Monday, March 5, 2012

How to Reward Kids for Eating Their Vegetables

By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food

Human beings, small and large, have a paradoxical attitude towards rewards. If you reward your child every time she draws a picture, she will like drawing less than if she gets no reward.

It's as if your child is thinking "If I have to be rewarded for drawing, it must not be very fun."

If you're paid to work, you may work hard because you want the money. But you won't go to work on Saturdays, even if your work is actually very fun.

Because of this quirk of human nature, researchers have often concluded that if you reward your child for eating vegetables, it will make her like them less.

However, a recent study has found that rewards may actually work after all.

Using Small Prizes as Rewards May Work

Researchers divided a group of parents with preschoolers into 3 conditions:
  • The first set of parents gave their children a small sticker whenever they ate a tiny bite of a disliked vegetable
  • The second set of parents praised their children whenever they ate a tiny bite of a disliked vegetable
  • The third set of parents simply offered their children the vegetable
The researchers found that rewarding children with a little sticker made them like the vegetable better. They rated the vegetable as tastier than the children in the other two conditions.

Praising children for eating their vegetables didn't do any good at all.

How to Reward Your Child for Eating Vegetables

If you want to reward your child for taking a bite of her vegetables (or any other food she doesn't like), use a small reward like a toy or sticker. Don't praise her.

Don't give your child junk food, like sweets or chips, as a reward for eating vegetables. The "eat your vegetables and then I'll give you some dessert" tactic only makes your child like desserts more. She will think "If I'm getting dessert as a reward, dessert must really be wonderful."

There Are More Effective Techniques Than Rewards For Getting Your Child to Like Vegetables

Rewards may help your child like vegetables, but there are much more powerful techniques.

Simply serving the vegetable to your child, over and over, is a much more effective technique than rewards. Before your resort to rewards, make sure you are giving your child healthy food like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains for every meal.

Eating the same food as your child is also an extremely powerful technique. Your child will model you. Eat meals with your child and make sure you are eating the same healthy food that you want your child to eat. She will copy you, and learn to like the food you are eating.

For more techniques to help your child like vegetables, see this post and this post.

Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on

Related Articles

Eating Your Children's Food Will Make Them Like It More

Letting Your Child Smell Healthy Food Will Make Her Like Them Better

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  1. Hey, I love this! A totally unconsidered aspect of futurefood! But of course the lessons of the table start when we're still in bibs ... thanks for the wakeup call. I may post on this soon. :)

  2. Thanks Sarah. Send me an email when you post on it!

  3. The link to the study no longer works. Can you tell me the title? I'm hoping to get a few more references for a paper I'm doing. It would help a lot. Thanks!

    This was the link:

  4. Here is the original article

    Good luck on your paper, Emily!

  5. Hey Julia,
    Thanks for sharing your above article. We know vegetable always a great source of vitamin. So, it's our duty to insists our kids to eat vegetable. I am always rewarded my kids when he eat vegetable . It's really encourages him to eat vegetable more and more.I serve him mix vegetable meal which is also a great healthy meals for kids . It's truly help my kids for growing his health and mind.

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