Those print advertisements for a popular Ranch dressing show children sitting a porch or running to the ice cream looking truck to dig into their vegetables. The reality for most children, their parents and the dinner table is that it is a challenge to make that world a reality. Everyone who has ever cared for young children has wondered how to get kids to eat vegetables. The psychologists are now taking their turn at finding successful strategies to boost vegetable consumption that will stick over the long term.
How to get kids to eat vegetables is so prevalent and stressful to parents, it has even been given its own name, The Vegetable Problem. Approaches to solving the issues abound. Parents are told to hide them in other food, yet children play with their food and routinely sort their treasures like a gifted pirate. Offer the child vegetables before the rest of the meal is a noble idea, but many a delicious dinner ends up sitting and congealing on the stove in a heroic test of patience. Mask the vegetables in seasonings that children enjoy proves once again that kids can lick off toppings better like an anteater on a mission.
Another valiant attempt by many parents is to act as though they personally love the vegetable passionately and unashamedly. Even with a Shakespearean-worthy production at the dinner table, children are the best swindle detection on earth. Once the frustrated, hungry parent exhausts this repertoire of strategies, they are often left with one they have been told to avoid: bribing. Interesting new findings may relieve the parents of the guilt of using bribes as a means for how to get kids to eat vegetables.
The warnings from psychologist to date have been focused on rewards that are given to children for activities and behaviors they already find rewarding or meaningful. The fear in these circumstances is that the reward will become the only reason the behavior continues and that once the reward is stopped, so will the child’s behavior.
But what would happen if you reward a child for a behavior they currently do not enjoy? According to researchers from the University College in London, rewarding children for eating vegetables they do not like may get them to continue eating more of the vegetables after the reward is stopped. The rewards can be some small prize, like stickers, or exuberant praise from the parent. The prize reward had children eating more vegetables even after it was stopped, yet both the prize rewarded and praised children ended up eating more vegetables on their own when compared with those children who did not receive either incentive.
When considering how to get kids to eat vegetables, an investment in packages of superhero or princess stickers and some practice as a cheerleader may be all you need at the dinner table to make your strategy to stick.