Ever since Meghan (3 3/4 years old) was a toddler, I’ve used the feeding philosophy outlined in Ellyn Satter’s book, How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much. The gist is that I can control what I feed my child, I can control when she eats, but how much she eats is up to her. Satter advocates taking a no-pressure approach to meal time. She encourages mothers to serve their children the same meal the entire family is eating (no short order cooking), while including at least one food that is a familiar favorite and don’t force them to eat anything. No bargaining, no pleading. If you are always only serving food at meal times and all (or most) of the food is healthy, Satter says that eventually the child will eat a wide variety of foods.
I love this philosophy. The problem, however, is that is hasn’t worked that well for us. Or maybe it has and Meghan would be a much worse eater if we’d taken a different approach. She does eat a lot of healthy foods on a regular basis, including fruit/vegetable smoothies, almonds, oatmeal, pistachios, avocado, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and chickpeas.
Notice what’s missing from that list? Vegetables. Meghan doesn’t eat a lot of vegetables on a regular basis, despite me continuing to serve them to her. Despite her early exposure. Despite me trying to do everything “right” from the beginning.
Everything in Satter’s philosophy goes against offering any sort of reward for eating foods, so I tried to steer clear of that approach. Then I came across this article about a study that tested the effects of rewarding kids for eating vegetables. Based on everything else I’ve read, I fully expected the results to be negative. But they weren’t.
The children in the study who were offered a reward for eating their vegetables ended up eating more than the children who were not and reported liking them more. The effects seemed to last, too. The children who were offered the rewards for a period of time still ate more vegetables after the rewards were taken away than those who were never offered rewards. This makes sense as research shows that repeated exposure to a food can lead to liking a food. You just have to get the kid to eat it to begin with.
When I read this article, I felt like a heavy weight was lifted from my shoulders. There was something more I could do to encourage Meghan to eat more vegetables. I didn’t have to just keep putting them on her plate and waiting for the day she’d eat them on her own; that could be years! (No one pressured or rewarded me for eating vegetables as a child and guess what? I didn’t eat them on a regular basis until well into my adult years) I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about Elynn Satter’s approach just not working for us.
With a renewed sense of hope, I set up a system of rewards for eating vegetables. I kept it simple enough for a 3-year-old to understand; if Meghan was older I’d likely have done it differently.
I showed Meghan the simple chart I made and explained the rewards. We (her, me, and Tim) would each get a sticker if we ate up all of our vegetables at dinner. I decided to just start with one meal. Once all of us have seven stickers, we get to go get a special treat at the ice cream parlor.
I know what you’re thinking. Rewarding vegetables with ice cream?! Doesn’t that put ice cream on a pedestal? I’m pretty sure every “expert” out there would say this was a bad idea. I would have thought the same thing at one time. A woman has the right to change her mind.
I had to use something motivating, and nothing will motivate Meghan like sweets. She loves her sweets. Unfortunately , there is no built-in motivation for eating vegetables. Let’s be honest: we aren’t born thinking vegetables taste terrific. When you are three, the idea of nutrients for growth and development doesn’t have meaning. I wanted something that would actually get her to eat them because I know if she repeatedly eats them, she may grow to like them.
Ice cream tastes good; that’s what matters to a 3 year old. As much as I have tried to keep all food on a level playing ground and keep it neutral, Meghan has naturally put sweets at the top of her favorite foods list. There’s just no way to keep vegetables and desserts equal. I think this puts ice cream in the category it belongs: a special treat to be enjoyed once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with eating ice cream. You just shouldn’t eat it every night.
Last night was night one of what I’ve dubbed Operation Eat More Vegetables. I didn’t go easy on myself by starting with broccoli. This is probably both Meghan and Tim’s least favorite vegetable. (Yes, I think this little system is going to make Tim eat more vegetables, too!)
Meghan was super excited to get a sticker. She was not super excited about eating broccoli. But for the sticker, she was willing to endure her least favorite food.
She is such a drama queen. She did this with every bite. She did not like it. But she ate it all, and was excited about her accomplishment. This is more vegetables than she’s eaten at one sitting without them being hidden in a smoothie or muffin in a long time.
Daddy, Mommy, and Meghan all got stickers last night.
If Meghan eats all of her servings of vegetables every night, I will consider this a huge, huge success, even if that means we have to go to the ice cream parlor once a week.
Each week I will report back to you how Operation Eat More Vegetables went and will bring you one kid-friendly vegetable recipe from the week. This week’s recipe is very simple, but tasty. Don’t let Meghan’s face fool you. She’s got it in her mind that she doesn’t like vegetables, so I’m sure she would have made that face even if the broccoli was coated in sugar.
This recipe has a bright, orange flavor that is just enough. If you give it a try, let me know if your kids enjoy it!Print
Operation Eat More Vegetables: Sunny Orange Broccoli
A fresh and tasty side dish
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Cuisine: American
- 3 cup broccoli florets
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
- salt and pepper
- orange slices with the peel removed, for serving (optional)
- Gently steam the broccoli until it is bright green and tender, not mushy, about 5 minutes. Toss with the orange juice and zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place over three orange slices, if using, and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Adapted from Parents.com
- Serving Size: 1 serving
- Calories: 29
- Sugar: 1.5g
- Sodium: 9.5mg
- Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 2g
- Protein: 0.8g
Keywords: easy side dish
What are your thoughts on rewarding kids for eating vegetables? I know some of you will fervently disagree with this approach, and that’s okay. I’d love to hear from everyone!