Many parents struggle during mealtimes to get their kids to eat their veggies. Some may “force” their children to eat up everything on their plates during meals, while others try and “hide” vegetables in foods to ensure their kids are getting the essential vitamins and minerals needed to tackle busy days.
Then there seems to be another approach. A 2016 study conducted in the U.S. revealed that a monetary reward-based system, where parents deposited money in their kids accounts when they ate up their veggies, actually worked to encourage healthier eating habits. In fact, the option proved to work with primary school children for up to two months after the reward system ceased. Parents who used this incentive for long time periods revealed that the kids were likelier to continue the veggie-eating habits well after the reward initiative ended as well.
However, this was one study, without an alternative control group to compare it to, so how well does bribery really work? At the end of the day, different things work on different kids. Often times, parents will try other reward systems, such as dessert after dinner, to get their kids to eat their veggies, but many do deem this idea as conveying a bad message about healthy foods versus sweeter options or junk food.
Many experts recommend starting healthy eating early with children. In fact, food preference formations can start as early as the womb. And, as kids get older, the exposure to varying vegetables needs to increase for them to consume them. Most experts agree: parents should offer veggies as much as possible to kids, with zero pressure. While it is easier said than done, it is important to not get discouraged if your child raises his or her nose to a vegetable. It’s said that some toddlers may need up to 15 exposures to a specific vegetable before they will give it a try.
CNN revealed that experts also suggest that a child should have food experiences with all senses, therefore it is important to refrain from ‘sneaking’ veggies into a meal. It might solve the veggie problem in the short-term, but they will never try said veggie on their own if they don’t see the vegetable in the first place. They may also be turned off to these types of veggies all together once they realize they have been lied to; including the food a parent uses to hide a said vegetable.
Engaging children outside the dinner table, when it comes to preparing meals, is also an excellent way to encourage a healthy relationship around food, and specifically vegetables. Allowing them to help in the kitchen and engaging them in the process around meal time is an excellent way to create positive and healthy eating habits.
Additionally, try and refrain from commenting on your own food preferences. If a parent doesn’t like tomatoes, for example, and draws attention to that food by stating the fact during dinner time; a child will pick up on these cues. A positive environment during dinner time, without any negative associations to specific items, will help create a neutral ground for kids to make up their own minds about what they like and what they don’t.
Lastly, children look up to their parents and sometimes one of the best ways you can encourage healthy eating in your children is to be a role model yourself. So, stalk up on those greens; eat your carrots; and learn to love the taste of broccoli and Brussel sprouts. Setting a positive example is a solid step in helping encourage your children to dive into those veggies come dinner time!