The “No-Thank You” Bowl

What is it? It’s a tool to take the pressure off eating time. By placing it in the middle of the table, kids get to know that they won’t be forced to eat something they don’t like. Instead of throwing their food on the floor and make a tantrum, they will be allowed to spit out the food they have tried into the bowl. Did you know it can take 15-20 tries before a child likes a new food? Knowing this, the no-thank you bowl allows children to taste new foods at their own pace. Trying new foods can represent a real challenge for our younger ones. The best we can do is support our children in their learning and exploration.

5 simple steps to try

  1. Choose a bowl you have at home, label it as the no-thank you bowl, and place it on the table. At mealtimes, serve a new food in small amounts along with familiar food
  2. Describe the food for your child in a neutral way. What color is it? How does it taste? What texture does it have? Avoid using qualifiers such as good and bad. Invite your child to explore the food. What sound does it make? How does it smell? How’s the texture? How does it feel when placed on the lips?
  3. If the child wants to, invite him to chew a small piece of the food. How does it taste?
  4. Invite the child to swallow the food or spit it into the no-thank you bowl.
  5. Repeat the steps as often as needed until the child accepts to eat the new food.

The division of responsibilities

Parents and children have different jobs in feeding. Parents are the ones deciding:

  • What food and drinks are served at the table. I encourage you to make one family meal, not different meals, and to eat together as often as possible. Your child will not learn to eat a variety of food if you only serve what he likes to eat. Children learn best through mimicking. Always serve one or two food(s) you know your child will eat along with the new food to try so he won’t go hungry.
  • When food is served. Offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks at regular times each day. Do not let your child graze or eat throughout the day. Offer only water in between meals and snacks. Even a little milk, juice or few crackers can spoil your child’s appetite. Your child will be much more interested into trying new foods if he’s moderately hungry. If your child refuses a meal or does not eat anything in about 15-20 minutes, calmly remove his food, but do not offer another option to compensate. Offer the same meal in an hour or so.
  • Where food is served. Go for a picnic in the park or eat on the terrace when the weather allows it. If your child has associated mealtime with a stressful event, this simple change of environment will make it more pleasant and relaxed. Let your child eat with his fingers from time to time. A bit of amusement has never hurt anyone.

On the other side, children are the ones deciding:

  • If and how much to eat from the food and drinks you have served. You need to trust that your child knows when he is hungry or full. Pressuring your child to finish their plate can interfere with their ability to self-regulate and in turn lead to eating disorders or obesity during adolescence and adulthood. Avoid praise, rewards, tricks, or punishment as well. This will only teach them to ignore their inner voice and override their feelings of fullness. Your child’s appetite can vary depending on growth spurts and activity and this is completely normal.

We all want the best for our children and that includes good eating habits. Seeing your child refusing to eat part or all his meal can be frustrating or worrisome. However, trust me, forcing and pressuring him to do so can be traumatic and implant a negative relationship with food in the long term. Take a few deep breaths and try the technique described above instead. Let me know how it goes!

Some kid friendly recipes to try

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