The Rule of 21

posted by Christine, 9 years ago

One the biggest food struggles in my family are trying new foods. We have gone through various stages of having new foods on plates, not putting it on the plate but having it available at the table, making our daughters try at least one bite before being excused from the table, letting our daughters pick the food off their plate and setting it onto the table as far from their plate as they can, and on and on. My husband and I have a terrible time being consistent with how we want to address the struggle, which, of course, makes the whole situation even more difficult when we do try to make changes.

I read an article awhile ago that said that in order to acquire a taste for something new one must be exposed to it twenty-one times. Which means, in order for a child to truly know if he or she dislikes a food it must be tasted at least twenty-one times. I love this idea, in theory, but my problem comes when I can’t get my child to try something even once. Our girls are at various degrees in their willingness to try new foods, and our seven-year-old still struggles with even having food she doesn’t like (or thinks she doesn’t like) on her plate. How will she be exposed to the food twenty-one times if she doesn’t even take one bite? For some reason, I don’t think she will acquire a taste for something if it’s only been sitting on her plate each exposure.

This specific seven-year-old little mouth has been more particular in her food tastes since her toddler years and seems to get more and more particular about her food as she gets older. For her first birthday, she ate ravioli with red sauce. Now all her pasta must be sauce free, with only butter and parmesan cheese added. Her first birthday might’ve been the last time red sauce actually touched her lips. She used to eat any kind of macaroni and cheese. Now she will only eat one specific store brand kind or Noodles and Company. She used to eat scrambled eggs. Now it is a fight to get her to eat a few bites. She won’t even eat peanut butter sandwiches anymore, even if it’s on “the kind of bread she likes.”

It is a weekly (daily?) struggle at our house with our seven-year-old and her very specific food likes. When people ask me what to feed her I don’t even know what to say because something she eats today could be something she no longer likes tomorrow.

On the plus side, even though she seems to be getting more particular the older she gets, she also is a little more willing to actually taste new foods. Very rarely are there tears if we request that she take a taste of something before leaving the table. She also has admitted a few times to something being “okay,” which is huge considering everything new used to be “disgusting.” I’m not sure if this is because my husband and I are being more consistent with our mealtime expectations (I doubt it), if it’s because she’s getting older and more mature, or if it really is because she is being exposed over and over to these new foods, whether she puts them in her mouth or not.

I am starting to believe that there is something to this “twenty-one” rule. And maybe, by the time she leaves for college, my daughter’s palette will be well-rounded enough to trust her to eat a vegetable without her mother telling her to.


About Us