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Why I Don't Bribe My Kids to Eat New Foods: A Different Approach to Mealtime

As parents, we all want our children to develop healthy eating habits and enjoy a diverse range of foods. Yet, the temptation to bribe our kids to eat can sometimes be strong, especially when faced with picky eaters or resistance to trying new foods. However, studies show that taking a different approach to mealtime may lead to a more positive relationship with food for many children. Food is meant to nourish us, not to be used as a reward or punishment. In the long run, using food as a reward or bribe tends to cause more problems than it fixes.

Parents offering two small children food at the counter.
Your kids may have a better relationship with food if they're not pressured to try new foods.

Here's why I don't bribe my kids to try new foods, and what I do instead:

1. Avoiding Food as a Reward or Punishment: Using food as a reward or punishment can create unhealthy associations with eating. It can lead to overeating or emotional eating, and establish a negative relationship with food early in life. Instead of linking food to behaviors, comfort, or emotions, I try to keep mealtime neutral and focus on enjoying food as nourishment for the body.

2. Understanding Hunger and Fullness Cues: Bribing kids with dessert to finish their meal can disrupt their natural hunger and fullness cues. It teaches them to ignore their body's signals and potentially overeat in order to earn the treat. If this is something you struggle with at meal time I encourage you to try serving dessert alongside the meal or as part of a balanced diet. That way those typically revered foods come off their pedestal and kids learn to listen to their bodies and recognize when they are satisfied.

3. Emphasizing Balance, Not Restriction: Restricting certain foods can backfire, leading to increased desire and overindulgence when those foods become available. Instead of labeling foods as "good" or "bad," I emphasize the importance of balance and moderation. All foods can fit within the context of a healthy diet that focuses on variety.

4. Teaching Lessons Through Experience: Allowing kids to make their own choices about food and experience the outcomes firsthand can be a valuable learning opportunity. They might discover that choosing a balanced meal makes them feel more energetic and satisfied than the alternatives. These food experiences can help kids develop a better understanding of their bodies and food choices.

It's important to recognize that these strategies might not work for all families or children, and flexibility as a caregiver is key to finding what works best for your unique situation. My job as a registered dietitian is to provide information, options, and support but ultimately you, as their caregiver get to decide what and how best to feed your child.

In conclusion, I've found that taking a non-bribery approach to mealtime fosters a healthier relationship with food for many children including my own. By avoiding using food as a reward or punishment, emphasizing balance and moderation, and allowing kids to learn through experience, you can help guide your kiddos towards a lifetime of positive eating habits.

How do you approach mealtime with your children? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!


Need more tips to help your picky eater? Check me out on Instagram where I share tips and tricks for feeding kids and families. And you can also check out my free (yes, FREE!) Tips for Picky Eaters Guide:

a graphic of a picky eaters pocket guide

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