The Feeding Doctor on Pinterest

moms speak out, “two-bite rule” and listening to your gut

Posted by on Sep 29, 2010 in Blog Posts | 15 comments

Thank you to those who filled out the survey. I can only assume from those who chose not to that I am doing everything perfectly! (Just kidding, but why not go with the self-affirming assumption?)

Many wanted to hear from other moms who are in the “trenches.”
Here is a great comment from a reader about the two-bite rule (or the on-bite-rule or the ‘no thank-you bite’…)
“I am personally sooo sick of hearing about “just try it” and “two bite” rules. Especially the accompanying insistance that their application will turn my son from a neophobic eater into an adventuresome eater. I can only assume that this technique works for some kids because it sure is popular.

We only had to try it a few times to realize that it didn’t work for our son. The instant that he is told he has to try something he immediately assigns it to the “I don’t like it” category. And foods are seldom removed from this category once they are placed in them… Also, to actually get him to try something he doesn’t want to requires an EXTREME amount of pressure, so extreme that I know it has to be wrong.”


The pressure moms feel to get their kids to eat “right” is also extreme. Many, knowing that it feels wrong, slog through joyless meals, miserably doing as they are told to get the pyramid into their kids every day. My favorite quote? “Dinner feels like 45 minutes of hostage negotiations.” The reader is right, it does ‘work’ for some kids, the easy-going, adventurous kind perhaps. It even works for one sibling, but not the other. Trust when you feel that something isn’t working. If you dread feeding and meals, something is wrong.
Or the mom with the son who is rapidly gaining weight who was scolded by the doctor, “You’re the parent here! Step up and don’t bring that crap into the house!” Well, now her son is being shunned by friends because he cleans out their pantries of all the forbidden foods when he hangs out at their homes. She KNOWS it feels wrong, and it’s not working, but the doctor told her to do it, and hey, she’s a bad mom if she doesn’t, right?
What feels wrong to you?
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15 Comments

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  1. N

    I tell my children they should try foods they don't like every few years, because your tastebuds (not just your taste) literally change as you grow up. I explain that I hated beans as a kid, and I now really like them; and I don't make them swallow, just bite – sometimes even just lick – to see how it tastes. Also, if I can't persuade, I don't force. I wondered if I was just being weak about not insisting they eat more of what they like less, but then I realized – my "picky" eater eats more variety than most children his age. He just doesn't like as much variety as I or most of his siblings do. And because he knows trying something won't mean he has to eat all of it, or even any of it, really, he will try things if I recommend them to him. (Of course, I know he never likes spicy, and a few other things, so I respect that in my recommendations – that also helps.)

  2. familyfeedingdynamics

    Jennfer,
    I agree and disagree. You are right that there are innate differences in children and how they approach foods, new tastes, and new experiences in general. I do struggle with discussions on these topics as well, because every family is unique and somehting that works fine for one family is a disaster for another. (ala the TBR…)
    I do think there are some general things that hurt or help MOST people, which is why I do what I do.
    For example, trying to get kids to eat less, means they tend to eat more. I do pretty well with eating, being naturally adventurous. My folks did allot right, but I do know that when they cut me off from food so I wouldn't get fat (said in as many words) it made me want to eat more and more. I also know that bribing with dessert on the whole does more harm than good etc. Also, there is a natural "picky" stage, but many, many kids who are only eating literally 5 or less foods will have a very hard time growing out of it. A mom of a 14 year old called and said her doctor told her for 7 years he would "grow out of" eating mostly microwaved burritos, but here he is 7 years later doing the same thing he was at age 7 ,That family could have used some major help.
    The whole point of the Division of Responsibility is to give children control within the context of what parents provide. We put the food on the table, they chose if and how much to eat from what we provide. Period. it actually gives way more control (autonomy) as is developmentally appropriate than the standard control model of feeding which 85% plus of parents practice for the most part. These are complex issues, so thank you for bringing that up, and you're right, even parents who do everything "right" can still have picky kids, but I do think there is a lot we can work on in general. :)

  3. Jennifer

    One of the difficulties I have with discussions around the topic of "two bite rules" and picky eating in general is that they often get turned into discussion that presuppose ONLY a parental cause and cure for pickyness. I think this is a mistake for two reasons, first, because I think there can be a strong genetic/innate component to pickyness that is not modifiable by environmental factors. Some children will be picky no matter how much a parent does something right. Some children will be adventuresome eaters no matter how much their parents do wrong.

