Have you ever said to your child, “Just one more bite, and then you can have dessert!”? If you have, you’re one of the many parents using the so-called “one-bite rule”. To be honest, I used to do it myself, too, but I have skipped it for good, and I’m going to tell you why.
The one-bite rule usually arises from a principle that most of us have been brought up on: that you must taste the food to be able to tell if you like it or not. Other times, though, parents enforce the rule out of a nutritional concern that their child is not getting enough to eat – they wonder if maybe their child will be hungry again before bedtime, or if they’ll wake up in the middle of the night crying for more food. So, we try to squeeze in just a little bit more dinner using the one-bite rule.
But using this rule is something I strongly discourage as a psychologist, mainly because mealtime rules are about pressure and forcing our kids. And in my opinion, eating should never be about that. Food ought to be a pleasure, not a bitter chore. And I remember very clearly when I used that rule myself: It rarely made my child eat the bite, and then the struggle would start. Because then what? What strategies did I have to get it my way?
When we as parents put rules forward, we must be prepared to enforce them, otherwise we might as well not have them in the first place. Like when we enforce table manner rules: “We don’t stand on our chairs, we don’t throw food.”. When our kids can obey these rules, they can sit with us at the table. If not, we can sanction the behavior. But with the one-bite rule, it’s different, because there’s little we can do to enforce it. Putting that rule forward is like telling a goat to do a dance. If the goat wants to, it will. But if not, well, it’s not going to happen. And then what are you going to do? You can’t enforce it, because it’s not up to you to eat that bite. You can beg, entice, threaten, distract, reward, but if your child has made up his mind about not eating that bite, it will not happen. So not only are you putting unnecessary pressure on your child, you’re putting unnecessary pressure on yourself, too.
But aside from not working, there are multiple other psychological reasons for me to discourage this rule:
To sum it up, I recommend skipping the one-bite rule, mainly because it’s not a long-term solution to the rejection of food. Also, it’s not respectful and doesn’t build trust. It is possible to find some children, who don’t mind obeying this rule, some kids can even be fine with it. But my point here is: There’s so little to win, and so much to lose. Because mealtimes shouldn’t be about twisting your child’s arm. With my two oldest daughters, I could probably easily enforce the rule, and most likely, they would not object. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, would put up a fight, and she would not forget about neither the forced food nor the experience that arose from not wanting to eat it.
Skipping the rule, though, doesn’t mean that we parents should just throw up our hands and let mealtimes run their own course. We can gently encourage our children to taste foods and we can make sure to expose them to a broad variety of food. These are the building blocks on the way to a long-term healthy and authentic relationship with food. (In my online course about how to build food heroes, you can learn more about how to handle mealtime struggles and selective eating).
Get more info about how to deal with picky eaters: