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Don’t Tell Them It’s Good For Them!

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

In a new article slated for publication in October and titled, “”If it’s Useful and You Know it, Do You Eat?” the answer preschoolers came up with is a resounding “NO!” Knowing a food is “good for you” made children less inclined to eat it rather than more convinced they should.

Two hundred and seventy preschoolers were read stories in which a girl chose foods to eat as a snack. Some of the children heard a story in which the girl was interested in a food because she knew it was good for her. Some of the children heard a story in which the girl was interested in a food because she knew it was tasty. And some of the children heard a story in which no reason at all was given for the girl’s choice of snack.

The result? Children who heard the story in which no reason was given or the reason of tastiness was given were more likely to eat the food featured in the story than children who heard the story in which the food was said to be good for them. Children rejected “good-for-you” food in favor of just plain good food. According to researchers Ayelet Fishbach and Michal Mairmaran, telling children a food will help them grow big and strong or make them smarter actually decreases their interest in eating that food.

Fishbach said, “The preschoolers seem to think that food can’t serve two purposes, that it can’t be something that makes them healthier and something that is delicious to eat at the same time. So telling them that the carrots will make them grow tall (or make them smarter) actually makes them not want to eat the carrots. If you want them to eat the carrots, you should just give the kids the carrots and either mention that they are tasty or just say nothing.”

In this era of food-as-medicine, where everything from yogurt to broccoli is “prescribed” not because they are delicious but because they have some specific biological effect, giving up on the usefulness of food to supply specific nutrients is a bit of a switch. Notice that I’m not suggesting that children be allowed to eat whatever and only what they want, including junk food. That’s not what’s being said at all. Instead, this research simply says to avoid trying to persuade a child to eat something because of some nutritional requirement. Instead, say nothing at all.

We are so used to telling children to eat something because it’s good for them, that not doing that will be a stretch for many parents.  We’ve got to keep in mind that “cleaning your plate” is not a virtue in itself and that children, just like grownups, eat foods they like more than they eat foods they must.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.