Don’t Force Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables: What I Learned from “First Bite”

I’ve considered all the best books I’ve read this year to be invaluable because of the changes they’ve made in my life – via new information and new perspectives. This book, First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, is the only one that changed my family’s life.

I accidentally left this book in my sister’s car, and she started reading it. She took one of the experiments described in the book, the tiny tastes program, on her picky-eating son, to great success. His palate has been considerably expanded to include new favorites like cherries, asparagus and cucumbers. The tiny tastes experiment is offering the subject an incredibly small amount of the target food over a period of days. The subject can also be bribed with a spoonful of their favorite food for successful completion of each “tiny taste.” Because the taste is so small, the subject generally complies. And with repeated exposure to the taste, the subject learns to like the taste.

The most interesting bit of knowledge that I learned from this book is that there is almost no genetic component of our taste. If you dropped us off in a different culture, we would be eating that culture’s food rather the one we currently do. The food we tend to like is food that is familiar to us and that may also be associated with good memories. The food we tend to avoid is food we are unfamiliar with and/or is associated with bad experiences in our past, like being forced to eat a whole plateful of food we hate/weren’t familiar with.

I know I still can’t stand the smell of creamed corn because I threw up once when after eating it when I was a kid, so I totally believe in this hypothesis. Also, as an Asian family, we ate all our meals family style, so there’s a lot less coercion to eat a large plate of vegetables by oneself.

The more I read about our personal preferences, it seems like we are really products of our culture. Like how our taste in music tends to run towards whatever was popular (or at least whatever music we listened to) when we were 13. That’s why I’m a 90s music girl, but that’s why most women of my age also listen to the same music. We are all uniquely the same in this way.

Overall though, people can still change. One way to do this may be to incorporate something like a “tiny tastes” program into one’s own life. Small exposures breed familiarity, which may breed to affinity (though there’s no guarantee that you’ll like after a tiny taste). You are not confined to your childhood experiences and small changes can help you change them (maybe, I’m shooting off the cuff here – it’s a hypothesis).

Let’s talk about our traumatic eating experiences!