As I was reading my copy of “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen le Billon I could not help envying French parents the amazing support system they have in place when it comes to feeding their kids. From the fundamental family meals traditions to creative food activities at school, French kids get are exposed to the most effective forms of nutrition education from morning till night.
Karen Le Billon did a wonderful job putting together a few rules outlining the way the French parent their kids around food. It is interesting to see that most of these rules are very similar to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, except for one.
According to Karen Le Billon, French kids “ .. do not have to eat it, but (they) have to taste it”, when it comes to new and less favorite foods. Since I have been recommending this book to many parents, I soon started receiving more and more questions about this “One bite rule”. Some parents tried it with their kids and it worked while others were not convinced it could be the way to make their kids eat more variety.
In case you are wondering whether you should be implementing the One Bite Rule, here are a few points that may help you decide if and how to proceed.
1 Make sure the mealtime environment is positive and relaxed, regardless of what and how much the kids are eating. Start following the Division of Responsibility in Feeding and make sure that your kids are happy to be at the dinner table and are capable of finding something to eat from what you are offering. If pressure and stress accompany mealtimes, another rule about eating will make the situation only worse.
2. Know your child. Some children are naturally more adventurous than others and it is reflected in their eating behavior as they are willingly sampling new things. But for many other children problems handling certain textures or oral-motor delays make exposure to any new food a big challenge. Forcing them to take a bite leads to a lot of distress for the whole family and can potentially create food aversions in the future. Most of children are somewhat in the middle, meaning they are likely to try new foods sometimes, but not all the time.
3. Watch for the signs of innate curiosity. Children are naturally very curious about their surroundings. And food is not an exception. But at some point they may become more cautious around new foods. The best strategy is to be patient and keep serving a variety of foods family style always including something the child can handle. If parents get pushy, kids show even less interest in new foods. But if they handle the picky eating stage as a pro, they soon start hearing: “Mom/Dad, what is this?” “Can I try this?” and “How does it taste?”.
4. Now that the steps 1, 2 and 3 are in place and everyone is relaxed at mealtimes, you may notice that children are more interested in food. It may be time to start encouraging them to take a bite of something new. But, as Ellyn Satter put it: “Be prepared to take a “No” for an answer”. If you are not ready to back off immediately in case your child refuses the food or you can see anxiety and tension on the little face, it is best to give it more time. Sometimes children prefer to warm up and to smell or lick the new food before they are ready for a bite.
5. Finally, make sure to serve a variety of foods at all meals. This will make variety a norm and give kids lots of chances to practice trying new things. Instead of serving new foods only at dinner, make sure that kids are exposed to variety throughout the day. Serve a new fruit at breakfast, pack a mini serving of a new vegetable for lunch or buy new cookies for afterschool snack or dessert.
I am happy I did not try implementing the One Bite Rule when my kids were smaller, pickier and I felt stressed and insecure around feeding them. Following the Division of Responsibility definitely changed our mealtimes dynamics for better. Now I feel much more relaxed and confident asking the girls to try a new food. To their credit, they do it almost always and I do not push them if they refuse. They ask for a taste of new foods most of the time and they know how to spit the food into a napkin if they are not ready to swallow it.
The one bite rule may work for your family as it works for French families who are natural food parenting experts with a lot of support on all levels and established and valued food traditions. But if the atmosphere around your dinner table is already stressful, another rule around eating can make it worse and will not help you kids grow into positive eaters. In addition, it can create long-term problems and food aversions in kids with sensory issues around food. If you are willing to give the One Bite Rule a try, it is best to follow your child’s lead and choose a gradual step-by-step approach.