Sometimes the First Bite Is Also the Last.

Most parents have a strategy for getting their young children to eat foods that they don’t want any part of. If we never pushed our kids to try new foods, they’d grow up on Gerber applesauce and pureed carrots, after all. Some parents make their kids eat one bite of the new food for every year of their age. Some parents make their kids try just one bite. Some parents make their kids clear their plates, and some parents avoid the issue entirely by making an alternate meal for their finicky kids.

I am fairly certain that, growing up, I just had to have a taste of the foreign foods on my plate. That in itself was a huge struggle, because I was always a picky eater. (I still am to an extent, but the variety of foods that I eat as an adult is HUGE compared to when I was a child.) I grew up with strong aversions to the smell of the following things cooking: liver, eggplant, and stuffed peppers.

I still do not eat the following things: liver, eggplant, and stuffed peppers.

When our older son was a younger guy, we were really doing our best to get him to try new things. This kid practically lived on things like Mac and Cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. Wait, let me correct that. I am not saying that we made him those things at every meal; Jim and I were both on the same page (as usual) when it came to this issue. Starting when the kid was around three-ish, we did not cater to what he wanted his diet to consist of. Other parents were shocked: how could you not feed him something special…something he’ll eat??? HE HAS TO EAT!!!

Well, it was easy. Our rule was, if you didn’t eat what we prepared, you didn’t eat. We knew that he certainly wasn’t going to starve to death. If he was hungry, he’d eventually eat.

The problem? We had a stubborn and not-often hungry child.

Once, when he was three, I made burgers for dinner. Now, keep in mind that this is a kid who avoided meat AT ALL COSTS unless it was a McDonald’s hamburger. In fact, he famously (in our family, anyway) told his grandpa–my dad–that his teeth were allergic to meat. And believe me, my parents loved that their picky daughter gave birth to a picky son.

So, the night on which I made burgers was destined for major fail, I can’t lie. At the time we lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in a house whose dining room was open to the living room. This boy just did not want to eat the meat, period. Jim and I finished our dinner as the boy just sat there, staring at the meat. He wanted to get down from the table, but he had not even tried the burger. Finally exhausted from trying to get him to eat, Jim and I told him that if he ate one bite–just ONE bite–of the burger, he could be finished. Jim and I left the table and walked over to the couch and sat down to watch tv (keeping an eye on the boy as well).

After an eternity, he said, “Okay, I eat it.” He put one bite in his mouth, and let it sit there.

And sit there.

And sit there.

And sit there.


Oh sure, he gave a chew or two every now and then, but for the most part, he sat there with it in his cheek.

After more than an hour, the sight of him calmly sitting there at the table with a mouth-temperature piece of congealed hamburger between his teeth finally got to us.

“Fine,” we told him. “Spit it out; you’re done.”

Boy: 1
Parents: 0

Two years later, we were sitting at the dinner table here in Illinois and trying to get him to finally try a piece of broccoli. He had finished everything else on his plate except that blasted broccoli. No logic or attempts to rationalize with him about why he should eat some of it had worked to this point, so we decided to play hardball.

“You HAVE to try it.”

“But I don’t wanna.”

“You have to. EAT IT. Just one piece!”

“I don’t wanna.”

“Come on, just TRY IT. Just one! And we won’t ask again!”

He gingerly picked up his fork, stabbed the piece of broccoli, and put it in his mouth.

And then, he gagged.

And then, he burped.

And then, everything he had eaten up to that point ended up back on his plate.

Boy: 2
Parents: -2500

We never forced him to try another food. (Begged? Yes. But never again forced.)

We got our first “consolation prize” about two years ago when his teenaged appetite started causing him to eat us out of house and home. He Doesn’t. Stop. Eating. (and he’s skinny as all get-out.) The way I see it, he’s eating all of the food he never ate as a youngster. And then some. He’s still a little picky on a couple of things (he doesn’t eat broccoli, for example), but for the most part he has a huge variety in his diet and he’s not afraid to try new things, like sushi.

Our other consolation prize will come, no doubt, in the distant future when he has a child of his own someday, a kid who chews hamburger meat for more than an hour and barfs up his dinner after trying one teeny tiny bite of broccoli.

I’m not in a hurry for that to happen, but boy-oh-boy, I hope I’m in the room to see it!



  • Eternal Lizdom

    This gives me hope that we are doing the "right thing" with our kids. I don't force. Dinner time is dinnertime. It's not a diner so no special orders. If you don't eat, that's fine. You might be hungry… but that's your choice. We do keep a bin of healthy snacks that are always available- but not purposefully offered at mealtimes.

    So far, mealtimes are mostly laid back.

    And any time my 4 1/2 year old balks… or refuses to eat… or picks and picks and picks… I just let it go.

    Thanks for the reminder that these early years are just training and preparation for what's to come!

  • Michelle

    Would you believe me if I told you that Mister Man once puked seeing avocado on his bib (it was Little Miss's and I'd grabbed the wrong one when we went out)? I haven't tried broccoli with him and don't plan to. We have the same rule that one bite has to be chewed and swallowed, but Mister Man gets a pass on a few items. Thank GOD he hasn't tried the one hour in the mouth thing. Yet.

  • surprised mom

    Unfortunately, the Mister and I were never on the same page when it came to introducing new food to the kids. I was of the "just try it" school and he was of the "if they don't like, don't force it" school. I got my revenge. I make the picky eaters in my family cook. I forgot where the kitchen was.

  • WeaselMomma

    Picky Eaters Unite! Us picky eaters aren't just being brats, we jus know exactly how foul some foods will be to us before we put them over our gums. It's like a 6th sense.

  • PJ Mullen

    We did the same thing with little man. We kept trying to get him to eat something and almost on cue he shows us everything he did manage to eat. So now we are firmly in the camp of you will eat what we make or tough luck. He has as many mediocre to nonexistent feedings as he does good ones, but we are holding firm and he is fine. We offer him some of whatever we are eating, which seems to be working a little. So, we don't make anything special just for him all that often come dinner time. If we are really concerned about how much/little he ate we will cave and feed him a yogurt before bedtime.

  • Heather

    HA HA HA HA. This totally makes me think of Weaselmomma on Saturday, trying to justify her picky eating. Whatev. I think your kid is a genius for keeping that hamburger in his mouth for over an hour. GENIUS.