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Should you ever bribe your child to eat?

Short answer?


Bribing kids to eat will only create more problems in the long run.

I have met many, many parents who don’t see the harm in coaxing their kids to eat foods they don’t like by offering treats and saying things like, “One more bite of meatloaf and you can have the ice cream sandwich!”

It seems like a good enough plan, and it even seems to work sometimes.

Your kid dutifully chokes down three bites of spinach and you feel satisfied that he’s getting enough green vegetables so you let him have a Coke.

But is that helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food?

Or is it creating a pattern of rewarding herself for eating good food by binging on junk food?

How is that different than an adult eating a salad for lunch and then having MacDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries later that day as a reward?

I know it’s stressful having a child who seemingly won’t eat enough food to sustain a living creature.

Watching him poke peas around his plate and declaring he’s full after two bites of mashed potatoes can be very stressful and worrying.

I understand your pain firsthand, because my son Charlie was a very picky eater. I know that as a mother, your instinct is to try anything you can to get food in that mouth. But unfortunately, your fears about food are actually making the problem worse, and bribing is sending the exact wrong messages.

Think of it this way: It’s like agreeing with your child that the food she “has” to eat is less desirable than what she “gets” to eat.

But what if all food was just considered the same?

If you stay neutral about the food you’re offering and don’t say things like, “I know the eggplant is gross, but you get cookies after!” you will allow your child to start thinking of all food as equal. Of course she will still have preferences, but she won’t be categorizing junk food as “good” and healthy food as “bad.”

It takes time and patience, but you can win the food battle.

You just have to be willing to let go of the fear that your child will starve himself if he doesn’t get his M&M rewards.

It simply isn’t true.

My number one tip for getting a picky child to eat is to just make the same food for everyone, every night. Offer at least one thing your child likes, but don’t cater to her special desires.

Serve the food in serving dishes instead of putting portions on her plate. Let her serve herself, if she’s old enough, and don’t engage in power struggles about the food. This will start to give her a sense of control and soon she will become curious about things she hasn’t tried before.

Believe it or not, your child is not going to be a picky eater forever, or at least not to the same degree.

Like so many frustrating aspects of childhood, this will be outgrown someday too!

If you are TIRED of battles around mealtime though, and just want your child to eat better NOW, check out The Food Sense Program! Designed with the help of a nutritionist, it is a guide to help your fussy eater trying new and healthy foods!

Learn more here.

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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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