Parents of picky toddlers may feel as though they’d do anything to help their kids eat better. One strategy that parents have used for generations is to promise dessert or other rewards for kids who clean their plates.
As tempting as bribery may be, experts caution that it is not a healthy way to encourage children to eat. Here are two ways in which bribing kids to eat can backfire, with tips to correct some of the mealtime woes that lead to bribery.
Bribing teaches toddlers to ignore their hunger cues.
Parents often bribe their kids to eat out of concern that they are not eating enough. But most toddlers actually eat plenty when they are presented with nutritious food options and allowed to eat as much as they want.
By allowing kids to eat until they are no longer hungry (but not too full), parents teach them to follow their internal hunger cues. This is important, because toddlers who learn to pay attention to their hunger cues are less likely to become overweight.
When parents offer their toddlers rewards in exchange for eating more, they make it harder for their kids to listen to their bodies. Research has linked bribery at mealtime with childhood obesity, as bribes sometimes teach children to eat when they’ve already had enough.
Rather than bribe your children to eat more at mealtimes, work on general strategies for healthy eating.
Bribing can cause kids to like healthier foods less.
Parents may be tempted to bribe their children because they worry that their kids are not eating the right types of foods. It may be tempting to offer your children cookies in exchange for eating their vegetables, but this plan could backfire.
When parents reward their children for eating healthy foods, they may send the message that the healthy items are not worth eating unless treats are involved, and their kids may grow to dislike those foods. Even worse, when parents use dessert as the reward, their kids may learn to like sugary or fatty treats even more.
Instead, parents should aim for children to eat their vegetables and other healthy foods by choice.