    Secondly, most children grow out of pickyness ALL ON THEIR OWN. They can grow out of pickyness with our help and even despite our help.

    I worry that if we emphasize TOO much the ultimate way to create good eaters we lose sight of the fact that children mostly create themselves, that we take control away from their eating, control that should be theirs.

  4. everydaygirlnell

    I've honestly never encountered a situation where my parents had us try something that would make us gag or vomit (we're blessed with no food related allergies apart from sensitivity to MSG). If there's a physical reaction to a food, no rule will apply! Plus, my parents never really FORCED us to try anything, or clear our plates, or eat veggies before dessert. It was more like a gentle "You know we always give everything a try first before we decry it". Given that I was the only girl among brothers, we always tried to see who would be the one to dare try the strangest thing on the menu. I didn't encounter anyone hesitant to approach foods- so I wasn't hesitant myself.

    I've tried stinkfruit (which stinks), but only after we had a comical situation with my mom, grandma, grandpa and oldest aunt trying pieces with clothespins on their noses- so much fun!

    I guess that's what I'd try to do with my two-bite rule- make things fun! I myself can't wait to try out new things, and I guess that gets transferred to kids easier than anything.

    My picky-eater parenting-book-damaged cousin's not picky at all when she's at my parents' house. "You make the veggies taste nice!" is what she told my mom. So I guess I grew up spoiled with nice-tasting veggies and hope to pass that on :)

  5. KellyK

    I think it's interesting how different individual kids and parents are. What's an easy routine for some is traumatic and feels like a hostage negotiation for others.

  6. familyfeedingdynamics

    I'm swamped this week, but there is so much to address in this. what would you do if your child gagged or actually vomited? Or what if one of their temperaments meant the one bite rule routinely turned into 45 plus minutes of standoff and battles with little else being eaten? I see many kids who get to this point, even kids who's parents eat and enjoy a variety of foods.
    I would not force myself to eat something i didn't want to, and I wouldn't ask a child to either. It can be traumatic, forceful etc. I don't like snails, and I didn't eat them in France, but M tried them. I was matter of fact, said, "no thank you" and she tried them with no pressure. She didn't like them, but again I think every child and family is unique. Thanks for sharing your situation. Many families will relate, I'm sure!

  7. everydaygirlnell

    I grew up with the two-bite rule (one bite at one date to decide if you liked it at that time, one bite at a later date to decide if you liked it at all) and am definitely going to apply it to my children, too.

    It helps that both my parents are adventurous eaters who will not even say no to trying fried ants in honey (which I didn't like a lot, thank you very much). There simply wasn't a "staple food" at our house- Mom cooked whatever had been fresh on the market that week in a style she thought befitted the ingredients. I probably ate more Japanese, Thai, Italian, French and Indonesian cuisine growing up than American-style pizza or casseroles.

    Of course there are drawbacks to this scenario as well, drawbacks I have intimate experience with. Eating cooked calves' brains served as part of a Michelin-star meal had me unable to stand the smell and taste of meat for a year- so what! Try it anyway!

    I think children are led by example more than anything else. Do as I do happens to be the most efficient way of parenting IMHO (I see it in the "read-every-childraising-book-on-the-market" approach of one of my uncles and the simple "we are family" approach of my other aunt). I guess there's simply no question of not trying something you're suspicious of when you see your mom choking down a raw tomato despite not liking them at all because she wants to give them another try (a taste that has transferred to only me out of my siblings- I can't stand the things raw). I got hooked on sushi aged eight because dad raved about having it on a business trip to Japan.

    Parents have more than a passing influence on their kids' habits. If the parents are willing to experiment, try new things, cook differently the kids will, too.

