Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Raising Good Eaters: How to Incentavize

Okay, first things first, lest I receive a bunch of emails... incentavize is not a word. Not at all. But it has a much nicer ring than "bribe", does it not? And so I'm going to use it. You can choose to think I'm weird or think I'm clever or a little of both...

For the past couple of weeks, I've been talking about Raising Good Eaters. The first week, all I asked you to do was get used to the idea that your child won't starve. I think that's one of the things that irks me most of all... parents who just throw in the towel because they think their little angels will waste away to nothingness if they're not given precisely what they WANT to eat. Kids aren't stupid. And they're human, just like us... we are hard-wired to eat to survive. If it takes getting really hungry to make your child eat a variety of wholesome foods then, I say, go for it.

Last week, I shared a little bit about my personal goals for my own good eaters. I have very definite ideas of what I hope to see from my children and I outlined the steps that I must take to help achieve them.

This week, I want to talk about bribing incentavizing.

Incentavizing can range from the extremely simple and obvious ("You may not have dessert until you finish your meal.") to the more sophisticated and complex ("You need to eat your vegetables to get the vitamins you need for energy. If you don't get that energy, you won't be able to practice baseball with Daddy.")

Truth? I use both in my house. Shamelessly. I prefer the second method because I think it helps to really illustrate the benefits of healthy foods for our bodies. I also like the idea of not using a sweet, "unhealthy" treat to get your child to force his way through the healthy stuff. I find that the reward of being able to do something fun with Mommy or Daddy is a really good incentive.


The dessert reward works well with young children too. Kids need to have a certain level of reasoning to be able to make that whole "veggies=energy=able to play sports" equation. It works great with my five-year old. With the four-year old? Not so much. She's still at the, "Do you want a cookie? Yes? Then eat your green beans" phase. And I'm okay with that.

I've heard all the arguments about why it's not a good idea to encourage "clean plates"... why you shouldn't "reward" eating with sweet treats... why you should allow your child to take a small bite and spit it out if she doesn't like it... I am not saying that these studies have no merit. I'm sure a lot of money went into figuring out that the way we've been raising kids for hundreds of years is no good. And that's dandy.

But, for my family, I will continue encouraging good eating and offering incentives. To me, it's no different than allowing myself fifteen minutes to relax with a book after cleaning the first floor of my house... it does not take away from the accomplishment, but it helps motivate me along the way.

I do not have to make these "deals" at every meal or even every day. My kids are pretty well-trained now, if you will, and they know what is expected of them. But it helps to have these tricks up my sleeve... and to be willing to use them.

What tricks do you have to incentavize good eating habits in your children? Are you comfortable using "bribery" or do you think it's a bad move?

This post is linked to Works For Me Wednesday.


Kate @ The Gaines Gang said...

It really has helped my family by growing our own garden. I let them pick out something new to plant each year. Them getting to watch it grow has done the trick. They might not like the outcome but we can try many diff ways of using the new veggie.

Heather Benza said...

We started bribing Reese with stickers.I got a bag of 100 sparkly Cars stickers for $1 at Michael's. If he eats an acceptable amount to count as a meal he gets a sticker for each hand. It's working ok except for the part where I say "Do you want your stickers? Then you need to eat your food." 18 million times during the meal.

Rachel R. said...

Thank you for this series!

I wanted to add that I don't think that not requiring a totally clean plate is necessarily in conflict with these ideas. There's a pretty clear difference from a kid who doesn't eat all of everything on his plate because he's full already, and a kid who ate everything but his green beans and is plenty hungry for dessert.

Larissa Smith said...

I have a picky eater daughter who is getting much better. Her food aversions seemed to be caused more by texture than taste, and her reaction was gagging, so it has been an interesting journey, but we are headed to good eating little by little.

We definitely incentavize with dessert when it is planned, but not at other times. We talk about how it is rude to refuse to eat something that someone has spent time preparing. Our rule is that you have to "take a taste" of every new food, and then you can determine whether you want to request more or not. Previously disliked foods will make it through the rotation again for retrying after a reasonable period of time.

A trick I have also figured out is to ask my daughter (3 years) to help me in the kitchen. I ask her to take a bit of each item and tell me if it needs more salt or pepper. She usually plays right along and discovers that she likes the food before it turns into a battle at the table. Then if she asks for more there in the kitchen, I tell her that we will wait and all have it together at the table, which leaves her happily anticipating the meal. Yeah!

We also talk about whether we like/dislike the flavor vs. the way it feels in our mouths. For example, she likes strawberry and peach flavors, but not the way the fruit feels. Apples need to be peeled. Crust is fine on toasted bread, but not a peanut butter sandwich. This helps her differentiate why she prefers one thing and not another, rather than discarding something across the board. I also try to take every opportunity to show her that the same foods are prepared differently in different places. So, if she doesn't like the green beans or carrots at a restaurant, I remind her that she likes them at home, so rather than saying "I don't like carrots", we just say "I don't like these carrots, fixed this way." Again, just avoiding any broad judgments.

Jenn @ Jar Full of Rocks said...

First of all..."bribery" is getting something for doing something that is wrong. "Rewarding" is getting something for doing something that is right. Just clarifying. :)

We rarely do dessert in the traditional forms. Instead, I do things like sliced apples or grapes or other fruits that my kids like. Applesauce is something they especially like and I like to get the homemade stuff that doesn't have a bunch of sugar crammed into it. I also do bread with butter and a bit of jam (1 piece only) for dessert...so I don't mind rewarding my kids with dessert.

Often I need only to mention something like "after we eat all of our dinner, we'll go outside and play" and it's enough to get my 2 year old to get her meal finished. My 1 year old (nearly 2) doesn't understand that yet, so right now he's an "eater" or a "non-eater" at meals. For him, it doesn't matter if it's something that he loves...if he feels the need to try to go on a power trip and not eat, that's fine by me, but if he starts to disrupt our meal (crying, screaming, tossing food [which is punishable by a hand smack ALWAYS]), then he is removed from the table and dining room for a couple of minutes to allow him to collect himself. Some days (rarely) he is removed 5 or 6 times before he gets the hint and stops, but I have found that it is the consistency that is what teaches kids. Don't get me wrong, it thoroughly stinks to have to get up and sit him in the living room each time he tries this, but that is our rule and I'm sticking to it.

I really like the idea of the stickers...I'm going to keep that in the back of my mind for later use if I need it!