Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Would you pay your children to eat their vegetables?

Parents have tried it all when it comes to getting their children to eat vegetables, and it seems that there is no end to their creativity. A new study found paying children to eat vegetables increased consumption, but is this a good idea?

Would you pay your children to eat their vegetables?

A quarter for a carrot?
A quarter for a carrot? iStockphoto

Parents have tried it all when it comes to getting their children to eat vegetables, and it seems that there is no end to their creativity. After making them into fries, hiding them in desserts, and sometimes begging for their consumption, it seems like there is no consistent way to ensure that your children are eating the recommended 1 to 3 cups of fresh vegetables daily to provide the necessary nutrients for their growing bodies.

A recent study from Brigham Young University and Cornell in Public Health Nutrition took a bit of a creative risk in finding a solution to the lack of veggie consumption by paying children to eat their vegetables. Yes, literally paying children. The study, aimed to determine if children would be motivated to eat more of the vegetables designated by the new federal school lunch regulations, offered children a nickel, quarter, or a raffle ticket towards a larger prize if they consumed the vegetables served to them.

Research suggests that a new federal rule has prompted the nation’s schools to serve an extra $5.4 million worth of fruits and vegetables each day, but it's also been found that about $3.8 million of that ends up in the garbage daily. The authors found that the small rewards induced big results: it increased vegetable consumption by 80 percent, and reduced waste by 33 percent. 

So I was thinking, could this work at home?  It goes against the conventional theory that I personally have preached to parents. They are only required to provide healthy options and be healthy eating role models for their children. Combining this new “incentive” idea with the knowledge that children often need 10 to 20 exposures to a new food before willingly accepting it, perhaps these small incentives encourage children to try something new, and more importantly, develop a healthy eating habit. 

The monetary incentive does not have to be a large value, but consistently providing an incentive to your picky toddlers may be a temporary band-aid to the traditional vegetable food fights. An additional bonus?  The amount of vegetables that you purchase and discard may be reduced and potentially end up being a cost savings for your family. 

“I don’t think we should give incentives such a bad rap,” said Joe Price, a study author and professor of economics at Brigham Young University in a written statement. “They should be considered part of a set of tools we can use.”

Just as important as having a child develop a taste for healthy foods is for them to learn to decide when and how much food to eat at one time.  What this incentive research does not address is the concern that perhaps children will force themselves to eat the vegetables instead of listening to their internal hunger cues.  Further research is needed to determine the long-term effects of the incentive approach on eating habits.

What do you think? Would you pay your children for trying kale?


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The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, M.D., Ph.D Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Mario Cruz, M.D. St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist - The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic, CHOP
Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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