How do you get fussy children to eat their daily portion of fruits and vegetables? Would you pay them?

It’s one of those quandaries where the grey area has merit and in this case has shown results in major studies.

Next question. Is blatant bribery acceptable when benevolent, a means to an end, and if it works for a greater good?

A scheme in the US paid children as a positive incentive to eat their fruits and vegetables provided at school lunch. (Tokens were rewarded that later could be exchanged for school stationary or toys) And it worked.

However, when the project finished most students returned to their former habits as the study only lasted a week.

The purpose for the experiment was an attempt to combat childhood obesity. Simply making good food available was not enough encouragement.

David Just of Cornell University says parents are often misguided about incentives. “We feel a sense of dirtiness about a bribe. But rewards can be really powerful if the activity creates a new skill or changes a preference.”

It’s not a quick, nor a magic fix. Children sometimes need many tastings of new flavours or even in a variety of ways. And still there are no guarantees. Everyone has likes and dislikes and no one could ever convince me that brussel sprouts is a palatable delight. But show me a plate of broccoli, beans, beetroot, and any fruit and I am in foodie heaven.

Certainly there will be the issue of attachment of performing a task simply for the reward thereby eliminating the intrinsic motivation. But does it mean if you have tried everything else, (including a favourite dessert as a reward) it isn’t worth a new strategy if you regard incentive as a part of your parenting tools?

Although the concept is straightforward, the philosophy requires perspective. Also consistency. It won’t work if YOU don’t eat healthy. You know how children learn by example? Well, this is an opportunity to lead so the troops will follow.

Worth a discussion don’t you think?

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