Our twins had just turned four when it began. I set their green and pink plastic plates in front of them and that was their cue:
“I don’t like this.”
“This looks yucky.”
“I don’t want to eat any of this.”
And, my personal favorite, “Guys don’t eat this or it will make you sick.”
I’m sure it goes without saying that despite how they may have behaved that day, I was actually not trying to poison them. This was all said before they had taken a single bite. Also, these were often foods they had eaten the previous day, week, or even hour.
*insert all the eyeroll emojis here*
Maybe this sounds a little like your house. A blanket rejection of the meal you’ve spent hours (erm, minutes) to lovingly prepare (*ahem* just heat up in the microwave). Kids can’t survive on Cheerios and Goldfish forever, right? What’s a mom to do?
Enter: The No Thank You Bite.
I was inspired by the Coffee + Crumbs podcast, specifically this episode on meal planning. One of the co-hosts described how she enforced a No Thank You Bite at their house. The kids had to try a bite of everything on their plate — including the chewing and swallowing of it — at dinnertime.
Genius. It’s been a total game-changer at our house. The twins have embraced the No Thank You Bite and there’s no going back.
At our table, the kids have to take a bite of everything. After they take a bite, they have two options. They can either say, “Yummy!” or “No thank you.” Sometimes my daughter says, “No thank you, it’s not for me,” which is about the most endearing thing ever. If they say “yummy,” it means they need to eat more of that item. A “No thank you,” means there’s no more pressure, they can leave the rest of that food untouched on their plate. They also have to take their No Thank You Bite before receiving more of any food they do like; no you can’t load up on three servings of pasta and then decide you don’t like the asparagus at the very end of the meal.
This approach is low pressure. It’s simple. It’s (almost) completely eliminated the “ewws” and the “yucks” and the “I don’t like this” chants from our dinner table. As a person who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of family mealtimes, and enjoying them beyond bite negotiations, this is a huge win.
Yes, sometimes this means a kid eats only the tortilla on their plate at dinner because they’ve rejected the meat, fruit, guacamole, and other assorted taco fixings. Oh well. They’ll live. Other times they eat a food they never have before and discover that it is yummy, after all.
To keep the kids at the table on the nights they’ve said “No thank you” to most of their plate, we’ve adopted another dinnertime habit. We ask them a few questions. Some families do highs and lows each night. We use a similar concept around our dinner table. These are the questions we ask:
What made you happy today?
What made you sad today?
Who did you help today?
Even our two-year-old gets in on the first two. Their answers to the first one range from going to swimming lessons to getting a piece of candy at snack time to spending the entire afternoon at the park. The second one prompts discussion over a fight they had with a sibling, a struggle they had with myself or my husband, or the fact that they lost a favorite toy. The last one is admittedly the most difficult to answer, but it’s probably my favorite. Sometimes it takes a bit of prompting, but my daughter has told us how she played with the new girl at preschool and my son has beamed with pride over his role of setting the table for our meal. It helps both me, who is with them most of the day as well as my husband, who is usually not, to understand their little minds and know more about their personalities and how they spent their day.
Between the No Thank You Bite and our Happy/Sad/Help questions, our mealtimes have frequently been sweet spots in the day, instead of the total and complete chaos they used to be. With twin four-year-olds and a two-year-old, anything that cuts down on the chaos is a major win. Now if we could just get the two-year-old to stop throwing his food…
Are there any tricks or routines you use around the dinner table? What do you do when your kid(s) reject the meal before they’ve even tried it?