Who of us hasn’t said at some stage, “If you eat some vegetables, you can have dessert”. The question’s are, does this strategy work in the long run? Is it meeting your feeding goals? and why do you feel so much pressure to get your child to eat vegetables?
When we look at the research in this area, there is no clear answer as far as the long term is concerned. There is some evidence that using stickers or even going so far as to pay children to eat certain foods ‘works’ in the short term. What often happens though is that the dessert becomes the desirable food rather than the vegetables!
My goal with feeding children is to raise a competent eater rather than a child who eats certain foods. According to Ellyn Satter, your child is a competent eater when-
He feels good about eating- He enjoys food and joins in happily with family meals and snacks.
He enjoys meals and behaves nicely at mealtime– He feels good about being included in family meals and does his part to make mealtime pleasant. He does not make a fuss.
He picks and chooses from food you make available- He is okay with being offered food he has never seen before. He says “yes, please,” and “no, thank you.” He ignores food he does not want and also “sneaks up” on new food and learns to like it. Eventually he will learn to eat almost everything that you do.
He eats as much or as little as he needs- Only he knows how much that is. Trusting him to eat as much he needs lets him grow consistently and helps to develop the body that nature intended for him.
For me, rewards go against the model of trusting your child’s appetite and letting them choose what to eat from what is available. It is more important to develop the child’s sense of hunger and satiety than to get them to eat a particular food.
Like everything with parenting, look at what your goals are in feeding and make your own decision.