Picky eaters, whether they are toddlers or older children can be SO frustrating, especially when it comes to trying new foods. Introducing your fussy eater to new foods can be particularly challenging. Many people use the "one bite rule for picky eaters" (aka the "one polite bite" or "one bite rule for fussy eaters") but feeding professionals are increasingly aware that it has negative side effects. So what can we do to help our kids try new foods instead?
I remember a meal a few years ago. I had spent ages cooking something “new and exciting” that the whole family would love. It contained only accepted ingredients, what could go wrong? Surely my children would try one tiny little bite? Actually, I was banking on the kids trying the new food and loving it first time off. How foolish!
It was a pleasant summer evening and we were eating outside in the dappled shade.
I put the dinner down. Triumphant. Expecting.
I waited for the round of applause, the cheers of “hooray! This looks yummy! Something new and tasty!”
And that’s when it happened.
“Yuck! What’s that?” they wailed. (OK, obviously not my husband who was doing his best to encourage them.)
“You’ll love it!” I cried. “It’s got ALL your favourites in.”
They didn’t want to try it.
It was new.
It was unknown.
By now, I was getting frustrated. I’d just spent ages, toiling love sweat and tears and I was met with this response.
They wouldn’t even try it.
Not even one tiny little bite.
How did they know they didn’t like it if they wouldn’t try it? If they didn’t eat it, there wasn’t anything else for dinner. I was going to have 4 ravenous children who would be waking up in the middle of the night looking for food.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to shout.
I wanted to command them to eat it.
But I didn’t.
And that’s when I wondered about the One Polite Bite Rule in which you tell your children that they have to try just a teeny tiny bite of the food before they decide not to eat it.
I understand the temptation. I understand the frustration. I get it. Seriously. How do children know they don’t like something when they won’t even try it?
Surely they need to try “just one tiny little bite”? Then they’ll understand that it’s not so bad. Actually it’s quite good.
Or perhaps they’ll just leave it at that and we’ll try again another day.
Rethinking the One Bite Rule for Picky Eaters
The problem with the one bite rule for fussy eaters is that it’s a slippery slope. It’s a slippery slope to pressurising your children to eat their food.
In fact, let’s be honest. It IS pressuring your children to eat, even if it’s only “gentle pressure”.
And we all know that pressuring your children to eat is bad don’t we? We know that it doesn’t work. Well, perhaps you don’t, but there is a mountain of evidence that shows that pressuring your children to eat has long term negative consequences. At best, you make the object in question more undesired. At worse, you contribute to a bad relationship with food, emotional eating, possibly even bulimia.
Yes. Seriously. Pressuring your children to eat, even one tiny little bite can have negative side effects.
But the one bite rule for picky eaters isn’t pressuring your child, you’re just encouraging right?
Well, where do you draw the line? Are you letting them choose freely to eat or not eat that food? If not, you’re pressuring them, however well intentioned.
You create a bad food experience and your child will dig in their heels and in their mind a wall will go up. “I don’t like that food”, the wall will say.
You have now created an even bigger hurdle than before. You never know, that dislike for food may last a lifetime.
What you WANT to do is to create a “safe tasting experience”.
You want to make it pleasant.
You want your child to feel safe.
You want them to feel happy trying the new food.
You want them to feel in control of the food that they put in their mouth. After all, it’s their mouth.
Let them refuse.
If they want to, let them smell, touch and see the food.
Let them JUST put it in their mouth. (Yep, let them spit it out if they don’t want to eat it.)
Present them with a teeny tiny bit.
Let them make their own choices. That’s what we’re aiming for in the long term. We want our children to grow up and choose a healthy diet.
Try the Magic Phrase to Stop Picky Eating Instead
"You don't have to eat it!"
How to Present New Food to Children
I have since learnt my lesson about presenting my children with new food.
- I never make it the whole meal.
- I give them options (not their favourite food but other things they can eat if they want to. Please note "options" doesn't mean your kids get to pick out of the cupboard, they don't get to choose chocolate biscuits in they don't eat dinner. It means instead of just peas, offer carrots and peas and they get to choose which they want.)
- I use my poker face. I don’t want them to know that I desperately want them to try it. When they do try it, I do a silent happy dance (in my mind).
- I give them a tiny bit so they are not overwhelmed. (My favourite is to present soup in an espresso cup. So cute!)
- I prepare myself for the fact that they probably won’t eat it, they probably won’t even touch it. That’s fine. It is up to them to choose what they want to eat.
It is really tough learning to trust your children. It’s really tough not to pressure them to eat. And sometimes I find myself saying “just try a little bit”.
But then I stop and I remind myself.
It takes patience and persistence to teach your children to love healthy food.
Every time I present my children with new food or food that they claim they don’t like, I remind myself that it takes around 15 times of actual trying a new food to decide whether you like it or not. It takes 15 times of willingly choosing to try that food. I am teach my children to have a good relationship with food and I am teaching them to love healthy food.
I remind myself of this frequently. I remind myself that as tempting as it may be, the One Bite Rule is NOT allowing them to make that choice of their own free will.