The Scoop on Food

Want Your Kids to Eat More Green? Show Them the Money!

A new study says the best way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is to bribe them with cash.

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If your kids put up a fight about eating their broccoli trees, apple slices, or other fruits and veggies, a new study says the answer isn't punishment—it's bribery. That's right: to encourage our kids to eat nutritious food, we should be paying them off in cold, hard cash.

Study co-author Greg Madden, a Utah State University psychology professor, told Reuters that cash rewards "can be used to encourage children to repeatedly try fruits and vegetables, and there is some evidence to suggest that repeatedly tasting novel foods increases their acceptability."

The study followed the Food Dudes initiative—a program that aims to increase kids' intake of fruits and vegetables by using superhero role models and tasting experiments—in several schools. The study included about 2,300 children, who were split up into three categories: one group was offered monetary prizes for eating more fruits and veggies; another received praise from teachers for eating these healthy foods; and the third group did not receive any reward for their food choices. By the end of the 4-month program, the kids were eating 40 percent more fruits and vegetables. Students who got paid off upped their fruit and vegetable consumption the most—by .32 cups—while the kids who got patted on the back instead ate .21 more cups.

As a single mom to an 8-year-old, with little to no spare cash, I find bribing my kid to eat his green beans and blueberries absurd. Children should not be paid to eat what parents provide for them. Instead, parents should be more concerned about the example they are setting.

Are you enjoying avocado toast at breakfast, or grabbing a pastry? How many greens are on your plate at dinnertime? I've had great success with getting my son to like fruits and veggies because I love all produce and he saw me chowing down on it from the beginning.

I'm lucky; my kid loves steamed broccoli, dots his pasta with peas, makes and eats salads drizzled with olive oil and vinegar, will choose a whole apple over cookies for a snack, and always has a side of cherry tomatoes with his grilled cheese. And if he didn't, I would pay or bribe him to eat these foods.

What is that telling our youngsters? Money talks. I don't want my kid to think if he does something he doesn't truly want to, he'll be compensated financially. If my kid had issues with eating produce, I might try a sticker chart, similar to a potty chart.

I do like the message behind the study's "Food Dudes" initiative—our kids should be encouraged to eat healthier, at home and at school. And while I don't agree with paying kids off to eat healthy food, the study found some evidence of long-term changes in the children's food choices. Six months after the incentives stopped, researchers checked back to find that those who had received cash rewards were still eating more fruits and veggies than the kids who didn't.

Still, I don't think bribery is the way to go when teaching our kids about food. "Bribery doesn't teach kids to be the people we want them to be—nor does it create the generation we want to raise or employ or have run the world," says Deborah Gilboa, MD, a Pennsylvania-based pediatrician. "I'm not saying you never do it, but it's a last resort." I agree.

How do you feel about this?

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