Should I offer rewards to get my picky toddler to eat?
Real Mom Problem
“Has anyone used an incentive to get their picky eater to eat? If so how has it worked for you? And how did you do it?”
- 1. If you choose a rewards system, make sure you're consistent
- 2. Try not to use food as punishment
- 3. Be careful about bribes; they might amplify power struggles with your toddler
- 4. Offering dessert as a reward can confuse toddlers about the importance of healthier foods
Real Mom Solutions
If you're struggling with a picky eater, mealtime can be a nightmare. Are you wondering if rewards might help? See what's worked for the moms of CafeMom before making the decision that's right for your family.
Moms Say These Rewards Work!
For a truly picky eater, I try to keep it really low key. I give her a little less than what I think she should eat. The rules are simple, "Dessert is for children who eat all their food." That's why I make sure I don't serve her too much. I do not discuss food after that. I do not tell her how many bites, etc. If she doesn't eat, that's fine.
What works for us is offering some type of reward if our son first touches the food we want him to try. If things are going well with that, we keep going and tell him to put whatever it is in his mouth. The reward for him is usually watching a wind-up toy do its thing or a 20 second YouTube clip of Dora or Thomas that he watches on our phones. He will now try anything! He may not like the taste of it but he'll at least give it a shot. Find something that would be rewarding for your toddler and give it a shot. Good luck!
What has just begun to work for us is sticker rewards. Our son loves stickers, so I got a couple of packs of character ones that he would like and explained the new dinner time rule to him. If he eats at least 1 bite of everything on his plate he earns a sticker. I started out with just things I knew he would eat so he could see I wasn't bluffing, then started adding some other foods. I let him pick the veggie for dinner. And slowly but surely it's helping. If he doesn't take the 1 bite, then he doesn't get the sticker and I don't make a big deal over it. If he does eat, he gets the sticker (sometimes more than 1 if he eats well) and a TON of praise. Hang in there, momma!
Don't Do It
Nope they can eat the food I give them or skip the meal. I'm not going to fight over food or try to bribe them. If they don't eat a meal they have to wait for the next snack time. It's a lot less stressful in our house since we started doing this.
I have found that whenever there's a bribery or reward or a punishment related to eating, my son reacts negatively.
I tried once. He tried so hard to eat one piece of chicken so he could get his cookie, and he struggled so much that he threw up. He's 2 and doesn't have it in him to be manipulative. It was the saddest thing I've ever seen. I will never do that to him again.
Praise Often -- That's Reward Enough!
I don't bribe with food - I don't use junk food as a reward for good eating (or for other things). But I do ask her to just try one bite of something she thinks she doesn't like, and then I praise her and tell her I'm proud of her for trying it (whether she likes it or not).
My daughter is 18 months and I can count what she eats daily on just a few fingers. She never eats, but is the perfect weight for her age. I found out one day, if I tell her "take a big bite!" she'll eat something. And then I tell her "oh my! That was a big bite!" and she claps for herself and laughs. So for the past 2 1/2 weeks that's how she eats. I don't mind repeating the same thing over and over and over and over as long as I know she's going to bed with a full tummy!