The two-bite rule

March 14, 2020


The two-bite rule - by Leslie Anne Tarabella - 
broccoli/ children/ manners.

“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. 

The two-bite rule - by Leslie Anne Tarabella - 
broccoli/ children/ manners.
And who wouldn’t eat fried okra?

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. 

The two-bite rule - by Leslie Anne Tarabella - 
broccoli/ children/ manners.
They didn’t love tomato sandwiches right away, but with practice — and some crispy bacon, they learned.

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.

The two-bite rule - by Leslie Anne Tarabella - 
broccoli/ children/ manners.
One son eats bell peppers like apples.

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 and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and the Huntsville Times.

Leave a Reply

  1. A good rule Leslie Ann! Unfortunately, even a “one bite” didn’t work for me. No rude remarks but a “no thank you” when a dish was passed. I have to say, now he’ll eat a lot of those passed and what’s good for you but the “no thank you” goes into the bullet for a smoothie now.. Yum, those summer tomatoes for sandwiches!

    1. Yes, when I pulled that photo up of the tomato sandwich, I went out and worked on my garden prep a little bit this morning. I’m surprised at how many parents put up with anything less than, “no thank you.” Good for you!

  2. My nephew’s son eats whatever he wants for dinner, usually chips and a cheese stick while everyone else eats regular dishes. He’s a pill.

  3. I was a single Dad with 4 daughters for a while and did most of the cooking for us. The only rule that I had was that everyone had to at least taste all the food on the table. As a result (and a tribute to my culinary prowess} they began to like some of my previously “gross Dad” offerings. They are now grown and pretty good cooks themselves, but don’t know if they practice any rules.

    Thanks for another interesting article!

  4. All parents should use that rule! I remember being about 5 and refusing to take one bite of steamed carrots. Mama dug in her heels harder than I did. Everyone finished dinner, my parents did the dishes, and I was left crying over a plate of now cold, steamed carrots. Mom won. In the 1950s that was how mothers rolled, now some idiot would probably call it child abuse!

  5. Very smart! You never know, my son grew up with a very limited palette {ie fruit and noodles} and now he is a foodie! Cute story~

  6. Thank you for this line, “A shared menu provides a common experience”.
    I have always wondered why it was so important and satisfying to eat the same food with others, as opposed to each person having something different. You nailed it.

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