all I can to offer my children healthy foods without making dinnertime a battle.” While others disagreed with the “no force” approach, telling me things like “healthy eating is worth battling for” and “if I spend an hour making a dish, my kids are going to try at least one bite.”

Certainly, every child and situation is unique, and only you can decide what’s the best approach for your family. But here’s what some experts say about it, on both sides of the debate.

Against the “One Bite” Rule
Ellyn Satter, child feeding expert (and my idol!), is not a fan of forcing a bite. In her book, Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, she eloquently says:

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 the they have to make me eat that, then it must not be so good.”

In Favor of the “One Bite” Rule
The founder of Purple Asparagus (I highly respect her work) has successfully incorporated the “one bite” rule into the not-for-profit’s efforts to introduce children to new and healthy foods. In a comment on a previous blog post of mine, she said:

I know that the conventional wisdom is to not force children to eat what’s on their plate and I would certainly not advocate a return to that approach. However, I do think it’s very important to strongly encourage kids to try new things. I think that is where many new parents, including myself, fail – we don’t want to fight at the dinner table, but it’s a battle worth winning. In our classes and at my own dinner table, we strongly request that kids take a “polite bite.” They don’t have to like what they’re trying, but they should at least give it a go.

The Customized Approach to the “One Bite” Rule
On her blog, Raise Healthy Eaters, Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen talks about how a child’s “food personality” is a key factor in how the “one bite” rule will play out.

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

An Alternate Approach to the “One Bite” Rule
Sociologist and child feeding expert, Dina Rose, of It’s Not About Nutrition offers an alternative approach to the “one bite” rule, in an effort to help engage your kids in positive discussions about food.

Don’t teach your child that the only way to refuse food is to say she doesn’t like it. “Just try it and if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it,” can be rephrased, “Try it and tell me what you think.” Actively encourage your child to tell you if she doesn’t feel like eating something, if she would prefer something else, or if she is worried something will be awful. (Of course, if she would prefer something else, you shouldn’t hop up and make it; rather you should reply that she can have that alternative at the next meal. Then follow through.) Give your child alternative words and he’ll use them. (excerpted from “What ‘I Don’t Like It Really Means“)

So there you have it. Four different, well articulated opinions about the “one bite” rule. What has worked best for your family?

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