“You can’t leave the table until you eat your vegetables.”
“No dessert unless you finish your broccoli.”
“You can watch television if you take just one bite of cauliflower.”
Sound familiar? Whether these are words you’ve spoken to your children or more reminiscent of your own childhood, it’s no secret that getting kids to eat vegetables is an ongoing challenge. So challenging, in fact, that some parents are leaving traditional efforts behind and turning to something a bit more effective — bribery.
That’s right. Parents are bribing their children by depositing money into a child’s bank account when they eat vegetables — a tactic that’s supported by research.
According to a 2016 study, primary school-aged children who received money in exchange for eating vegetables continued the habit for up to two months after these incentives were stopped. The goal is for children to continue eating vegetables not because of the reward, but because they are in the habit of eating healthy.
However, a single study isn’t enough to draw conclusions or make recommendations, especially since bribery with money wasn’t compared to other incentives. Additionally, bribery may not be a sustainable, long-term method.
What about non-monetary rewards? For example, withholding dessert until vegetables are eaten. Unfortunately, this may not be much better — and sends the message that vegetables must be bad if you need a reward to eat them.
Try This Instead
If bribery won’t work, what will? Offer vegetables early and often, and don’t get discouraged if it takes a few attempts before it sinks in. You may want to throw in the towel after three to five tries, but some children require up to 15 exposures before complying.
Children also need to experience vegetables with all five of their senses, including sight. That means no hiding healthy foods in other items — like your famous black bean brownies. If a child doesn’t know black beans are in brownies, then they are unlikely to eat black beans on their own. This strategy may also backfire when a child discovers they’ve been “tricked” into eating healthy.
Related: How to Get Kids to Eat More Veggies
Next, stay neutral and remain positive. That means avoiding drawing attention to healthy foods (mmm, look at that yummy broccoli!). This creates the expectation that your child won’t like the food, and they’ll catch on to your behavior. Instead, serve food in a positive environment and keep your comments neutral.
But it’s not just about eating the food — it’s about a relationship with food. Encourage your children to help out in the kitchen, whether it be preparing a meal or sorting through groceries. Keeping things fun and interesting in the kitchen is a great way to establish a positive attitude towards food.
Finally, lead by example. Make family meals a priority and make sure to eat your veggies as well. Research shows that children eat more vegetables when they see their parents eating them. Children often mimic adult behavior, so continue eating your vegetables and the kids will follow suit.
There is no single answer as to how to get your kids to eat healthy, and the answer will be different for everyone. But the above tips can help establish a healthier relationship with food as you figure out what works.