“Hey! He didn’t leave any broccoli for me!” “You already had lots of it, now give me some!” My two boys were the only children I knew who would sit at the dinner table and fight over steamed broccoli. While they had one friend who would only eat macaroni and cheese and another who refused to eat anything that was red, except for ketchup, my two sons learned to eat it all — almost.
The older son has never been a fan of mushrooms, and to this day, the younger one doesn’t like carrots, but other than that, they eat just about anything.
What’s the magical-mystical-wizarding secret to our dinnertime success? Here it is: “The Two-Bite Rule.” Just like my mother taught me, I told my rambunctious boys they had to take at least two bites of everything on their plate — no negotiations. Anyone can handle two bites. It isn’t overwhelming, and the tiny taste could lead them to want more of a good thing or change their mind about a bad thing.
If they ever questioned the rule, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “because it’s the rule, that’s why.” It was always good enough.
They didn’t have to clean their plates because that’s a lot of pressure for a little kid who may not have the same appetite day to day. “Two bites” created open minds and seemed manageable to little stomachs. It also gave small people a feeling of control, which we know they love.
Many times, I saw a “bite” that was really just one tine of the fork barely dipped into something new, but the miniscule taste was good enough to go back for a real bite, and before they knew it, they were asking for seconds.
My boys also weren’t allowed to burst into dramatic rudeness and say things like, “Yuck-gross-disgusting!” I had worked hard to cook their dinner and they needed to show gratitude, even if it gagged them. A calm, “I don’t think I care for this.” was allowed and then we’d discuss that maybe if it were prepared differently, they may change their mind. Therefore, they got to voice their opinions and learned communication skills, not to mention respect for the cook.
Children in our house ate what the grown-ups ate and never had their own meal prepared just for them. A shared menu provides a common experience, and often, it’s the only thing families share during the day. Learning to follow rules at the table led to them following bigger rules like, “don’t cut your brother’s hair.”
No one at our house ever went to bed hungry and we learned that one son loved beef stew so much he’d eat it every night if we let him, and the other didn’t like spaghetti because he was too lazy to twist his fork round and round. Often, the Two Bite Rule led to clean plates, and then, there would be dessert, which no one ever turned down.
It was a good plan that worked for us, and they both grew up to be healthy, polite, adventurous eaters who loved the college cafeteria where they could eat as much broccoli as they wanted.
This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and the Huntsville Times.