We all need to eat more veggies—especially kids. But getting a child excited about broccoli is no small feat. Yes, while it does have the advantage of looking like a miniature tree you can eat, to the discriminatory young palate it simply doesn’t stand up to fatty, flavorful alternatives like chips, cheese and ice cream. So how can you convince kids to start eating more vegetables? One study has a suggestion: pay them.
A recent study published in The Journal of Health Economics actually shelled out cash to pay schoolchildren to eat their veggies. The year and a half study was conducted on over 8,000 students at 40 elementary schools. For every serving of fruits or veggies students consumed at lunch—and no, ketchup and french fries weren’t considered veggies—they were given a 25 cent token which could be redeemed at a book fair, school store or school carnival. At the start of the experiment, only about 39 percent of children consumed at least one serving of fruits or veggies at lunch.
Schools who conducted the veggie-pay initiative for three weeks saw a dramatic increase in produce consumption, even after the incentives ceased. There was a 21 percent increase in fruit and veggie consumption among the grade school students in the weeks after the incentive ended. For schools who implemented the incentive for five total weeks, there was an incredible 44 percent increase in fruit and veggie consumption in the two months after the incentives were terminated. The study suggests that a short run incentive program can be highly effective in forming healthy, long term habits in children.
In the face of the childhood obesity epidemic, getting more kids to eat any vegetables is a good thing. We live in an age where ketchup and french fries are considered servings of vegetables in American school cafeterias. It’s horrifying. We all need to cut the inflammatory processed junk and get back to dietary basics. Nothing is perhaps more important than including more unprocessed plants in our diets, especially for our children.
Is paying your kids to eat veggies the answer? It depends. If your child is extremely averse to unprocessed greens, an incentive could compel them to eat more. The hope is that they will grow to like veggies the more they eat them, which will hopefully flourish into healthy lifelong dietary habits.
However, if the incentive were to be carried out long term—perhaps for months and years instead of a few weeks—it could backfire. The child might become too dependent on the incentive to continue eating veggies without it. In fact, it is feasible that some might boycott all produce if the incentives were revoked after months or years—and no one wants that. The point is to not allow the incentive to become an addiction. So, if you do incentivize your child’s dietary habits, do not do so regularly over the long term. Whittle the incentives down over time so they go from getting a treat every time they eat veggies to once in a while if they’ve been making excellent and maturing dietary choices. Eventually, with a little practice, the fruits and veggies will become a treat within themselves!
What do you think? Would you pay your kid to eat veggies if it could make them grow to love them? Would you prefer a non-monetary incentive? Do you disagree with this technique? Share your thoughts in AgroWeb.org.