On one hand, "Don't yuck my yum" teaches children good table manners. No one wants to be subjected to the barrage of throat-grasping, vomit-mimicking drama that children often spew after tasting food they dislike.

Some children don't even have to taste an offensive food to milk the thrill out of a good "yuck." Just seeing or smelling something offensive can produce contortions. So, yes, "Don't yuck my yum" teaches good table manners.

Dave_Pot/depositphotos
Source: Dave_Pot/depositphotos

Many parents I know also use "Don't yuck" as a way of preventing food rejection from becoming contagious. One child's convincing yuck can turn another child's tentative yum right around. Peer pressure starts young.

On the face of it, then, "Don't yuck my yum" is positive parenting at it's best. It's a gentle way of telling children that they don't have to like something you've prepared. They just can't ruin the dining experience for others. I'm all for it.

But let's flip this baby around and ask, What does a "yucker" feel when told, essentially, Stifle it?

Shame.

And if not shame, then at least reproach.

This is the dark side. "Don't yuck on my yum" tells the yucker, Your feelings aren't as valued as the yummer's. Yummers are free to say anything they like. The reason for this is obvious. Parents want children to like a wide variety of foods so yucks are discouraged while yums are encouraged.

Imagine how this feels. Telling yuckers that it's ok to have an opinion but that they have to keep their emotions to themselves is hardly the way to validate children's experiences. Instead of, Bottle it up, don't we want children to tell us how they feel? Not just about food, but about life?

The good news is that we can teach children good table manners and teach them to express their feelings about food. All we have to do is give children a vocabulary that effectively replaces yuck. Imagine your little yucker saying:

  • That looks a little odd.
  • The taste is a little too picante for me.
  • I prefer it when this is cooler.
  • The texture is mushier than I like.
  • The aroma is off-putting.

It can be scary to encourage children to voice their negative food experiences. We naturally fear that if we let children call attention to the facets of food they dislike that we'll somehow make solidify their dislike. In practice, though, the opposite happens. Turning children, into sophisticated consumers keeps them engaged with food. It opens the way to continued exposures. Stifling kids simply shuts them down.

So, the next time your children start yucking, instead of cutting them off, simply ask them to be more specific.

Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.

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