You don't need to clean your plate or hide something in your napkin, feed the dog under the table (if we had a dog) or sit there until you eat all of your vegetables.
No, we have just one simple rule. The one-bite rule.
I made this rule early on for a reason. It makes the kids try something new (but not commit to it) even if they don't want to. And it doesn't put the emphasis on the food "power fights" that inevitably follow if you force your kid to eat something. And if you have kids, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
At our house, trying out the "one bite" is a sight to behold. I have two kids, each who couldn't be more different in their eating habits. I fed them both the same way when they were babies, but it was apparent right from the start that they would be two very different eating individuals.
My daughter who is seven, scowls at anything that isn't familiar on the plate. Not a pancake? Yuck. Doesn't look like a fruit? Gross. Is it somehow touching other foods on the plate? Disgusting. The one-bite rule to her is torture. But it is fascinating to watch. She has the ability - no, the talent - to pick up and taste the tiniest, microscopic bite of food imaginable and declare, with a scrunched up face, "I don't like it".
I know that most of the time she won't like whatever the one-bite food is. It's pretty much an exercise in futility, but I soldier on. Because, there are a few times she has tasted something, turned to me and said, "I like it Mommy!" Ahhh, success.
My son (who is 3 1/2) is the complete food opposite. He loves food. He will eat anything. He loves spicy food, he loves bland food. He likes mixed up food, he likes mushy food. One time he spilled milk all on his plate and continued eating as if nothing unusual happened. The child has been grabbing stuff off our plates since he was a baby. My husband, who sits next to him at the dinner table, has reverted to eating kind of like a cave man - hunching over his plate and using his forearms to block incoming grabby hands.
The one-bite rule to my son is a no-brainer: "Hmm, something new on my plate? Alright, let's dig right in and check it out. Something new on Dad's plate? Alright, more for me." He eats everything heartily and if he doesn't like something he will very quietly spit it right back out onto his plate (or sometimes a napkin). Then he'll continue to eat, avoiding whatever he just spit out. After tasting most of his one-bite foods, however, he looks up and exclaims, "I like it, Mommy!" Ahhh, success yet again.
Some recent food items my kids have declared liking (all thanks to the one-bite rule) include: tilapia, jicama, fresh mint, edamame, Parmesan chicken, roast beef, California sushi rolls, chicken fried rice, olives, capers, guacamole, fresh tomatoes, hummus, chickpeas and tabbouleh.
So I will continue to gently enforce my rule and hope it will help to instill in my kids a sense of adventure and a love of trying out new food (no matter how weird it looks).