One Lick Rule

So the RD in me knows that you’re not supposed to force a child to eat something that they find icky or are completely uninterested in. But as a mom, there are times when I simply can’t fathom allowing Billy and Bobby to declare that they don’t like a food they’ve never tried. (You’ll have to recognize that since I work with many clients who struggle with eating disorders, I’m particularly determined to ensure that my own kids never feel as though they’re deprived.)

To be fair, I’m not referring to some obscure super-nut from Brazil. I’m not even asking them to try some meaty or fishy flavor like beef or salmon. For the purposes of today’s blog, all I wanted was a little bite of a cucumber. Apparently, even that was too ambitious.

For a while, I was using what I like to call the “one bite” rule. You’re probably familiar with it, when you set the precedent that your child must take a small bite of food—just enough to get a taste. The problem is when they have to swallow or even put the new food in their mouths (my boys).

So instead, I tried tweaking the one bite rule to allow Billy and Bobby to spit out foods they didn’t like. This works well for many of my clients. However with my boys it was still a relentless effort as they spit everything out or again will not even put the food in their mouths.

Now, I’ve moved on to the one lick rule—a tactical technique I’m quickly falling in love with. Whereas a bite of food can seem overwhelming and forceful to a child, apparently, my kids are much more willing to lick things. Who knew?

This past weekend, we were away in Hamptons. After a nice nature walk, the boys and I had worked up quite an appetite, and since I didn’t pack lunch or snacks (I normally do since, ideally, a hike would present the perfect opportunity to introduce foods like trail mix or a new fruit), we somehow ended up, to the boys’ contentment, at a pizzeria.

Of course, Bobby didn’t just want a slice of pizza; he also pointed to a brownie in the showcase and decided that he wanted that too. (Remember: Everything in moderation.) I told the boys they could share the brownie after they’d eaten (not finished) their pizza.

My husband and I, on the other hand, ordered a salad and pizza topped with veggies. The salad was by no means nutritious or fancy (it was made with iceberg lettuce, olives, locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers and homemade dressing), but it was nevertheless amazingly delicious for a simple pizzeria salad.

Naturally, my husband and I offered the boys some veggies from our plate, to which they matter-of-factly replied, “No.” Of course they said no. When it comes to vegetables, they always say no.

Implementing my new theory, I replied: “Well, how about just licking a cucumber slice.” They did.

The results? Billy scrunched his nose, while Bobby didn’t protest. And when they didn’t erupt in tears, the mommy in me—not the RD—decided to ask the boys to eat a very small piece of cucumber.

I proceeded to cut half of one piece into quarters and told Billy and Bobby that they needed to eat a tiny sliver if they wanted their brownie. I know this sounds wrong. But as mom, I have to think that if I don’t push—at least sometimes—my kids may never get past licking new foods to a place where they’re comfortable eating them. Also, they need to eat foods with higher nutrition most of the time and less nutrition less of the time.

Bobby obliged and ate the cucumber without a fuss. (By the way, he also happily licked a shard of lettuce too.) He made a face, but he ate it; and while he didn’t seem to enjoy the quarter-of-a-half-of-a-cucumber-slice, he didn’t seem to hate it either. Small success? I think so.

As planned, after finishing most of his pizza, I gave Bobby his portion of the brownie. He ate about a quarter of it before losing interest. (I wrapped up the rest of the brownie for Bobby and snuck it into his snack bag Monday morning. He told me he didn’t want it—so I ate it!)

Unlike Bobby, Billy made faces and squirmed in a terribly dramatic fashion. Sometimes I think he likes to make a fuss for attention and control. He tossed the licked cucumber back into the salad, slobber and all, and cleverly dropped pieces on the floor. I think, in total, he ate one of the cucumber quarters. All we could do was minimize how much attention we gave him.

Billy went on to eat the entire pizza slice plus a few more bites of another, as well as half of his brownie. He gave the remaining half back to me and hasn’t asked for it since. (Good thing, since I also ate his leftovers last night.)

So, for better or for worse, I made the boys lick and then eat a tiny piece of cucumber.  As any good RD would, I attempted to maintain as neutral an environment as possible during the entire fiasco, ignoring their actions and instead continuing in our conversation.

This week, I plan to pick up more cucumbers at the market.  While I won’t make the boys eat (or lick) a piece, I will put them on the table so that they continue to gain exposure to the foods they don’t typically nosh on.

Have you ever tried the “one bite” or “one lick” rule? Which seemingly normal and neutral foods do your children refuse to eat, and how have you overcome their behavior?