Every night is a struggle in our household come time for dinner. My eight year old son refuses to touch anything green, let alone eat it. This leaves my husband and me frustrated and concerned that he doesn’t have a well-balanced diet. Alexa, how do I get him to eat more vegetables?
Thanks so much,
A Worried Mother
Dear Worried Mother,
Although it is cause for concern that your son is not eating his vegetables, I am happy to report that it is a very fixable problem. One solution is what behavioral economists call “hyperbolic discounting,” which is another way of saying you should offer your son some form of immediate incentive to eat his veggies. Economists who support the theory of hyperbolic discounting believe that any form of short-term reward is more highly valued by the receiver than an incentive that takes a longer amount of time for gratification. At schools in Chicago, parents who enacted this strategy saw an improved work ethic and better grades from their children when they offered them a small sum of money. Perhaps you could apply this strategy to your own predicament because giving your son a form of short term reward may make your dinners more enjoyable. The reward does not have to be money—you could offer him an extra five minutes to stay up before bedtime or an extra square of chocolate for dessert. According to these behavioral economists, giving your son something that night is more likely to get him to eat his vegetables compared to video games the next day or next week.
Once your son begins to eat his vegetables, through the use of short-term rewards, he may even find that he enjoys the taste!
I hope that this helps with your daily dinner battles. Best of luck!
Please Note: This question was modified from a question that was sent to the Wall Street Journal’s column, Ask Emily.