By: Heidi Liefer Moreland, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, CLC

We are writing in response to the Ore-Ida “potato pay” ad campaign, in which they coach parents on how and how much to reward kids with French fries for eating their vegetables.  I am sure they mean well, and it seems like a good idea on the surface.  Rewarding kids for eating a nutritious food with foods that are well-liked and already on the plate, genius!  Sadly, nothing is ever that simple when it comes to food and people, especially kids.   Here are some truths about rewarding with food:

Elimination of Enjoyment: Food IS enjoyable!  There is a whole world of taste and flavor and texture and aroma, and we are all going to like some things better than others.  Using food as rewards takes away the simple pleasure of eating the foods that we enjoy with people that we love.

Guilt by Association: Rewarding with food can make the reward less enjoyable because it becomes associated with the food that it is paired with.  My grade school paired beets with pizza every week, and I still think of beets and that slimy texture (and shudder) when I see those food service rectangular pizza slices with sausage.

Diminishing Returns: Any reward loses value over time.  You don’t work for the same paycheck you did your first year that you were working.  In the same way, it may eventually “cost” more French fries or a switch to tater tots, cupcakes or chocolate to be “worth” eating 1 green bean.

Artificially Assigned Value: By making fries the reward and vegetables the task to be rewarded, you are further de-valuing a vegetable that might have had a shot at being a pretty good vegetable!  BUT, it will never be a French fry (or a sweet potato or a potato chip) and the comparison makes it hard to be see the task-vegetable for its own good qualities.

Establishment of Emotional Eating: Eating as a reward for good behavior sets the stage for eating due to external or emotional reasons, rather than hunger.  This early pattern puts kids, especially girls, at greater risk of emotional eating, obesity and eating disorders.

Eating as Emotional Manipulation: Eating to please others has also been shown to be a risk factor for obesity and eating disorders.  Eating for hunger, simple enjoyment and social engagement allows children to listen to their own body about when to eat instead of cueing in to others’ emotions around food.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:

  • Serve French fries. Enjoy them with your family.  Dip them in ketchup, or mayo or mustard or aoli, whatever makes them enjoyable to you.  Don’t feel guilty for liking French fries, pleasure is an important part of eating and healthy living.
  • Also serve broccoli and green beans and beets. More than one time or two times.  Research shows that familiarity with foods is an important step towards eating and enjoying those same foods later.
  • Look at your own food patterns, choose healthy foods that you like.  Watching parents eat a variety of foods has been shown to make a big difference in the variety of children’s diets as they grow.
  • Be patient. Even children who were adventurous eaters when they very young go through periods of pickiness.  Keeping the pressure off of both the food and the eaters is the best way to develop the healthy relationship with food that can eventually lead to a more varied and appreciate palate!
  • Cue into your child’s likes and dislikes, trust that learning to eat new foods must be done at the child’s pace. Being a responsive feeder doesn’t mean that you only serve fries.  It means that you trust your child to eat the right amount for their body and that you continue to provide the environment and the foods that will allow your child to expand at a pace that feels right to them.

Free the French Fry to be just that.  A yummy, crispy, golden French fry.

#freethefrenchfry  #responsivefeeding #betterwaythanpotatopay

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