The no thank-you bite is everywhere. The concept is this: your child can leave whatever they wish, but they must try a bite of everything. If they don't like something they have tried, they can politely refuse to eat any more. This resembles EAF in that children are encouraged to be polite and respectful about disliking something on their plates. Equally, for the most part, it is up to them how much of their meal they consume. However, once you insist on a no thank-you bite, you cannot truly end the entanglement of food and feelings that is to blame for so many cases of picky eating. I would even go so far as to say that I believe that using this technique will make picky eating worse.
Eating is a basic bodily function
The key to solving picky eating (or at least, one key on a large bunch) is the idea that you need to stop making eating a behaviour you require your child to perform for you. In her excellent book Lets Get This Potty Started (it's about toilet training in case you hadn't guessed...) Dr Heather Wittenburg makes the point that natural bodily functions should not be lumped in with other desired behaviours. As she puts it:
"In most area of your child's life, YOU are the boss. You decide most of her daily happenings. But her bodily functions are different - you can't control those............ you can't force a child to eat, poop or sleep"
Dr Heather is right. The moment you start trying to force, coerce or even gently persuade your child to eat, sleep or defecate, she can begin to use these areas as an arena to assert the control and autonomy that young children strive for - you will have a fight on your hands. Instead, set things up so that the conditions are right ( the meals are appropriately timed and nutritious, the bedtime routine is in place and your child is tired... the potty is on hand and the environment is relaxed...) then leave the rest to your child. Think of the proverbial thirsty horse. You can lead it to water and IT will decide if it's going to drink. Your job is simply to make sure that the trough is full.
A child's motivation to eat should be her tummy not her mummy...
With EAF, eating is no longer seen by your child as something they are doing for you. They eat because they are hungry - when they eat (or not) because of how they think you will react, whether this is to please you or test you, you they are eating for the wrong reasons. In my experience, a huge proportion of cases of picky eating are down to children being in the habit of using food as a weapon in a power battle. Here's the solution: if you always let your child make her own choices about how much she eats and you remain emotionally neutral and relaxed about her decisions, she will learn to eat only because her body tells her to. Once you introduce the no thank- you bite, this separation of food and feelings has gone out the window.
This post by The Feeding Doctor explains that the no thank-you bite rule does not allow for children having different temperaments. For some children, insisting they try a bite of something will escalate into an almighty power battle that will not help your child's relationship with food.
So what's the alternative?
If you decide to ditch the no-thank you bite but you still want your child to have the multiple exposures that research shows are vital to the acceptance of new foods, what do you do? The answer is simple, but requires a little determination to carry out consitently. You regularly serve nutritious and varied food in a relaxed and positive atmosphere, taking all the pressure off your child to eat it. As author and founder of Chop Chop Magazine Sally Sampson writes (for the New York Times), when explaining why she advises against the no thank-you bite:
"Children who won’t taste don’t get nudged or judged. The 10th time you serve them, your child may, unprompted, take a bite."
If you'd like to know more about the importance of ensuring that a child's eating is not motivated by psychological, behavioural or emotional factors, you may find these posts interesting:
Join the debate
This is an emotive topic - many parents are unwilling to question the wisdom of the no-thank you bite, especially if it is a long-standing tradition in their house. Whether you agree or disagree, I'd love to hear from anyone who has ideas on the subject.