Sitting down at the dinner table together as a family is one of the most important aspects of life in a Boys Town Family Home. It is a time to not only share a common activity, but also to talk about the day and to learn social skills like communicating, listening and showing gratitude. The practice of coming together around a table each evening to share a meal is often a new tradition for our youth. At Boys Town, we want dinner time to be a positive experience for our youth so they will hopefully continue the tradition with their own children someday. One of the ways we do this is by implementing the “Yuck List.”
When it comes to the food on the dinner table, we insist our youth try all of the various items brought to the table. This is especially important for kids who haven’t grown up eating regular nutritious meals, as is often the case with at-risk youth. It isn’t unusual for some types of common fruits or vegetables to be completely foreign to a youth. Equally important, this practice teaches proper table manners and the notion that it’s polite to at least try new foods, especially when they’re prepared by someone else.
We do, however, allow exceptions, and these foods are placed on what is known as the Yuck List.
Each youth is allowed three items on the list (broccoli seems to be a common dislike). From that point forward, he/she is not required to eat those three items — but the youth still must at least try all other foods.
The Yuck List serves several functions: One, it’s a fun and silly topic that brings some needed levity to mealtime. Two, it allows a Boys Town youth a bit of autonomy when it comes to choosing what he/she eats. And, three, it removes the specter of argument and confrontation that may arise when a youth has to eat something he/she really doesn’t like.
Of course, as our kids feel more at home in their new surroundings, and as they see their fellow housemates eating foods they initially thought they might not like, it is possible for them to remove “yuck” items from the list as their palates — and horizons —broaden.
This is something that all families can implement into their own homes. It allows children to have choices and helps to avoid arguments at the table. So, when your child asks, “Why do I have to eat my carrots!” you can say, “Because it’s not listed on your yuck list” rather than, “Because I said so.” Now the carrots are a result of a decision the child made, not the parent.