>Dear Dr. Hackney,
My six year old daughter is a very picky eater. We bribe her to eat vegetables and end up negotiating over food at every meal. This doesn’t feel right, but it seems the only way to get her to eat. Please help!
Mother of three, ages six, three and one years old
Wow, this sounds frustrating! I can imagine that dinner is not an enjoyable time in your house. While I know there can be a great push to encourage children to eat, the pressure likely will backfire. The more pressure, the less likely they are to eat those foods willingly the next go around. When you bribe a child by saying, “If you eat your broccoli, you can have some applesauce,” you are agreeing with her. Your bribe sends the message, “Broccoli stinks! You should be rewarded for eating it.” The next time broccoli is presented, she is LESS likely to eat it because it was an obstacle in the way of applesauce. Applesauce is a more sought after food because it was preferred and is now a reward.
The answer is to avoid bribery all together. As a general guideline, parents are in charge of what is offered, and children are in charge of what and how much of that they eat. Following this, parents offer a wide range of healthy choices for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Once it is on their plate, children get to pick and choose. If you find your child still isn’t eating vegetables, you still don’t force her. You are in charge of what is offered, so you offer more vegetables in a wider range of ways. You might offer a vegetable omelet for breakfast, vegetables with dip for snack, or grilled vegetable sandwich for lunch, etc.
I think it is fine to hide ingredients. Make zucchini bread, and call it magic bread. Shred broccoli under the cheese on pizza. This is also a fine time to practice contribution. The more children are choosing the vegetables at the store, washing them in the sink and scooping them to the plate, the more likely they are to eat them.
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.