Some take to hiding morsels in more delicious parts of meals, while others adopt a stricter approach, refusing to let little ones leave the table until plates are clear.
Children who were incentivised for a longer period of time were more likely to continue eating vegetables after the deposits ended too.
The core idea here is that, providing children have the cognitive ability to understand the exchange, they will learn to eat healthily as well as learn the value of money. After a while, they will continue eating the food, not because of the reward, but because they will get into the habit of eating healthy.
But one study is really not enough to draw conclusions and suggest action — especially as there was not a control group to compare money with other types of incentives, or no incentive at all.
Non-monetary rewards aren’t much better either. The phrase: “You can have dessert as long as you eat your sprouts”, will ring a bell for most people. This, though said with the best intentions, may increase the intake of the target food in the short term, but can convey the wrong message to its receipents: “This food must be really bad if I am getting something for eating it!”. It not only places dessert as a food of high value — a trophy that is earned — but also teaches kids to dislike the target food.
You also need to let your children experience the food with all of their senses — so don’t “hide” vegetables. Yes, sneaking a nutritious veggie into a fussy eater’s food might be one way to get them to eat it, but if the child doesn’t know a cake has courgettes in it, they will never eat courgettes on their own. It can also backfire if children can lose their trust in food when they realise they have been deceived.
This isn’t just about what is on the plate, it’s about a relationship with food. So if your children are old enough, let them help in the kitchen. It can be very messy and time consuming, but it is an excellent way to create a positive atmosphere around food.
There is sadly no single answer as to what will work for your children, and it might be a case of trial and error. But these actions can create positive associations with all kinds of foods, and you can help your kids lead healthier lives — saving yourself a bit of cash while you’re at it.
Sophia Komninou is a lecturer in infant and child public health at Swansea University.