Helping kids build relationship with food is better than bribery

How can you get a fussy child to eat vegetables? It’s a question that plagues many frustrated parents at countless mealtimes.

Some take to hiding morsels in more delicious parts of meals, while others adopt a stricter approach, refusing to let little ones leave the table until plates are clear.

One “alternative” idea touted recently is for parents to essentially bribe their children, depositing money into a child’s bank account as a reward when they eat vegetables — an idea actually backed up by research.

A US study in 2016 showed that the technique continued to encourage primary school age children to eat their greens for up to two months after these incentives were stopped.

Children who were incentivised for a longer period of time were more likely to continue eating vegetables after the deposits ended too.



Vegetables must be offered frequently, without pressure — and you mustn’t get discouraged by the inevitable “no”. Even if you have missed the first window of opportunity, all is not lost. Parents can lose hope after offering the same vegetables between three and five times, but, in reality, toddlers in particular might need up to 15 exposures.

Science says: Eat with your kids
You also need to let your children experience the food with all of their senses — so don’t “hide” vegetables. Yes, sneaking a nutritious veggie into a fussy eater’s food might be one way to get them to eat it, but if the child doesn’t know a cake has zucchini in it, they will never eat zucchini on their own. It can also backfire if children can lose their trust in food when they realize they have been deceived.

Likewise, don’t draw unnecessary attention to specific foods that you might think your child is not going to like. Sometimes our own dislikes get in the way, and create the expectation that our child is not going to like it either. Our food preferences are formed through previous experiences, which children don’t have. Praising and bribing are commonly used, especially when we don’t expect children to like the food offered, but it can be counterproductive. Instead, serve food in a positive environment but keep your reactions neutral.

This isn’t just about what is on the plate, it’s about a relationship with food. So if your children are old enough, let them help in the kitchen. It can be very messy and time consuming, but it is an excellent way to create a positive atmosphere around food.

It is also important to have frequent family meals and consume vegetables yourself. It’s been shown that children who eat with their family do eat more vegetables. Kids often copy adult behaviors, so set a good example by routinely serving and consuming vegetables.

There is sadly no single answer as to what will work for your children, and it might be a case of trial and error. But these actions can create positive associations with all kinds of foods, and you can help your kids lead healthier lives — saving yourself a bit of cash while you’re at it.

Original article from CNN.
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