The “No Thank You Bite” is a term used to describe the practice caregivers use with young children to take one bite of a food before they allow children to not eat a food. This practice is commonly seen in parents who have children who are thought to be picky eaters or who have food neophobia. Food neophobia is defined as a fear of trying new foods whereas picky eating is the refusal to eat new or even familiar foods.
Food neophobia is thought to be a survival instinct to avoid harmful foods in prehistoric time periods. Regardless of whether a child has food neophobia or is refusing to eat certain foods, the behavior can be difficult to deal with as a parent. Forcing the child to eat the food or at least take one bite has been one of the top reactions of caregivers to get their kids to eat. Other frequently used methods include using rewards, child control, and consequences, all of which are not recommended feeding practices.
A retrospective study with college-age students looked at the impact of events where the students were forced to eat. The top three feelings that the students mentioned experiencing was feeling a lack of control, a betrayal of trust, and helplessness. The majority of the students in the study still avoid the food they had the negative experience with due to being forced to eat it as a child. These results indicate the practice of the “no thank you bite” could leave lasting negative impressions on a child.
So what is the solution to make sure children are eating a variety of foods? Rather than using the “no thank you bite” tactic, caregivers can increase the exposure of the food by offering previously rejected foods multiple times. Caregivers should model the desired eating behavior of a variety of foods as well. To ease children’s discomfort with less preferred foods, make the previously rejected foods available along with food the child already likes. Adult behaviors have a large impact on children’s food preference development, therefore it is wise for caregivers to refrain from showing dislike or talking negatively about a food. Another strategy is allowing the child to serve their own portion at the table which can help the child feel more engaged and in control of what he/she is eating.
Children are in the process of developing their food preferences and caregivers can help or hinder this process. Instead of pressuring a child to try a food and making him or her take a “no thank you bite,” use positive practices that support a child. Continue to serve new foods and foods previously rejected to best encourage their consumption. Don’t give up. It can take multiple attempts for children to try a food and they may find that they like it!
Garcia is a senior in the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Idaho.