A new study published in the Journal of Health Economicsclaims that paying kids to eat their veggies can create healthy eating habits in kids for the rest of their lives. But let's get this straight: Scientific evidence or not, I will never pay my children to eat healthy food. In fact, it's my belief that getting to enjoy beautiful fruits and vegetables is a reward in and of itself. Paying children to make healthy choices just sounds like a recipe for entitlement.
The study looked at 8,000 children in 40 elementary schools and each child was given a short term incentive of twenty-five cents to choose a fruit or vegetable as part of their lunch. Researchers found that this incentive had lasting effects, especially when it had been offered for five weeks straight.
So there's evidence that incentives can help children form good habits, but there's no clear proof that you would have the same results at home. According to study co-author Professor Joseph Price, “As a parent, imagine that there’s something to do that might be worth my effort, and I get the long-term benefit.” But I think what he’s implying is, “Look, I found an easy way to get your kids to eat their vegetables.”
It may be easy, but it doesn’t make it right.
First of all, the study was conducted at elementary schools where rewarding positive behavior is common practice. In a school setting it's easier to set up—and take away—incentive programs than it is at home. I don’t know about your kids, but if mine got a quarter for every carrot, they would likely expect one every single time. At the very least it would introduce a level of negotiation that has no place at the dinner table.
I fear we're raising a generation of children that don’t do anything if it's not accompanied by a reward.
And if I'm going to be completely frank, healthy eating habits should already be established by the time your child reaches elementary school. These children were being paid to choose a peach as part of their lunch. A peach! My kids fight over peaches on the regular. Other than the occasional vegetable, both of my children are healthy eaters, not because I've paid them to be, but because they've honestly never had a choice in the matter.
And since when is it a good idea to throw money at a problem? I wish that the reward as part of the study had been something that made more sense for the overall goal of making kids healthier. Instead of tokens to spend in the school store, they could have earned extra recess or something else immaterial. In my house, if you eat your vegetables you get dessert, which is, shocking as it may sound, a piece of fruit.
I completely understand parents wanting an easy way to get their kids to eat more than mac and cheese, but paying them to do so just doesn’t sit right with me. I fear we're raising a generation of children that don’t do anything if it's not accompanied by a reward. Our children are entitled to a healthful meal, not a pay out.