Most kids respond well to a good reward chart, but rewarding badly can do more than harm than good. Research we commissioned with ITV reveals that 43% of parents offer their kids “bribes” in order to eat their greens. Dessert proved the most popular bribe (59%), followed by access to TV (32%), video games (22%), mobile phones (21%), Internet (20%), later bedtimes (20%) and money (16%).
What message does an offer of dessert as a reward for eating vegetables give? It says that vegetables are “disgusting”, a chore, and that sweet treats are a prize to cherish. You may get your child to eat a little more broccoli today but you’re teaching unhealthy food habits they might keep for life.
Here are our top tips for using reward charts:
Get your own house in order
Parents, carers and members of a child’s home set an example, good or bad, that a child will see as normal. So, the first step to healthy veggie-loving kids is healthy veggie-loving adults. Everyone tucking in and enjoying a wide variety of vegetables will lead the way.
Find a time when the kids are not too tired or distracted, ask them if they want to play with the chart and what rewards they might like – and if you don’t have a dinosaur handy, then maybe ask them again.
Pin up the chart
Pin the chart up in a prominent place. Whether they are adding stickers or colouring in, make sure you watch and congratulate your kids as they complete each step.
You must take the pressure off, however frustrated you might be, if the child feels pressurised, they will likely push back or clam up. You know your child - if they are very reluctant to eat veg then give them their first step on the chart for just having the veg on their plate, better still just a sniff, maybe lick. Progress to a mouthful and then on to a portion.
Don’t rely on hidden veg. Again, you might score a quick win today but you’re not teaching your child good food habits for life.
Rewards work, but choose them carefully
A “well done”, a big hug and a smile from parents or carers is the most important reward you can give – and the most important advice we can give to you. You can also encourage kids to collect towards a prize they would really enjoy such as a new toy, or a trip to the park, the beach, a day out or just time with you – just make sure that you never use food as a reward. You know your kids and what will motivate them.
Join in the fun! Say things like “you really defeated that broccoli” or “you’re going down peas”. Also make a big deal of success, try to avoid pushing your children too hard or criticising any failure – you can always try again tomorrow.
You can download and print out a fresh chart from our website here. We also have the eat the rainbow chart designed by the BBC’s Dr Rangan Chatterjee and the Power Ups Chart from our Truly Epic Book of Veg Power.