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3 Reasons Why the "3-Bite Rule" Sucks

Are you struggling with a picky eater at home? If so, I'd imagine you're probably:

  • worried that your child is not getting enough food, or enough nutrients to meet their growth and potential.
  •  frustrated that your kid doesn't try new foods.
  • stuck as a short-order cook, bringing out those backup foods or making a second meal. Just so your kid will eat something!
  • your dinner table is probably full of pressure, bribes and tears.

And I'm guessing you just want to stop stressing about how much your kid eats. You want your kid to expand their palate, try new foods without complaints. And you'd like to have more peaceful family dinners, to end all the yelling and the tears.

If that sounds good to you, read on or catch watch my video here.

I know that there's lots of conflicting advice out there on how to feed kids. From your doctor, f your mom, friends, blogs....And maybe you've tried some of these tactics and discovered that for most kids, the "one-bite rule" or "three-bite rule" just doesn't work. And tends to backfire. In fact, the kids end up eating less, and it just leads to those battles at the table.

The number one goal is for us to create peaceful family meals, and you want dinnertime to be a place where everybody wants to come to the table, and we're producing positive family memories.

**As a caveat before I get into the content: I just want to say that for some children, the three-bite or the one-bite rule might work. If your child tastes the food for the first time, they might decide "this actually is yummy. I'm going to eat more of it." But for most picky eaters, they're truly stubborn - and it won't work well for you.

The number one reason why the three-bite rule sucks:  

It can create a lifelong hatred of the exact food you're trying to get your child to eat more of. I know adults who still won't eat broccoli, for example, because their parents always made them eat broccoli when they were a kid. Maybe you've had this experience, too.

Research backs this up. There was a study published in "Appetite" that surveyed college kids and found 69% of them had been forced to eat a food when they were younger. Out of that group, it was 72% said that they would no longer eat that food. So it can lead to a lifelong rejection of that food.

We all have some foods we don't like. I don't like stinky cheeses. I don't like olives no matter how many times I try olives. My kids all love them, but they all have certain foods that they don't like, too, and so will your child. And that's okay. We can learn to respect that.

The number two reason why the three-bite rule sucks:

It messes with your child's natural hunger-fullness signals. It doesn't allow them to listen to those signals. First of all, if they know that dinner is going to be a fight, they'll come to the table stressed out. Those stress hormones like cortisol are going to be high, and then physiologically this will decrease their appetite.

Or maybe your child really isn't hungry. How do you know that? Maybe they're not going through a growth spurt at that point. Maybe they've eaten enough through the rest of the day to meet their calorie needs. Kids are really good at listening to their hunger and fullness signals - if we let them. This is a great skill, and we want them to continue eating for hunger, rather than external reasons such as praise from your parents or because your parents make you!

The third reason why the three-bite rule sucks:

Nobody wins this fight. If your child is stubborn, they're not going to choose to eat more of that food on their own will. They'll just eat the one bite that you forced them to eat. That's because they're stubborn! If they said, "Ooh, I love these brussel sprouts. Can I have more?" that would seem like defeat on their part.

Really, kids have control over very little in their lives. One of the things they do have control over, is if they eat. So if they feel that pressure and lack of control, they're going to try and exert some control. By refusing to eat, if they know that you really want them to!

Another study published in "Appetite" found that when kids were pressured to eat, they experienced early satiety. So they no longer became hungry. Again, pressuring kids to eat often backfires. They actually end up eating less. We'd rather choose for them to eat these foods on their own, without pressure. This way the stubborn child will be far more likely to decide that it tastes good and choose to eat more of it. Both that night and in the future.

I hope that helps explain a little bit why most of these dinner rules don't work well for most kids. If you want more support on what to do when feeding your picky eater instead of the three-bite rule, I've created a new group coaching program for you to help called End Picking Eating. I want to help parents who are struggling to feed their kids, which can disrupt the whole family. I want to help end those dinnertime battles and make dinners more peaceful, and provide some strategies to help your kids get the nutrition that they need.

Want more info? Check it out here.

Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier


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