A recent and somewhat controversial article, “Here’s Why You Should Pay Your Children to Eat Their Vegetables,” at The Wall Street Journal has been causing a bit of chatter among the Cool Mom team. The article highlights a recent study done by the Journal of Health Economics that suggests it’s okay—and actually a good idea—to pay kids to eat their fruit and vegetables.
I beg to differ.
My immediate reaction to the article was that paying children, whether in cash or with a toy, will negatively skew a child’s perception of and relationship with healthy food. It sends the message that some foods aren’t tasty enough to be enjoyed without incentive. Shouldn’t we be doing our best to put vegetables on par with everything else on the plate?
That said, I’m not immune to the struggles of parenting a picky eater, so I get the appeal of a suggestion—any suggestion—to get kids to eat more produce. In fact, just last night I “bribed” my toddler with the prospect of a cookie for dessert if she ate all of her dinner. You may be thinking that this is hypocritical, and it very well may be. Our own editor, Stacie, wondered how different it is to promise dessert versus money after eating veggies, but I think there is a difference. A big one.
I see offering dessert at the end of a well-balanced meal as encouraging kids to eat a variety of foods and to understand that different foods play different roles in a healthy diet. For me, that’s a far cry from calling out fruits and vegetables as the bad guys. And though setting a precedent that children are entitled to a reward for eating fruits and vegetables may work in the short term, I can just imagine my kids coming home asking for more money or incentives, turning a small reward into a drawn out negotiation.
Beyond my philosophical differences with the findings, there are some serious questions regarding the research methodology and data interpretation. Russell Miller, the cognitive neuroscientist at Small Humans Science, shares his impassioned counterpoint to the article. Among other things, he points out that The Wall Street Journal didn’t report how much produce the kids were eating after five weeks of being offered a monetary reward. If they take a bite or two and then toss it in the trash, what’s the point?
Other strategies for encouraging kids to eat vegetables
I’m not a statistician or a researcher, but I am a food professional and a mother. I may not have all the answers, but I do think there are a few fundamentals we can strive for, especially if we want to avoid financial transactions at the dinner table. Here are three strategies that I use to get my kids to eat vegetables. . . eventually.
1. Eat what you want your kids to eat. If kids get used to seeing the entire family eat certain foods regularly, they will eventually try it, too, and we can use this to set the expectation that fruit and vegetables will be a part of every meal. And remember how much you hated those boiled Brussels sprouts? Give those veggies some love by sautéing them in a pan with a pat of butter and a squeeze of lemon. Because if you don’t think that the veggies on your table taste good, neither will your kids.
2. Sneak in the green. Yep, from one controversial suggestion to another! (Hey, nobody said that this is an exact science or that there is any one-size-fits-all solutions.) If you’re open to this, check out my favorite sneaky way to add spinach and other healthy greens to kids’ food. It’s easy and quick, but if your kids have an aversion to any variation of the color green in their food, add the chopped greens to pasta sauce, meatballs, soup, and other cooked dishes so that the color and flavor will mellow.
And, of course, smoothies. They’re also a great way to add all kinds of fruits and veggies to your kid’s diet if you’re concerned that they aren’t getting enough produce.
3. Enlist your kids in the process of shopping and/or cooking. Ask them to help you toss cherry tomatoes in olive oil, give the green beans a sprinkle of salt, or arrange the cantaloupe on a platter. And keep at it: Little tastebuds evolve over time. If you’re looking for a helpful guide to teaching kids cooking skills by age, we’ve got good news: we have one!
At Cool Mom Eats, we believe in everyone doing what’s right for their own family. Maybe you’ve been paying your kids to eat veggies triumphantly for years, or perhaps you have a different strategy for success all together. Let us know. The Cool Mom mind hive to the rescue!