Thursday, November 23, 2006

Eat your peas

The Wall Street Journal has offered tips for parents in getting children to eat their vegetables [see this link from Marginal Revolution]. Here is the list:

1. Try many times -- fifteen or more -- to get your kids to eat their vegetables. Most parents give up too soon.

2. Bribing, punishing, and celebrating when the kid eats the vegetables are all counterproductive.

3. "Use tasty toppings."

4. If the kid doesn't eat the vegetables, grab them from his plate and gobble them up yourself.

5. Eat your own vegetables in great quantity and with great delight.

For our own part, we have tried each of these -- whether the WSJ advocates them or not. And our conclusion: it all depends on the kid. Our 5 year old son, loves vegetables. He will eat them in enormous quantities. It just isn't a problem.

Our eldest daughter used to only respond to incentives: "eat your peas or there is no second course." Her issue is that she loves to eat and will continue eating forever. We have to limit her to three courses with the final course coming only if she has completely eaten the first two. So there are always vegetables there. In recent times, she has responded to 'health concerns' and so will eat vegetables on the argument that she needs to have a balanced diet. Ultimately, this is a good way to go but let's face it, not many kids are going to buy that one. After all, it is a tough sell to we adults!

For the two year old, she will go for the 'tasty toppings' route. Indeed, we could feed her cardboard so long as there was tomato sauce available. But mixing something good with something not so good seems to defeat the purpose. Instead, our sure fire way is to put vegetables on our own plate and not hers. Then the 'grass is greener' effect will take over and she will happily eat from our plates. This is some sort of variant of 4 or 5 above.

In the end, we do have a sure fire way of getting kids to eat anything: starvation. We discovered this when, during some busy days, we forgot to feed the kids a usual meal (like lunch). Boy, do they eat their dinner well! It turns out that hunger is a great motivator.

[Update: this interesting article in Slate suggests children will balance their diets all by themselves.]