    Oh, and another thing that probably helped me get into "exotic" foods: Mom had us all help prepare dinner whenever possible. We also went to the market with her to "help" on Saturdays, so we could identify most herbs, vegetables and fruit by sight and smell if not by name. If you know what goes in your meal you're much more likely to eat it.

    That said, there are of course some things even an adventurous eater won't be able to stand. For me, it's everything to do with texture. Rubbery-glibbery stuff is a no-go (no Jell-O, no raw tomatoes, no squid), but I'm still willing to try if the flavor won't beat the texture- two bites 😉

  8. Leila

    My youngest was a bit older than M when we re-insisted on one bite, and she was by far the hardest to convince, though it really was only one or two meals of what I'd describe as mild stress. I'd say she's got the most varied tastes of my three at this point.

    I did try to make it very matter of fact, so while there was pressure, it wasn't punctual, just a new normal, if that makes sense. I've found that my kids don't always do well with exceptions to rules, but might be fine with rules.

    I made the switch back to 'one bite' by introducing foods that I knew would appeal to them but that were unfamiliar-ish.

    Also, umm… they've seen ME try things that I'm wary of or don't like too. My dh's biological father came to visit, and I don't like him much, which made for a stressful situation to begin with. He insisted on trying a local fried chicken place for take out on evening, and he ordered a double order of fried chicken livers. As my kids sat there and grinned like little beasts :-), I choked one down. As did my spouse. The kids (now, btw, 13, 9, and 7) sometimes stare at a bite of something they're not sure they want to eat, sigh mournfully and say 'I suppose it can't be worse than the time Maman ate the fried chicken liver'.

    I also allow for copious amounts of ketchup and teriyaki sauce to be used if they feel they need it, which they do less and less.

    Quite a few people in the parenting circles/boards/email lists I frequented reacted strongly to my insisting on one try. Most of them are of the 'eat whatever you want' and open snacks policy (anything you want at any time). I've been, as best I can, using Ellyn Satter's method, with the one bite caveat, and quite a few people were not aboard on that either.

    I think that my being fat, and having so many food issues myself, played into their perception. They honestly thought -and told me- that my kids would be fat because I didn't keep junk food in the house and give my kids free access to it. So, umm, yeah. Parenting. You're wrong if you do, wrong if you don't, but in the end it mostly seems to work out.

  9. familyfeedingdynamics

    Mer,
    Sorry the delays were missed. That must have been a very frustrating relationship with the doc and experience.
    Keep me posted if you go Feingold. It sounds like a huge commitment, and I've heard mixed reviews.
    Good luck!

  10. familyfeedingdynamics

    Leila,
    Sounds like you're listening to your instincts here. I'm glad your kids have matured with eating and are trying new things. I'm interested that so many folks reacted strongly to your one-bite-rule, when what I usually hear is the opposite :)
    I always tell families, that if something is working for them, and their children, and the particular temperaments of all considered, then it's probably what is right for you. Alas, I hear mostly how the rules and pressure really turns kids off and in general, pressure slows the process, but I'm thrilled you wrote in. I really do want to hear from moms out there! I know with M, that pressure backfires (I tried it a few months ago with milk again…) but I sensed quickly it wasn't working. There is learning and trial and error with parenting and feeding, and that's not just OK, that's great!
    Thanks!

  11. Leila

    Picky vs adventurous eaters has been an odessey in my house, and we're finally at a point that I'm happy with.

    I used to insist on a bite at least. I did with my oldest and she's an adventurous eater. Then my second came along, and people, both on the internet and real life, "got on my case", calling my insistence that my children try at least one bite of something served, abusive, that I should respect their choice not to try anything.

    So I stopped doing it.

    Result? Middle and youngest children ate pretty much nothing but pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. In the meanwhile, older child is eating squid balls at Dim Sum.

    About two years ago, I went back to insisting on one bite of everything. Middle child now likes anything curry, and youngest child prefers food that is more spicy than either of her siblings tolerate. Their choices have expanded considerably. Yeah, they sometimes really didn't like that one bite, and that's fine, but more than once, there was a (very very subdued) acknowledgment that maybe it wasn't "that bad" after all.

    My children used to know every single synonym of "hate", loathe, despise, revile, abhor, and used them to refer to food. Aside from some respected by all dislikes, I don't hear that as much any longer.

