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Positive Reinforcement Encourages Kids To Eat More Vegetables

After stumbling on the article Bribing Kids to Eat Their Greens Really Does Work, I have added a new subscription to my blog reader. I really like what Christian Jarrett had to say about using positive reinforcement to encourage children to eat vegetables, learn to like them, and even eat more vegetables when no reward would be given. Rewarding children with stickers or praise for eating healthy food can do more than get them to clean their plates one evening.

After being encouraged to eat a vegetable 12 times in two weeks, children ranked the vegetable higher in preference to other vegetables than they had previously ranked it, and these results remained consistent in follow ups one and three months later. After the two week experimental period, those children that had been rewarded with stickers during the experimental period chose to eat more of the target vegetable when they knew there would be no reward than those children that received no positive reinforcement during the experimental period. In the one and three month reviews, the children praised and the children given stickers maintained their increased voluntary consumption, but the children simply exposed to the vegetable did not.

The researchers point out that in older research, bribing children to eat vegetables that they already liked did make them less interested in those vegetables. This may mean that once a child integrates a previously avoided food into his or her diet without discussion, it is no longer beneficial to reinforce the behavior. However, Jarrett’s final paragraph makes an important point:

“An important detail of the current study is that verbal praise was almost as effective as tangible reward. ‘Social reward might be particularly valuable in the home,’ the researchers said, ‘because it may help parents avoid being accused of unfairness in offering incentives to a fussy child but not to the child’s siblings.’”

Verbal praise is my favorite positive reinforcement because it is easy, free, always immediately available, and because attention is the highest motivator for a child. In addition to stickers, extra television time, an extra book at bedtime, and walking the dog with a parent are just a few positive reinforcements you can use to encourage your children to try and learn to like new vegetables (or to encourage other positive behaviors).

February 7th, 2011

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(Page 1 of 1, 2 total comments)


Hi Brooke, What a great study!

I really like your take on treats being positive reinforcement rather than bribes. I especially liked the point that the positive reinforcement does not need to be a "thing", but can also be some extra time or an experience with a parent or grandparent.

I recently wrote a post for my blog, Simple Living Family, that includes a family friendly vegetable recipe from Clara Silverstein. She is the author of "A Whitehouse Garden Cookbook". If you have a chance, please check it out

posted Feb 11th, 2011 4:08 pm


I think this is such an important point. Although kids do tend to be more sensitive to bitter and sour tastes, it makes a big difference if parents encourage kids to try them anyway. I think we need to discard the idea of "kid friendly" foods.

posted Feb 7th, 2011 10:48 pm


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