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Reward Children With Nutritious Treats

Reward Children With Nutritious Treats

  • June 7, 2022
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From a young age, we start teaching our kids that the reward for putting up with all the veggies on their plates is a sweet, sugary dessert. You may have heard the famous saying, “If you don’t eat that broccoli, you don’t get dessert.”

This establishes a reward system that suggests the sweet, sugary dessert is a treat or reward for experiencing something undesirable. The instant gratification aspect of this process makes it effective in that the child reluctantly eats the vegetable and then enjoys the reward. Over time, this behavior repeats itself many times and the unspoken rule develops. That means when you eat your veggies, dessert follows.

Next, dessert becomes a guess, an assumed feature of every meal. After all, one of the rules we’ve lived by for so many years is dessert after a meal. We have come to believe that dessert is a necessary element of every meal. This conditioning accompanies us throughout our adult lives. Interestingly, we even incorporate this rule into our diet and weight loss programs. You’ve been “good” for a while and lost a few pounds, and now you think you deserve a treat; a chocolate ice cream delight.

Ironically, what you decided, the reward for all your good efforts, is the root cause of the health and weight issues you’ve had in the first place. The rewards of choosing healthy, nutritious foods are health, well-being and longevity. How much more important and valuable are they than the instant gratification of a sip of sweetness?

For some people, this requires a gigantic change in mentality. Rewarding something tangible that makes you feel good right away, deferring to something that promises a happier, healthier life over a lifetime hardly seems like a fair trade to a child.

“Eat your veggies and you will grow into a healthy and happy human being” will most likely evoke an objection response such as “But MOM…!” The fight goes on…

To change this mindset as an adult, all you need to do is become aware of the effects desserts have on your health and be disciplined to stop the practice. Later, after years of yo-yo dieting and developing ailments caused by bad eating habits, it becomes easier to embrace this discipline.

The process is more complex for your children, but you can do it. First, decouple the connection between vegetables and dessert. Change your language in how you express the benefits of eating vegetables. A dessert treat isn’t a good perk for consuming these nutritional powerhouses. Use meal times as a fun time to explore the multiple benefits of different vegetables and the nutrients and specific benefits they provide.

Changing language alone will not be enough to change learned behavior. No matter how difficult the struggle, you’ll be surprised at how much of this new knowledge sticks in your memory and begins to take root in your belief systems. In the short term, you can also replace the sugary dessert with something more nutritious. For example plain yoghurt mixed with some fresh strawberries for a delicious treat – leave out the sugar. This creates an opportunity to also educate them about the nutritional value of the dessert choices you make. All around, for eating their meals and their desserts every day, they are rewarded with higher nutrition, better mental and physical performance, and a brighter future.

Thanks to Patrick Smyth

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