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The Two Bites Rule

We don't have a Clean Plate Club at my house.

We don't, and we won't. Grace has enough risk factors for obesity, thank you very much.

I wondered, though, how much food she really does need to eat at each meal. Should I continue to let her eat nothing if that's what she chooses?

On the other hand, when does the toddler who will eat when she's hungry turn into the preschooler who refuses to eat dinner because she's holding out for graham crackers for supper and M&Ms for dessert?

I'm just wondering 'cause I think Gracie has made the switch.

Remember Connie Diekman, the Registered Dietitian that I met at the Sara Lee Back to School Nutrition Summit? I talked to her about exactly this issue.

Connie's advice was that children should eat one tablespoon of food per year of life from each food offered at each meal. She also mentioned that a meal should include at least three of the five food groups.

In other words, my 2-year-old should probably eat about 2 tablespoons of pork chops, 2 tablespoons of potatoes, and 2 tablespoons of grilled zucchini if that's what the rest of us are having. Or 6 tablespoons of creamy chicken burritos. Or 6 tablespoons of beef stew. Or whatever.

However, Connie stressed that guidelines are not hard and fast rules. They're suggestions, recommendations, advice. Every kid will have a bigger or smaller appetite on different days, and “normal” appetites vary wildly between different kids.

The Two Bites Rule

Grace is 2. Based on Connie's suggestions, she should eat 2 tablespoons of each food at each meal. We translated that into bites, since that would make more sense to our 2-year-old.

Grace knows that she must eat 2 bites of each food on her plate in order to get down from the table.That's it. If there's something she doesn't love, she takes bites so small you would need a microscope to find them.

Sometimes, she eats two tiny bites, realizes she likes it, and then eats more. Sometimes, she doesn't.

If Grace lobbies for dessert – graham crackers, a lollipop, or some other treat – we up the ante. She doesn't get the treat unless she eats her full portion. We aren't substituting junk for good, healthy meals.

Of course, if Grace was sick or there was some other special circumstance, we would not force her to eat 2 bites of each food. It's a guideline, remember? We're flexible when it's appropriate.

Grace's Kitchen Friends

Please join in Grace's Kitchen Friends! To play along, all you have to do is fill out MckLinky below. You can link up any post that talks about kids and food:

  • feeding kidsGrace's Kitchen Friends
  • cooking with kids
  • kids' nutrition
  • play with food or play kitchens
  • crafts with or about food
  • There are a lot of other kids and food things I haven't listed (like growing food with kids or fun recipes that kids love!), so please don't feel limited.

I'm easy like that, Dear Reader. The only thing I ask is that you link back here to Grace's Kitchen Friends in your post. I can't wait to see what your kids are doing!

© 2009 – 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “The Two Bites Rule”

  1. We don’t have a clean plate club either. We also don’t have a number of bites rule. We do tell the boys that they need to put one bite of everything into their mouths. They don’t need to swallow it. They just need to put it into their mouths (I’m not sure when that one will change).

    We often do try to encourage the boys to eat more when we have a dessert, but it has always felt wrong to me. I was thinking about it the other day, and I think the reason I don’t like doing that is because no one monitors what I eat to decide if I can have dessert. Sometimes I do eat chocolate chips for supper. Sometimes I eat a cookie right before supper and have less room for good healthy food. Also, I think (not 100% sure) that there are studies that show whatever food you use as dessert becomes the “good food” and the foods the kids have to eat are the “bad foods.” I try not to set up foods as good or bad.

    My kids (2 and 3) eat fruit and veggies and whole grain cereal and bread all day long when they are hungry. Then, generally, when it comes to supper, they don’t eat much. I don’t really care, because that is their choice, and at their age, I don’t think it’s super important for them to sit down for 3 meals. However, around school age, for a variety of reasons, we plan to start working more on a structured afternoon snack time followed by a sit down dinner. Until then, I plan to offer responsible choices and let them decide. If they do hold out for a dessert instead of eating supper, 9 times out of 10, they come back about 30 minutes later for more supper anyway.
    .-= Casey´s last blog ..Learning to Use the Potty =-.

  2. I don’t ever force my kids to eat anything. However, if they want their nightly treat (the only time we do “junk”, and even then it’s homemade whole grain and naturally sweetened), they must eat what I give them. I don’t give them huge portions, and sometimes they decide they’d rather not finish and not get a treat. Totally fine with me. However, if you’re hungry after dinner, you’re getting what you didn’t finish then. My kids are amazing eaters and almost 5, 3, and 18 mos, so it’s working for us. If we get one who is really willful, we’ll see what happens!
    .-= heather´s last blog ..P90X–Day 31 =-.

  3. I don’t ever force my kids to eat anything. However, if they want their nightly treat (the only time we do “junk”, and even then it’s homemade whole grain and naturally sweetened), they must eat what I give them. I don’t give them huge portions, and sometimes they decide they’d rather not finish and not get a treat. Totally fine with me. However, if you’re hungry after dinner, you’re getting what you didn’t finish then. My kids are amazing eaters and almost 5, 3, and 18 mos, so it’s working for us. If we get one who is really willful, we’ll see what happens!
    .-= heather´s last blog ..P90X–Day 31 =-.

  4. When my kids were growing up I always had a good snack to offer after dinner. If they wanted that then they had to eat half of what was on their plate & then they could have half of their treat. If they cleared their plate then they could have the whole treat & seconds if they had room. This worked very well with them. Now that I am a grandma and no kids at home. I ask that they take a ( No thank you bit) and then if they choose not to eat that is fine with me but no treats until they eat their dinner. My oldest grandchild is a very picky eater but is always game for the junk food. This works best with her and most times she will eat at least half her dinner then she gets half of her treat!

  5. When my kids were growing up I always had a good snack to offer after dinner. If they wanted that then they had to eat half of what was on their plate & then they could have half of their treat. If they cleared their plate then they could have the whole treat & seconds if they had room. This worked very well with them. Now that I am a grandma and no kids at home. I ask that they take a ( No thank you bit) and then if they choose not to eat that is fine with me but no treats until they eat their dinner. My oldest grandchild is a very picky eater but is always game for the junk food. This works best with her and most times she will eat at least half her dinner then she gets half of her treat!

  6. We don’t have a clean plate club either. We also don’t have a number of bites rule. We do tell the boys that they need to put one bite of everything into their mouths. They don’t need to swallow it. They just need to put it into their mouths (I’m not sure when that one will change).

    We often do try to encourage the boys to eat more when we have a dessert, but it has always felt wrong to me. I was thinking about it the other day, and I think the reason I don’t like doing that is because no one monitors what I eat to decide if I can have dessert. Sometimes I do eat chocolate chips for supper. Sometimes I eat a cookie right before supper and have less room for good healthy food. Also, I think (not 100% sure) that there are studies that show whatever food you use as dessert becomes the “good food” and the foods the kids have to eat are the “bad foods.” I try not to set up foods as good or bad.

    My kids (2 and 3) eat fruit and veggies and whole grain cereal and bread all day long when they are hungry. Then, generally, when it comes to supper, they don’t eat much. I don’t really care, because that is their choice, and at their age, I don’t think it’s super important for them to sit down for 3 meals. However, around school age, for a variety of reasons, we plan to start working more on a structured afternoon snack time followed by a sit down dinner. Until then, I plan to offer responsible choices and let them decide. If they do hold out for a dessert instead of eating supper, 9 times out of 10, they come back about 30 minutes later for more supper anyway.
    .-= Casey´s last blog ..Learning to Use the Potty =-.

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