I have a confession to make: I am a picky eater. Now, this will come as no surprise to those who live with me, but grownups are supposed to act, well, grown up. And one of the things grownups are not supposed to do is be picky about food. It simply isn’t polite. Of course, I could plead allergies or health concerns. But the truth is that there are a number of foods that simply taste awful to me and I’ve given up trying to make myself like them.
I might have been even more restricted in my tastes had I not agreed to attend Camp Inky, a Girl Scout camp in Pensacola Florida, the summer I was twelve. Everything my mother, a seasoned Girl Scout, told me about Girl Scout camp was true, but there was a lot that she neglected to mention. She didn’t talk about the songs we would learn that I still sing today. She couldn’t describe the elation I would feel when climbing with confidence into a canoe and paddling, using the “peanut butter and jelly stroke,” one of the many skills I learned at Camp Inky. Mom also forgot to explain the finer points of the Girl Scout Bite to me, her pickiest eater. Since that time “The Girl Scout Bite” has become an enduring part of our family lore.
Sometimes referred to by others as a “No Thank you” helping, “The Bite” was explained to us at Camp Inky as “If you don’t like something, take a small spoonful, but if we can’t see it on your plate, we’ll help you dish up a more visible serving.” The message was clear—we were better off choosing the size of our Girl Scout Bite ourselves. I learned quickly.
At camp we sang at meals, had silly skits for evening entertainment, and played lots of games. We had daily lessons that taught us the finer points of canoeing and sailing, both the nomenclature and some basics of navigation. I loved it all and soon maneuvered with ease around the buoys in the tub-like sailboats and canoes.
At breakfast I managed respectable sized bowls of oatmeal, thanks to generous helpings of brown sugar, milk and raisins. Lunch was typically sandwiches, not a problem for me. But as the sun set, I grew anxious. The evening meal often consisted of food I was quite unprepared for. The vegetables, typically overcooked, were often a challenge, but manageable. I dutifully swallowed my “bite” then looked for other, more palatable foods to fill my plate.
After having survived so many meals, I was caught off guard the last night of camp. A large bowl of baked beans was placed in front of me. I swallowed hard, and made a grab for the spoon, ready to get my dreaded “Girl Scout Bite” over with. Sitting across the table from me, a camp counselor mistook my anxiety for enthusiasm and with a big smile, she nodded and said, “Here, let me help you.” Taking the spoon from me, she dug deep into the soupy bowl of beans and covered half my plate with the hated food. I was stunned. This was my Girl Scout Bite?
The shock of the experience was so great that my memory of what happened next is fuzzy. I am not still staring at the plate of hated food, so something happened, but I honestly don’t know how this episode ended. However, once I returned home from camp, when I was faced with unwanted food, rather than my habitual, “I don’t like that” response, I knew a better way. “Guess I’ll take my Girl Scout Bite,” I would say. My mother was, of course, thrilled at this change in attitude. And it turned out, sometimes what I tried wasn’t half bad.
I later instituted “The Girl Scout Bite” at family meals with my own children. When their friends shared our meal, they often started in with "I don't like that' before thye'd even tried what we were having. My children rolled their eyes and cut off my explanation of “The Bite” and related their abbreviated version of my story to their friends. But the rule stuck and both my children grew up enjoying a variety of foods.
My children have their own homes now, but at our house, “The Bite” remains. Only once or twice have I gotten to invoke the rule with my husband, who is omnivorous. When he cooks, however, he sometimes must gently prod me to try his newest creation, since the picky eater still comes out of her closet on occasion. It’s really not so bad, especially if I dish up “The Girl Scout Bite” for myself.