About The Buzz: Young Kids Won’t Eat What They Think is Good for Them?

August 27, 2014

TheBUZZ Young kids won’t eat what they think is good for them?


When young children are told that fruits and vegetables benefit their health, the likelihood of them consuming the food decreases.


There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation leads to experiential benefits, or enjoyment that comes while you’re doing the activity. An example of this type of motivation would be reading a good book. The second type, extrinsic motivation, results in instrumental benefits; these benefits come after the activity and are associated with the goal the action represents. An example of this type of motivation would be appearing to be up to date after reading a best seller.

When a person eats healthfully, s/he experiences both experiential benefits, such as the food being tasty and satisfying hunger, and instrumental benefits, such as the knowledge that the food is full of nutrients and benefits health or performance. People are more likely to do things that they enjoy in the moment more so than things they know will benefit them in the long run.


Researchers conducted five (5) studies to see if these principles applied to children.* If a child is told that a carrot is good for her, will she be more or less likely to eat the carrot? Each of the studies concluded with the same result: when encouraging children to eat healthy (or neutral) food, making the food instrumental may backfire. Why? Young children are no different from the rest of us. When a child is told that a food is good for them, they assume that the food may be less enjoyable.

Now What?
Understandably, this research puts parents in a difficult position. How can adults teach their young children to eat well without sabotaging their efforts? The researchers suggest that emphasizing experiential benefits like taste, or even not mentioning any benefit at all, is superior to emphasizing instrumental benefits like health or performance in order to increase a child’s consumption of healthy foods. Conversely, the authors also suggested that marketing food as instrumental to parents and other caregivers helps influence those caregivers to purchase and serve healthy foods.


It seems the most effective way to help children develop healthy preferences is through simply serving good tasting options, offering fun experiences with healthy foods, and modeling healthy eating.

Ideas on How to Help Create Healthy Eating Habits in Children


*Maimaran M, A. Fishbach (2014). “If It’s Useful and You Know It, Do You Eat It? Preschoolers Refrain from Instrumental Food.” Journal of Consumer Research. Article available online ahead of print. View Abstract

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