I am sure there are many parents out there who will do anything or use anything to get their children to eat certain foods or food in general. Mealtimes can often become quite stressful and tiring and a constant struggle between parents and child. From working with parents and their children, comment phrases include :If you finish your dinner, you can have some ice-cream" to If you eat your broccoli you can have anything you want.
From my experience many parents want to ensure their child is getting the right nutritious food but is using food as a reward the right way to go about it or will this have long term repercussions.
Nice versus not nice foods
By offering certain foods as reward for eating you can end up sending different messages or ideas to your child. It can create the idea of some foods being nice and some not nice. By enticing a child to eat with another food it can lead them to think that food they should be eating it not nice and that's why you need a reward to eat it. We don't want children to have a notion of good and bad foods but rather that some foods you should eat often and some only once a while.
Using food as reward can also result in food being seen as a toy and not something our body needs for fuel and energy and it can create issues around food later in later as children need to start understanding that meals are an important part of the day.
Treat food every time
It is often very hard to come back once you have offered treats as rewards because every time you offer that child that food they will expect the same reward. If rewarded with a treat food they no longer see that food as a food but a toy and don't learn that food is what you needing needs but in certain amounts .
Treat foods versus snack foods
Instead of good and bad foods or nice or not so nice foods children should understand the difference between snacks foods and treat foods. Snacks are something children have every day such as fruit, popcorn, cheese on crackers or veggie sticks. Treat foods are give in once in a while and include foods such as cakes, sweets, chocolates, ice-cream and fizzy drinks . By using treat foods to entice children to eat we are sending messages that they are fine to include with every meal and that they taste nicer than snacks foods.
So what are some of the other options for parents :
My suggestion as a dietitian and based on my experiences working with fussy eaters are the following:
1. Try to refrain from using food a reward where possible but if necessary use it indirectly so it is not linked directly to other foods. An example of this is a child tries a new food they get a marble. This can be done for other things as well such as picking up their toys or brushing their teeth. Then once they fill a jar with marbles they can get a treat of their choice i.e chocolate. This focuses more on doing a good task rather than being rewarded for eating a certain food type.
2. Focus more the positive than negative so if a child tries a new food or tries something more than once then you can reward them and praise then but don't offer it to them before they have even tried the food.
3. Remember If a child doesn't want to accept food then leave it and try again in a few days. It takes on average 17-20 times for a child to accept a new food.
4. Other options for rewarding besides the marble idea is to include pom poms or use a star or sticker charts chat. This is a great idea as you can get the child to colour in their own star or stick stars on the chart and when it is fill they get a treat or a surprise.
5. Treats or rewards can be expensive so other ways to reward your child include allowing them to choose a book to read, choosing a friend to come over and play , planning a picnic outside for their next meal or playing their favourite game or puzzle.