Why you should avoid using food as a reward.

What's wrong with using food as a reward?

As tempting as it may seem in the moment, using food to reward children for behaviour is sending your child the wrong message.

Reward foods are typically treats with little or no nutritional value that are high in sugar and fat, such as ice cream or cookies. When eaten in excess, these foods can contribute to an unbalanced diet, which may lead to weight gain and chronic health problems.

Relationships to food that are created in childhood can last a lifetime. When food is used as a reward, emotions become tied to food, which can lead to connecting food with feeling good. The child may also learn, "Every time I’m good I should get a treat." While a parent may do this with good intentions out of love, it can backfire.

Research shows that children learn to prefer the "reward food" over the “have to eat” food. The message they get is that the sweet reward foods are more desirable than healthy food.

What can I do instead of offering food as a reward?

  • Create new reward systems that are not food related. Think of ways to spend quality time with your child, for example, time in the park or a bike ride together. Using activity as the reward can help the child meet their daily activity requirements. For quieter events take a trip to the local library and spend time reading together.
  • Teach your children that food cannot solve problems. Develop other ways to express emotions.
  • Instead of offering food as reward for good behaviour, set the consequences for inappropriate behaviour ahead of time and keep food out of it.
  • Create special family memories by eating together without any distractions, quarrelling or bribes. The joy of eating is an important factor in creating a healthy relationship to food.
  • Cultivate a positive relationship with food. Show children how to eat a healthy diet by involving them in the selection and preparation of family meals. Offer tasty healthy food often and model good behaviour yourself.