    This is one area that I feel some sense of success.

  12. familyfeedingdynamics

    Maura,
    I'm so glad you found a respectful, tuned-in ally with this! You describe a mix of several different strategies. Some desensitization approach, and parts of the food-chaining or bridging approach where you identify flavors, textures you like or can tolerate and expand from there. I like how gentle you are with yourself. Keep up the good work. I'm glad you're feeling good about it. keep us posted!

  13. Mer (Lulu's Mommy)

    PS, I think moms need to go with their guts for a minimum to research. Our first ped was not with me. And therefore, I did not want him near my daughter. He was more worried about Vaccines than anything else :( Missed her ALL of her developmental delays.

  14. Mer (Lulu's Mommy)

    I am sorry I missed the survey. I do the two bite rule for myself to see if I like stuff, so I do it with my daughter, too. I also try it 4 times b4 giving up on it, and then I will always bring it back at a later date.

    I just try to make healthy foods available. I am thinking of going Feingold.

    We'll see how that goes. I love your blog!!!!

  15. Maura

    At 39, I am still one of the pickiest eaters I know, a circumstance which causes stress and annoyance to my friends now even though I have become quite accepting of it myself.

    As a child, pretty much nothing would get me to eat food that I did not want to eat. But the only persuasion method I recall was "Just try it!" or variations thereof, with attendant begging, pleading, cajoling, and scolding. I hated it, but my fear of new foods and absolute disinterest in trying them was much stronger than my aversion to anyone else's attempt to change me.

    In my adult years, I have triumphantly added a handful of new foods to my repertoire — it's not all that much, but adding any new food was a HUGE step for me and this success has meant a lot to me and helped me to be healthier: kidney beans, hot spices of all kinds (cayenne, curries), scrambled eggs, broccoli. These new foods came entirely out of my *own* desire to add new nutritious foods to my diet, not from anyone else's exasperation with me.

    What helped me to try anything new was the patience of a sensitive friend who spent a lot of time trying to understand my vehement opposition to putting any unfamiliar food in my mouth and swallowing. He learned, and helped me to discover, that for me it was much more about visceral disgust toward certain textures, not often aversion to new tastes. (It was this discovery that led me to try many new flavors and spices, a wonderful enhancement of my until-then almost entirely bland eating.) He was also very sympathetic to my peanut allergy and how the very real fear of death-by-peanut has layered an acute element of anxiety into my avoidance of unexpected textures while eating.

    He helped me to acquire a new food very logically and systematically, not through pleading or cajoling. I had never eaten beans, was completely skeeved out by their shape and what I assumed was their texture and flavor. But he could see that this was inconvenient for me, as I enjoy chili very much and beans were often in chili. So one night he brought out a plate with one kidney bean in the middle of it and said, "Look! It's a little baby baked potato!" (I do so love potatoes.) I was like, no, it's a gross slimy bean. But he persisted, "Nope, it's a baby potato. Look, let's cut into it and see!" And he cut into the skin of the bean, squeezed a tiny bit, and up came fluffy white…potato. It looked just like potato. And he put a tiny bit on a fork, and said, "Want some potato?"

    Now, I knew it wasn't potato. But I trusted him, and it did look good. So I tried it, and lo and behold it DID taste like a wonderful little potato. And that got me to try biting into a bean, which was even tastier than a mini-potato, as the skin was much more edible. And I was off to the races, adding kidney beans to everything. They're now the main protein staple in my diet!

    All the new foods I've since added have been like this — I connect a new food (with the help of someone who knows it) to one of the foods already in my repertoire. A friend told me that very dry, firm scrambled eggs have a texture similar to pasta, one of the staples of my diet. I was skeptical, but it was that step that allowed me to try it.

    Hope that perspective can be helpful if anyone is trying to figure out how to approach a person with acute aversions to trying new foods — in my experience, higher intensity of the same "JUST TRY IT!" method will fail. Figure out why they like the food that they like, why they don't like what they avoid, and try to make connections from there. Familiarity breeds comfort, and the more familiar you can make a food, the more likely you might be.