Getting to kids to eat their greens is one of many challenges we face as parents, but would you ever consider actually bribing them with money to get them to do it? According to science, that’s exactly what you should be doing.
During a recent study at Utah State University, kids were bribed to eat their fruits and vegetables using both monetary rewards and verbal praise. Unsurprisingly, the kids who got a little green in exchange for clean eating were more likely to up their fruit and veggie intake. They ate about a third of a cup more fruits and vegetables per day, versus a little less than a quarter-cup for kids who were only rewarded with verbal praise. It turns out kids are greedy little con artists. Who knew?
Though the idea of paying kids to eat healthy food sounds absolutely heinous, researchers say it works because it encourages repeated tasting. Repeatedly tasting food increases it’s acceptability, which means at some point your kid might stop throwing broccoli at the wall and actually learn to enjoy it. Either that, or they can just learn how to milk you for spending money while lamenting that no, they still can’t bring themselves to choke down a carrot.
The research is mildly compelling, but I have to wonder if this is really the best solution for picky eating. Sure, trying to get kids to eat is obnoxious sometimes, but are we really going to resort to paying our children to perform basic functions? Is that really a trend we want to start?
I don’t want to sound like an old whiner of the “I walked 14 miles uphill to get to school” variety, but I can vividly remember my parents leaving me stranded at the dinner table all alone with a warning that I couldn’t get up and play until I’d finished my spinach. Was it slimy and unpleasant? Absolutely. But eventually I ate it and grew into a functional human who can eat a salad without anyone slipping me a $20 bill.
I don’t think anyone should force their children to eat things they have serious aversions to, but I also don’t think we should cater to kids’ whims by paying them to be picky. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a part of life and very much something they’re going to need to be able to do on their own as adults. There has to be some sort of internal motivation to stay healthy, as opposed to just an external reward that isn’t a viable long term solution.
No one is going to follow a kid into adulthood and make sure they brush their teeth, exercise, and eat 3-5 servings of the good stuff each day. Rewarding them for these basic functions in childhood will only lead to problems later on down the road. If a child has a serious problem meeting their nutritional needs, then they should see a doctor who can help their parents work out some solutions. Let’s not start paying our kids to meet their own basic requirements for being alive.